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In Sergio Romo’s Small Hometown, No. 1 Crop is Pro Baseball Players

| October 24, 2012
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by Valerie Hamilton, The California Report

The San Francisco Giants will play the first game of the 2012 World Series tonight after what may have been the comeback of the year — beating the Cardinals three straight to win the National League title.

Game Seven’s triumphant last pitch was thrown by closer Sergio Romo, a native of California’s Imperial Valley. Romo’s baseball career started in Brawley, California, on a pitcher’s mound in the backyard of his companies. It’s about 50 feet from the back window, with predictable results.

Frank and Leticia Romo

“Sergio was playing, and I guess they were trying to get each other out. And Sergio threw the ball — and he broke that window!” says Leticia Romo, Sergio’s mom. “I don’t want to fix it because, but I told him, whenever you make it up there you’re going to have to fix it yourself. So I’m waiting for him to come and fix it still.”

Frank Romo weighs in: “It didn’t surprise me. He also broke the neighbors’ light fixture. I asked him, ‘Why are you doing that mi hijo?’ He said, ‘I just wanted to see if I could hit it.’”

Brawley, California is a long way from the lights of AT&T Park. About 25,000 people live in this farm town, out in the desert scrubland. Main Street is a dusty arcade of shuttered stores. Unemployment is over 30 percent, among the highest in the state. There’s no big college, no stadium. The only big city nearby is Mexicali, Mexico, 22 miles to the south.

“Brawley would be probably like a slightly bigger version of Mayberry, although not quite as nice,” says Rudy Seanez, who pitched in the major leagues for 17 years, ending in 2008. Like Romo, he grew up in Brawley. So did Alan Fowlkes, who pitched for the 1982 Giants. And so did Sid Monge, who pitched in the 1970s and 80s. It turns out Brawley’s sugar beets and melons have some competition for the town’s top-produced crop. The town, and the Imperial Valley around it, have sent more than 20 players to the major and minor leagues.

“And I wish I could tell you it’s because we have this special water, it’s not,” says Pedro Carranza, who played pro ball for the Colorado Rockies. Now he coaches Brawley’s high school team.

Mid-October, the desert climate isn’t ideal for baseball practice, the temperature often hitting the mid-90s. But in the winter, when most of the U.S. is packing away its bats and gloves, baseball in Mexico is still going strong. And that may be the secret to Brawley’s success: Mexicali’s winter leagues, a half-hour down the road, are open to amateurs and pros alike. That means Brawley high schoolers can train across the border alongside professionals looking for a game.

“For instance, I was 16 and playing against men 30 years old, 35 years old,” says Pedro Carranza. “You’re playing against some good ballplayers. Enrique Lechuga, who played with the White Sox, who is in the Mexican League right now. Julian Arballo also played with the Yankees, same thing, they’re playing in Mexicali this week, and any one of my high school kids if he plays down there, he’s facing one of those guys.”

In fact, Mexican Americans have played baseball across the border here for generations.

“Sergio’s granddad played in Mexicali,” says Carranza. “Sergio’s dad played in Mexicali; Sergio played in Mexicali.”

Says Seanez: “You’ve got some of the teammates saying I played with your grandfather. I played with your uncle, or this or that or the other. This is like wow, its roots, spreading out all over the place.”

Those roots mean everything to Frank Romo, who came to Brawley from Mexico as a child. He cut his own baseball career short to work the fields; his father before him did the same.

“The Diablos Rojos, the professional team from Mexico City, they wanted to sign my dad,” ways Romo. “But he couldn’t go either, because he had a lot of work on the farm. Ive been living dreams through my kids. And Sergio, he’s a major league baseball player, this is his fifth season, can you believe that? It’s awesome.”

At Johnny’s Burritos, downtown, the next generation of players from Brawley Union High line up for a carbo-loaded lunch of fries with cheese. Todd Marquez sits at a picnic table with some teammates. He says Brawley’s secret baseball recipe is no secret at all.

“People from Brawley just love to play baseball and they just don’t give up. Just keep on trying hard till they get there.”

Brawley players have made it to three World Series so far — this year is the fourth. They’ve won every time.

Listen to the audio version of this report:

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  • Jessica Grijalva

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article! Thanks!