Romo prepared for emotional Giants goodbye in final game


SAN FRANCISCO -- As the rain slowed and the sun started to peek through the clouds last Wednesday morning, Sergio Romo walked onto the outfield grass at Scottsdale Stadium and began playing catch with a member of the Giants staff. He wasn't able to be very productive. 

Romo's patch of grass was directly in front of the batting cages, and a steady stream of Texas Rangers stopped by on their way to warm up, greeting Romo with hugs and congratulatory pats on the chest. The last non-roster invitee to join Giants camp spent plenty of time with each of the visitors, chatting, laughing and smiling his way through conversations and then briefly returning to his game of catch, which also was occasionally interrupted as he told stories from his playing days and doubled over in laughter.

As he got his 40-year-old arm ready, the smile never left Romo's face. 

"I've never seen him happier," said broadcaster Duane Kuiper, who was there for Romo's debut, his best moments on the mound, and again when he returned last week. "You could tell that being in uniform, being in the clubhouse, being around the guys, that's something that he really needs. He was really happy. 

"It's hard to imagine that he could be happier in his life right now given the fact that he's not pitching anymore, but still [is] really happy that he's around the ballpark. And I think it's important to him."

That will be on full display Monday night, when Romo puts on his familiar No. 54, gets loose in the bullpen at Oracle Park, waits for "El Mechón" to start blasting and makes the slow jog to the mound to say goodbye. That game of catch last week, and all of the rest of the work he did, was to get Romo's body ready after an offseason during which he didn't pick up a ball, but that's not the part of Romo's body that he's worried about.

As good as the slider was, it was his heart that carried him through 851 appearances in the big leagues, including one that clinched a championship. It will swell with pride when he puts on the Orange and Black one last time, and it will be thumping as fast as it ever has when he thinks about what he's doing. 

Romo isn't afraid of facing hitters again, but he's not sure how he's going to feel once that work is done. As he stood in the Giants clubhouse on Saturday morning and thought about it, he looked up at the ceiling and shook his head.

"How do you practice walking away?" he asked. 

The day will be emotionally exhausting, and not just for Romo. The Giants brought him back to camp early enough that it allowed fans to buy tickets for the exhibition against the Oakland Athletics, which is now more of a goodbye to Romo than a tuneup for Thursday's opener against the New York Yankees.

On Sunday's broadcast, Kuiper and Mike Krukow admitted they might have trouble keeping their eyes dry as Romo walks off for the final time. Kuiper joked that when the Giants fly to New York, Romo might just find a bed in the clubhouse and fall asleep given how much he loves being a Giant. That might not be too far from the truth. 

"I was blown away that they drafted me in '05, I was blown away that they kept giving me opportunity after opportunity in the minors. I wasn't necessarily the sharpest tool in the shed, a black sheep a little bit, I was misunderstood in a couple of ways, but they still had faith in me," Romo said. "And then I got called up and it was almost like they never doubted what was showing up, regardless of what I was putting out, regardless of if I had a great day, a good day, an average day, a bad day, not so good day."

Romo had a consistent image in his mind, too. He remembers leaving after nine years being "a hard pill to swallow" because he had hoped to be like Matt Cain, who got drafted by the Giants and never knew anything else. Romo first landed in Los Angeles of all places, but he remained so beloved in San Francisco that he got a standing ovation when he first returned wearing Dodger blue.

From there, it was on to Tampa Bay, Miami, Minnesota, Oakland, Seattle, Toronto and even Acereros de Monclova of the Mexican League. And now, back home. 

Fifteen years after he made his debut in Cleveland and struck out two of the three batters he faced, Romo will flip a few more sliders up there and perhaps steal a strike with his fastball. The thin mustache has turned into a bushy beard, and all around him, there are reminders of how long he has been doing this, especially at home. 

"My oldest just got his driver's license!" he said, laughing. 

What's next is a bit of a mystery. Romo lives in the city and will be involved with the Giants in some form, but those details are to be ironed out. After watching him have one-on-one conversations with countless members of the organization last week, manager Gabe Kapler said Romo "probably has a lot to offer" the organization. 

"He's seen the game from a lot of different angles: Championships, the last out, being on the outside looking in on a roster, trying to prove to people that you can compete at the major league level with stuff that is not high-octane stuff," Kapler said. "He kind of answered the bell from all of those angles. I think it's just a great perspective, a great veteran perspective."

As he prepares to figure out life after baseball, Romo said he's fine with knowing this is it for him as a player. He's grateful the Giants came up with a creative way to say goodbye instead of just asking him to throw out the first pitch one night and tip his cap.

"I know most people don't understand when I say I don't know what I did to deserve this," he said. "I sincerely mean that, just more so for the fact that I understand how special this opportunity is, I understand the teams that I was a part of and what we were able to accomplish, what we meant to the fan base. I understand that, it's just, things are unexpected. It's just that much sweeter because it is something that I didn't expect and I didn't see happening." 

RELATED: Romo smiling through final chapter of MLB career with Giants

Romo has joked with team officials that he just wishes they had called with the unique opportunity four months ago, but he spent the last week getting his arm up to speed, and anyway, if anyone was born to roll out of bed and start throwing sliders, it's him. 

He'll get one last chance, and then he'll figure out how to walk away. How do you practice that? You don't. All you can do is savor the moment. 

"For all those people that thought I may have had ice in my veins, well, that ice has melted a little bit now," he said, smiling. "I just don't want all of it to come out."

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