Blue Jays' cultural atmosphere led Sergio Romo to sign in Toronto

The Blue Jays are hoping Sergio Romo can improve their reeling bullpen. (Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports)
The Blue Jays are hoping Sergio Romo can improve their reeling bullpen. (Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports) (USA TODAY Sports)

Sergio Romo was a hit the moment he joined the Toronto Blue Jays’ clubhouse. On Wednesday, he was already lounging around the locker room couches and joking loudly with teammates he’d just met.

"I’ve been blessed with a rather universal personality," Romo joked in his first meeting with the media at Rogers Centre.

The reliever then ran down the left-field line and tossed his glove in the air, picked it back up, and hiked it between his legs like he was playing centre in a football game. Romo may have more flamboyance and personality than most major-league players, but he didn't accept a one-year deal with Toronto just to provide comedic relief.

At 39 years old and having recently been designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners, Romo knows who he is and why he’s here. Though he’s still got something to offer on the mound, his fastball sits at just 85 mph. The arm isn’t what it used to be, and Toronto added him to the roster knowing that. The Jays are more interested in his intangible assets.

"I’ve been able to see some winning teams; been on some losing teams," said the 15-year veteran. "Been with MVPs, Cy Youngs, Rookie of the Years, Comeback Player of the Years; I've seen perfect games and no-hitters and three homers in a World Series.

"I mean, heck, I was even blessed with the opportunity to close out a World Series. If there's anything that I know that I do bring, it is that experience. Nothing’s really going to surprise me at this moment."

It’s easy to see why the Blue Jays were interested in that mindset. The better question is why Romo chose Toronto, when other clubs were most definitely interested in his services.

"I’m hungry, too," Romo said. "I want to win. [I’ve] been blessed with three rings. By the end of my career, I wouldn't mind saying there's four, and to be able to do it with these young bucks who are making their own path and making their own history their own way."

Romo noted how the Blue Jays’ cultural atmosphere drew him to the club. He also found a bit of irony in the fact that he’d pitched against some of his new teammates’ dads — Vladimir Guerrero Sr. and Craig Biggio finished their MLB careers around the same time Romo’s was gaining steam.

Romo’s relationship with Jays manager Charlie Montoyo also attracted him to Toronto. Romo and Montoyo shared time in 2017 and '18, when the right-hander pitched out of the Tampa Bay Rays’ bullpen and Montoyo served as the club’s bench coach.

"I know him pretty good," Montoyo said of Romo. "He’s funny. He talks a lot, in a good way, like he keeps going. He’s got a lot of energy."

Montoyo fondly remembers a moment during the Tampa Bay days when Romo celebrated his 10 years of major-league service time by purchasing a bunch of scooters and hosting a raffle. Charlie’s youngest son, Alex Montoyo, won a scooter, much to the enjoyment of the Rays’ clubhouse.

The Montoyo-Romo connection is important to both parties.

"We have great history in the past … it's cool to be around someone that I'm very familiar with," Romo said. "He has my trust. He's already expressed to me that he trusts me, so I'm thankful that he still fights for me. He still wanted me here.

"If I'm not doing so great, he's gonna let me know; fire me up; get me going; be my William Wallace, so to speak. And I know Charlie is going to be that for me."

Romo’s addition also serves as an appetizer for what’s to come as the Aug. 2 trade deadline approaches.

"This isn't something that is going to stop us from continuing to look to improve this team," Jays general manager Ross Atkins said, "Across the position-player front, whether it's in the ‘pen, whether it's just pitching in general, whether it's run prevention or run scoring."

The bullpen has been a bit of a sore spot for the Blue Jays lately, with relievers contributing a minus-1.32 win-probability-added this month, fourth worst in baseball. Romo’s acquisition helps, but more arms are needed, and soon.

"I think any team in contention can add to their bullpen," Atkins said. "Every team in contention is probably going to be looking to do that, as will we."

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