SALT LAKE CITY — The first time Salt Lake Bees infielder Andrew Romine took the field against his younger brother Austin, familiar familial trash talk filled the base paths.
The men were playing in an Arizona fall league when Andrew, a speedy switch hitter, stepped into the batter’s box and, from behind the plate, heard Austin say, “You better steal if you get on.”
Andrew reached base and then narrowly beat out Austin's throw on his attempt to take second. Andrew stood and looked back toward home plate.
“I’m standing on second base looking in and he won’t look at me,” Andrew said. “I get back up the next time and he says, ‘Double or nothing.’”
The older brother again got a hit and again successfully stole second.
“I go home and the whole time I’m all giddy," Andrew recalled. "I’m excited to walk in the door. I open the door and he’s sitting on the couch playing video games. He won’t look at me; he’s just staring at the screen. I stop in the doorway. He pushes pause, and he looks over at me and says, ‘Don’t you say a word.’”
It is that competitive drive, paired with an unwavering support system at home, that has propelled the brothers to continue their family-wide love of baseball. It is a tradition that originated with their dad, Kevin, who played for the Boston Red Sox from 1985-91.
Since facing each other in that fall-league game several years ago, Andrew and Austin have taken their love for the game and turned it into a rare and spectacular accomplishment, each following in their dad's footsteps to the majors. The former is an infielder for the Salt Lake Bees and a member of the Los Angeles Angels' 40-man roster, while the latter is a catcher on the New York Yankees’ active roster.
The early years
Kevin Romine began his path to the majors at the Little League level. He later helped the Sun Devils win a national championship at Arizona State University before landing in the shadows of the Green Monster. He was a Boston outfielder for seven seasons, retiring with a career batting average of .251 and a career fielding average of .980.
The most important part of this journey, however, came when Kevin and his wife June married and started their family. First came Janelle, followed by the boys, and then Rebecca.
"Being married and having a family gave me a strong foundation and a perspective on what really matters in the overall picture," Kevin said. "They grounded me and provided incentive to succeed."
He added that his strongest baseball memories include his family and date back to his time in the minor leagues.
"When I would come out of the locker room after a game and my wife and kids would be there to meet me with a smile on their faces," he said, "it didn't matter whether or not we won or lost or if I had a good or bad day. There they were (with) unconditional love."
In return, his kids were early fans of the game. Janelle remains a "die-hard Red Sox fan" and Andrew still recalls stories of his dad's days in Boston.
"(We were) running around in Fenway, shagging baseballs while they're hitting BP," he said. "I was too young to remember most of it, but I get stories from my dad about climbing into Wade Boggs’ locker and hiding underneath his clothes and jumping out and scaring him. I get stories about hanging out around Roger Clemens and guys who are going to be legends of the game."
Like parents, like kids
From the very beginning, there was no question the Romine boys would play baseball.
"Even as babies they were drawn to the game," Kevin said. Andrew remembers that the game was so prevalent that even inside the house the game was played.
"Playing in the house with rolled-up socks as a baseball and pillows as our bats," Andrew said, and "hiding all the glass stuff that's out in the living room so we don't break it before Mom gets home."
"I always felt that if they showed a talent and love for the sport, that someday they might follow my path," Kevin said. "At a young age, they showed talents in baseball that seemed to separate them from the rest. By the time they were in high school, people would comment on their talent. I suppose that was when I felt they could play further in the game."
After high school, Andrew played for Arizona State while Austin opted to head straight to professional baseball. Both players were drafted by their respective teams in 2007.
Getting the call
Andrew, 27, spent his first season with the Orem Owlz and then moved through the farm system until September 2010, when he received "the call."
“I was supposed to fly out to Puerto Rico for the World Baseball Classic,” Andrew said. “I had already visited family in California. I even went to an Angels game.
“I drove out to Arizona, and then I end up getting that call saying, ‘Hey, you’re coming back to Anaheim. We need you here.’ I flew out the next morning, played that day, and got my first game in.”
And he did so with his family in the stands. Andrew has since spent time with both the Angels and Bees organizations over the last three seasons.
For Austin, 24, the call was not as simple. Fortunately, Andrew was with the Angels at the time.
“The Yankees (were) playing at our place,” Andrew said. “We were going into the last game and I get a message from one of the clubbies that said, ‘Joe wants to talk to you.’”
He was led to a lobby between the home and visitor locker rooms and opened a door to Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
“He said, ‘I’ve just got a quick question,’” Andrew said. “’Have you talked to your brother lately? Like today? He’s not answering his phone. Do you think you could give him a call or text him or something?’”
At the time, Austin was on the East Coast, preparing to travel home after completing his Triple-A season.
“Immediately, I’m thinking they’re calling him up,” Andrew said. “I start to panic. I feel like it’s me. I go back in (to the locker room) and I’m texting and texting; I’m calling and calling. Nothing. No answer. The last text was, ‘I’ve got to go out to BP. Joe Girardi wants to talk to you so you better call him now.’”
Austin got the message, got ahold of Girardi, and got on a plane for California.
“He shows up the next day at noon and it’s a 12:30 p.m. game,” Andrew said. “I had to bring things from home where he left some of his catcher stuff. He shows up, gets dressed, and runs out just in time for the (national) anthem.”
The best part: “He ends up going in that day and catching the last couple innings,” Andrew said. “I got to see him play his first major league baseball game, and my family was in the stands.”
Kevin was grateful for the serendipitous chain of events that allowed him and June to watch their boys take a major league field together.
“I cannot fully express how proud I was,” he said. “I was happier for each of them than I ever was for myself.”
Bigger than us
While his sons play for different teams, Kevin’s Red Sox roots still run deep.
“I still cannot bring myself to don a Yankees or Angels hat,” he said, noting the friendly rivalry within the family. “Although, I do wear one of their minor league affiliate hats to show support when I go to one of their games.”
June, on the other hand, was dressed in an Angels jersey and a Yankees hat the day Austin made his debut.
“She has been there for me and the boys throughout all of our careers,” Kevin said of his wife, who is a successful special education teacher.
“She’s been the cornerstone of everything for us,” Andrew said. “Pushing us to succeed and helping us not get back and feel bad about ourselves or sad because we’re doing badly. She keeps us happy and keeps us going forward.”
It was the home culture Kevin and June created for their kids that has allowed them to reach the full potential of their talents as adults.
“They were taught no task was too hard; all things can be achieved through dedication and hard work,” Kevin said. “Outside of baseball, be good to people, treat them as you would have them treat you. Be someone that people can rely on and trust.”
Austin, who is married and is a new dad himself, has caught 31 games for the Yankees this season after being recalled at the end of April. Andrew has served as a utility infielder, playing 56 games with the Salt Lake Bees after starting the season in Anaheim.
“We're part of something that's bigger than us,” Andrew said. “It's a huge game. There's been so many people who have come through the game, and now my dad's been a part of it and my brother's been a part of it and I got to be part of it. To be able to say that we've all made it to the big league level, it's very special for our family because baseball is a big part of our family."
Then he added, “And hopefully, this year or sometime soon, we’ll get another chance play against each other.”
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.
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