The sweet scene after a baseball game resembled a scene from Little League. The little brother approached the older brother, who played for the opposing team. A few seconds later, the brothers walked toward the seats on the third base side to rendezvous with their parents. Both players leaned across a railing to hug their mother and father.
What made this scene sweet and remarkable is that it didn’t happen at a Little League game. It happened at a Major League game. After catcher Austin Romine made his debut with the Yankees as a defensive replacement last Sunday, he only had to saunter across Angels Stadium to hang out with his brother, Andrew, who is an infielder for the Angels. The big brother got to see his baby brother follow him into the Majors.
And, as if that wasn’t a cool enough baseball story, Austin and Andrew embraced a father that had started the big-league chain. Kevin Romine, the proud dad, batted .251 for the Red Sox from 1985 to 1991. So Kevin and June, his wife, were witnesses as their second son became the third member to ascend to the family’s specialized line of work. The odds of that are beyond astronomical.
“That was a very emotional, roller coaster weekend for our family,” said Kevin Romine. “I don’t know if I can put into words the emotions I was feeling, other than it was utter joy. You just think of the sacrifices and what we did as a family. And they made it.”
On that memorable day, there were so many reasons the Romines were weeping in the box seats. Some of them were private, sorrowful thoughts that collided with the obvious jubilation of the occasion. Kevin explained how the family reminisced about his father, Willis, who had died of cancer earlier this year. Willis’s goal was to remain healthy long enough to see both Andrew and Austin in the Majors.
“In some ways,” Kevin said, “I believe that he was there and he was seeing his grandsons.”
On that memorable day, the Romines also cried for Jordan Stanton. Stanton, who was Austin’s and Andrew’s cousin, was a Marine corporal who was killed during combat operations in Afghanistan on March 4. Stanton was 20 years old and four months away from getting married. Before the game, June rushed to make sure Austin had a picture of Jordan with him.
“When Austin hugged me after the game,” June said, “he told me, ‘I’ve got Jordan in my pocket.’ That’s the first thing he wanted me to know.”
Two and a half weeks after Jordan’s death, Austin told me how Jordan, a boy who was always ready with another joke, had been his best friend. They played baseball, rode their bikes and laughed, laughed all the time, as kids growing up in southern California. Austin cried so much over losing Jordan that he said, “I have no more tears.” June found comfort in Austin debuting against the Angels because they were Jordan’s favorite team, and also found it symbolic that it was the 10-year anniversary of 9-11.
After 9-11, Jordan told Aunt June he wanted to join the military to help prevent another horrific attack against the United States. In June’s mind, Jordan hovered over the game.
“There was,” she said, “an extra angel there that day.”
June wore an Angels’ jersey and a Yankees’ cap to Sunday’s game, deciding that was the perfect wardrobe for a mother who had a son in each dugout. Kevin didn’t wear any paraphernalia from either team, although June theorized that he would have been most comfortable wearing a Red Sox cap. It’s not that Kevin roots for the Red Sox over either of his son’s teams. It’s just that he played for the Red Sox and still has that link. With a son who is on the Yankees, Kevin is constantly reminding people that he never despised the Yankees.
“I played against the Yankees,” Kevin said. “I never hated the Yankees.”
As June watched her sons share the field, she didn’t always see two Major Leaguers. At times, she easily flashed back to a different time.
“It felt like family,” June said. “It felt like how I’d see them when they’d come home and play catch.”
With an injured shoulder and an injured knee aggravating him, and a growing family pulling him home, Kevin, who hit .164 in 1991, retired at the age of 30. At the time, Andrew was 5 ½ years old and Austin 2 ½. While Andrew spent some time scooting around clubhouses, Austin was too young. Still, from the outset, they were raised on baby food and baseball.
Kevin stressed that he encouraged his sons to play baseball, but that he never pushed them to play the sport. That was the same approach that Kevin’s father used with him. Andrew and Austin kept devoting more time to baseball and kept dominating. Still, Kevin told them they should only play if they loved it, not to satisfy their parents.
“They loved it,” Kevin said. “It was never an issue.”
In family discussions about baseball, Kevin and June were always honest with their sons about how challenging it would be for them to get to the Majors. When Kevin was in the Minor Leagues, June recalled how she and Janelle, their oldest daughter, often ate 19 -ent cans of bean and bacon soup for dinner. Interestingly enough, Janelle, who is 29, still loves that type of soup. The Romines also have a 12-year old daughter named Becka.
Kevin doesn’t remember one moment when he felt Andrew, who is 25, and Austin, who is 22, had enough talent to be Major Leaguers. He called his memories “a culmination of moments.” One of those moments happened when Austin was a seven-year old slugger.
At that age, Austin was scheduled to play tee ball. Kevin asked the league organizers to move Austin to a higher level because he was an advanced player and might hurt someone. The organizers declined that request. In one of Austin’s first games, he hit a line drive off the center fielder’s chest and flattened the unsuspecting player. Kevin said the kid never had a chance to get ready for Austin’s bullet.
“That led me to believe that he would be a special talent,” Kevin said. “You just didn’t know how good he could be. Every kid has a ceiling.”
Because Kevin had friends who were police officers, and because the perilous profession was appealing to him, he joined the Los Angeles police force after his baseball career and is now a detective. After acknowledging the dangers of being a detective in L.A., Kevin noted that he came from a career that involved risks because he was trying to hit 95-mile per hour fastballs.
“There are risks in everything we do,” Kevin said. “We all take risks every day.”
Relieved that his two sons are in the big leagues, Kevin is hopeful that both of them will seize more playing time and enjoy prosperous careers. Andrew has two hits in 23 at-bats with the Angels for the last two seasons. Austin recorded his first hit on Monday and is a candidate for the Yankees’ postseason roster.
But, whatever happens to the brothers in the future, the Romines have already done something extraordinary. All three men, the father and two sons, have appeared in the Major Leagues. It made for a sweet and remarkable scene at a baseball game last Sunday.
Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES