He’s back. But for how long?
Austin Romine made a somewhat unexpected return to Trenton to begin his 2011 season. You noticed he’s there. Romine certainly noticed he’s back. But when asked about the progression Romine’s made since first joining the Thunder last season, manager Tony Franklin hasn’t noticed Romine at all. In a good way, of course.
“I don’t even know he’s back there anymore, and that’s a compliment,” Franklin said.
“It says a lot. He’s handling the pitching staff extremely well. He seems to be pretty strong throughout the games he’s caught so far. I was watching Kevin (Millwood) when he pitched to see how many times he was going to shake, and he shook him a very minimal amount of times.”
Romine has come a long way since making his Double-A debut on Opening Day last season, but that’s not to say he wasn’t advanced when he arrived. Ask the personable 22-year-old Lake Forest, CA native to compare where he’s at now compared to this time last season, and it’s maturity and not skill that he focuses on.
“I’m a lot more mature in all aspects of the game, just being more patient at the plate and gamecalling,” he said.
“I’ve been around the block a few times now. I have more of a general knowledge of what needs to be done and what you need to do to succeed at this game. It’s just being a lot more comfortable, I guess that’s the easiest way to put it.”
Both comfort and confidence seem to be at a high point now for Romine, who made quite the impression with his ability behind the plate in Major League spring training. As for the frustration of having to return to Trenton, Romine has tried to stay positive, which is easier now that he knows he’s ready for the bright lights of the Big Apple.
“It’s anger, but it’s anger that drives me,” said Romine when asked about if it was difficult to not be frustrated with a return.
“The Yankees know where I should be, and I trust them. They’ve given me everything that I have up until this point. They told me when I left spring training that I could get called up at any time now because of what I did, I proved that I can catch and can handle catching in the big leagues. It’s not so much anger, but I guess you could say if I feel angry towards the fact, it’s not in a bad way. I use it to do better on the field.”
As far as that big league spring training stint goes, it wasn’t Romine’s first. But it was the first one he participated in where he felt he had a legitimate chance to crack the big league roster. And, given that he stayed up there until the last day of camp, he certainly wasn’t wrong in thinking that. But just don’t think he approached things any differently given the different set of circumstances he was facing this time around.
“Actually being considered for a spot, it made me a little bit more excited, but I didn’t really change anything from what I’d done in the past,” Romine said.
“Any time I get a chance to play, I’m going to play as hard as I can. Having a chance at a spot or not having a chance at a spot, it’s not going to change the fact that I go out there every day and do the best that I can every single day. Personally, I think it went well. My goal was to prove that I can catch in the big leagues and handle a Major League staff, and for them to know that if they put me back there, I can do it. I think I proved that.”
Of the knocks on Romine, and there are admittedly some, the bat had until recently been one of them. But a recent four-game stretch in which he 8-for-17 with three home runs and ten RBI silenced those particular critics, albeit only temporarily. Both Franklin and Romine are aware that more consistency is needed in the batter’s box, but neither seem too concerned about it.
“I’m not interested in what he does with the bat, because I think the bat is always the last to come with a young player,’ Franklin said.
“I think he’s going to hit, and you’ve seen examples of his ability to hit last year, he just didn’t do it as consistently as we think he’s going to. But he’s going to hit. I wouldn’t get too down on him because he isn’t pounding balls out of the ballpark right now. He’s still a young guy. I think the thing that everyone is concerned with is how he’s going to handle a pitching staff on an everyday basis as a young catcher. He got his chance to do it last year for the first time, and did OK. And so far, he’s been great this year. I think he’s only going to get better. I wouldn’t get too down on him on his batting average right now, he knows how to hit, but he’ll learn how to be a lot more consistent with his hitting.”
Added Romine: “It’s just all about the bat now. I’ve proven I can catch, but I keep doing my catching drills every single day, so I’m confident that wont go away. I always want to be better every day, catching-wise. It’s just the bat and if I can hold it together for a whole season. I had a month or two in the middle of the season where I lost my swing for a little bit, but it came back at the end a little bit. If I can hold it together and just be consistent for the whole year, I don’t see any reason why I couldn’t do well.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com