The bearded, brown-skinned face is one almost anyone who remembers the final out of the 2012 World Series would recognize.
The San Francisco Giants claimed their city’s second baseball championship the night Sergio Romo struck out Miguel Cabrera looking. But as the Giants seek to make yet another postseason run come this October, still not all recognize Romo. Especially in Arizona.
“Living in Arizona now in the offseason, I do get pulled over, for just ‘looking illegal,’” the Giants right-handed relief pitcher recently told El Tecolote during a Hennessy V.S sponsored event at San Francisco’s Infusion Lounge. In 2012, Romo became the first Mexican-American closer to save a World Series—and likely was also the first athlete to sport the words “I just look illegal” across his chest during a major championship parade.
“The reason why I wore that [shirt] is because no matter what I’ve accomplished in life, I still get treated the same, I still get looked at the same,” he said. “My face says, ‘Ask him for his citizenship,’ I guess.”
It was a question he got asked frequently as a kid growing up in Brawley, a city in California’s Imperial Valley that lies not an hour’s drive from the Mexican border town of Mexicali, where Romo’s mother, Leticia, is from.
But it was in Brawley, and Mexicali, where the 9-year-old Romo—who would routinely be labeled “Pochito” by those on the south side of the border—began learning the game from his father Francisco. Francisco was a die-hard Los Angeles Dodgers fan who idolized Fernando Valenzuela, almost as much as Romo idolized his father.
“My dad is my hero,” he said. “I wanted to be what my father couldn’t do. My father’s dream was to go to college, be a major league baseball player.”
After bouncing around the collegiate system and attending four schools in as many years, Romo finally broke into the big leagues in 2008 when he debuted for the Giants.
“It’s hard to see myself the way others see myself, in terms of the ball player. I still see myself as that Chicano who got told no a lot. They said ‘no se puede,’” Romo said. “I feel that if I were to believe 90 percent of the people that I knew in my younger days, I wouldn’t be where I’m at…I’m more proud of my ability to believe in myself, I’m more proud of my ability to stand up for myself, than I am in my ability to pitch.”
Romo—the son of Mexican immigrants and this year’s Giants nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award—took a stand for immigration reform back in 2012 with his famed “I just look illegal” shirt, and continues to be outspoken given the massive waves of immigrant children that have arrived from Central America this past year.
“What’s to say that amongst the children that are undocumented, [they] can’t be the difference in finding a cure, say for cancer…They can actually make a difference,” Romo said. “This is a country where anything is possible. You can chase your dreams and get that opportunity. I feel that there can be some changes that can make things easier.”