Romero sharing lifelong dream with Bautista
Blue Jays ace rides on slugger's private charter flight to Phoenix
PHOENIX -- Jose Bautista has done this All-Star thing before. Ricky Romero has not. So after waking up Monday morning in Phoenix, Romero reached for his cell phone. Then he grabbed it again. And again.
"I've been texting him all morning bugging him," Romero said, laughing. "'What do we do? Where do we go? How do we dress?'"
Yet for Romero, who replaced Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez on the American League roster, the details hardly seemed to matter. Being in Phoenix was the realization of a lifelong dream that he never quite believed he would achieve.
"It was always in the back of my mind, but you never know with these things," Romero said of his last-minute selection. "A lot can happen. Once they told me, it was just something that's a dream come true. Who wouldn't want to be part of an All-Star Game and be here and enjoy these kind of things?"
For Bautista, who made his first All-Star roster last season, this year's selection was no less special. Voted the AL's starting right fielder, Romero proved that baseball fans across the continent -- not just the United States -- reward excellence."
"I have to say thanks to everyone," Bautista said. "It is crazy. But I guess when you're doing your job and you're doing it well and people are following you and recognizing that, it's a great feeling. It was awesome to see all those votes."
Bautista entered this week's festivities having received the most fan votes in league history. The Dominican native finished with 7,454,753, which surpassed the previous record of 6,069,688 set by Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. in 1994.
He hit 31 home runs over the first half of the season, compared to 24 at this time last year. Becoming the first player since Mark McGwire in 1997-98 to lead the league in home runs at the midway point for two consecutive years, Bautista also ranks first in walks (74), on-base percentage (.468), slugging (.702) and OPS (1.170).
AL STARTING NINE
"He's incredible," Rays starting pitcher and fellow All-Star James Shields said. "Every single at-bat you think he's going to hit a home run. He's been an incredible hitter over the last couple years, and his approach is one of the best approaches in baseball."
"Last year, his damage ratio was impressive, but you could still get him out," said Red Sox starter Jon Lester, who compared Bautista to Manny Ramirez. "It seems like this year, his knowledge of the strike zone has grown unbelievably. He's taking a lot more pitches, he's seeing a lot more pitches, and when he gets his pitch, he doesn't miss it."
Bautista became the first Blue Jays player voted into the All-Star Game since Carlos Delgado in 2003 and the ninth player in the club's 34-year history to receive the honor, with Roberto Alomar starting three times from 1991-93.
"To do it in Toronto, that's a pretty big deal," said Reds first baseman Joey Votto, a native Canadian. "I was watching SportsCenter the other day and he [wasn't even on until the 35th minute]. He hit two more home runs. He's leading baseball in home runs. He looks like [Barry] Bonds used to look. It's a blast watching him play. I'm just really happy a Toronto Blue Jay led fan voting. I think that's something to be pretty proud of."
Bautista is proud. But he also knows it's not exclusively about him. Upon learning that he made the All-Star team, Bautista immediately began campaigning for Romero. Then upon learning that Toronto's staff ace had indeed made the team as a replacement, Bautista surprised Romero with a seat on his private charter flight to Phoenix.
"That shows you what kind of man Jose is," Romero said. "He cares a lot."
Romero will make his first career All-Star appearance after going 7-8 with a 3.09 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 18 starts. The California native also has three complete games, including one shutout.
The news of Romero's addition officially broke Sunday afternoon, but it had been rumored for several days. That left Romero a bit on edge -- though his selection was certainly worth the wait.
"I just think about when I was playing as a kid out on Little League fields in East Los Angeles," Romero said. "To be here at the All-Star Game is unbelievable."
Both players are joined in Phoenix by their manager, John Farrell, who was named to the AL coaching staff by manager Ron Washington, his former teammate. This marks Farrell's second All-Star coaching staff appearance, after serving a similar role on Terry Francona's All-Star staff in 2008.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. Gregor Chisholm contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.