Andrew Romine retires; how 4 years with Detroit Tigers ‘catapulted’ utility man’s career

Detroit Free Press

Andrew Romine remembers counting down the days.

Ten days before Opening Day in 2014, Romine was shagging fly balls in the outfield during batting practice in spring training. Then-Los Angeles Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto emerged on the field, pointed to his young shortstop and sent a clear message.

“Get off the field,” DiPoto yelled.

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Romine — the backup to Erick Aybar — thought he did something wrong but was escorted into a room with DiPoto and manager Mike Scioscia. The Angels traded him to the Detroit Tigers for left-hander Jose Alvarez. The Tigers desperately needed a shortstop to replace an injured Jose Iglesias, so general manager Dave Dombrowski, assistant general manager Al Avila and manager Brad Ausmus met to discuss their options.

Romine was their choice.

“It created something for me that basically catapulted my career,” Romine, who turns 36 years old on Christmas Eve, said Sunday afternoon from his home in Arizona. “I was lucky enough to stay. The guys liked me. I moved over to multiple positions. And I got to play with — I mean, I don’t even know how many — All-Stars and soon-to-be Hall of Famers. It was just a crazy experience for four years.”

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Romine, an 11-year MLB veteran, announced his retirement Friday. His decision was sparked by his 2-year-old daughter, Adalynn, and what he considers a perfect ending to his playing career. Romine competed in 609 games, 435 of them for the Tigers from 2014-17. He also had stints with the Angels (2010-13), Seattle Mariners (2018), Texas Rangers (2020) and Chicago Cubs (2021).

In Detroit, Romine hit .236 with 10 home runs and 68 RBIs. He appeared in 67% of a possible 646 games and started all three games in the 2014 American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles. He hit his first career home run in May 2014. In April 2017, he crushed his first career grand slam. On Sept. 30, 2017, he became the fifth player in MLB history to play all nine defensive positions in a single game.

And that’s not to mention his personality.

He is a class act.

“There just became a point when you’re like, ‘Is your body going to hold up? Is your mind going to hold up? Is your heart going to hold up?'” Romine said. “The big thing for me was, my heart was somewhere else. It was at home with my daughter. It’s really hard to do anything when your heart is not in it fully.”

After the trade to the Tigers, Romine learned how everything went down. As Dombrowski, Avila and Ausmus searched for a new shortstop, the trio asked first base coach Omar Vizquel, an 11-time Gold Glove winner, for his recommendation.

Vizquel worked as the co-infield coach for the Angels in 2013.

He told his bosses the Tigers would like Romine.

“As the story goes, I ended up over in Detroit,” Romine said. “When somebody finally told me about this, I was like, ‘How much better a recommendation can you get than Omar Vizquel?’ From that day forward, I just followed him around like a little puppy dog.”

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Less than two weeks later, Romine texted his father — former MLB outfielder Kevin Romine — before driving home from a game at Comerica Park. (Andrew’s brother, by the way, is Austin Romine, a 10-year MLB veteran who played for the Tigers in 2020.)

Romine’s text to his father: “I f-ing did it. I’m the starting shortstop.”

“Dude, that was a moment for me,” Romine said. “I got teary-eyed driving home. The work had paid off. Like, stars aligned. God forbid people get hurt. You don’t want that to happen. But sometimes that creates an opportunity for other people.”

Studying Don Kelly

During his four-year stay with the Tigers, Romine played alongside Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Torii Hunter, Nick Castellanos, Yoenis CespedesJustin Upton, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, David Price and Robbie Ray.

But Romine looked up to Don Kelly, a utility player for the Tigers from 2009-14.

“I was a little bit nervous going into my role,” Romine said. “The person before me was one of the nicest, most genuine human beings that I’ve ever met. I mean, if you don’t love Don Kelly, you might need to see somebody. I still talk to him almost monthly because he’s such a good person.

“Going into that role, I understood what was happening and who was there. Big shoes to fill doesn’t always mean you’re filling Miggy’s shoes and his numbers. Sometimes that means filling a personality. What he provided to the city was something that other people couldn’t provide. I felt pressure to do that at first. But I was lucky enough that I got to play with DK for a year before he left, so I basically just listened to him.”

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Kelly, now the bench coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates, grew into a fan-favorite. His blue-collar mentality and nice-guy personality helped him flourish in Detroit, despite his lackluster .234 batting average in 544 games.

Like Romine, Kelly worked defensively at all infield and outfield positions.

“Everything that he said and everything that he did, I just watched him,” Romine said. “I watched him do interviews. I watched him talk to people. The thing that I saw was the way that he talked, it didn’t make who you were or whether it was in the locker room, at a bar, at a kid’s event at a hospital, he was the same exact person. This guy isn’t trying to be a good person, he just is. He would have to try to be mean. That’s how his personality was.”

All Nine Romine

In his second-to-last game with the Tigers, Romine put his super utility status to the test against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. He became the first player since Shane Halter in 2000 to take the field at all nine positions in a single game.

Only five players in MLB history have accomplished the feat.

“It was playing street ball,” Romine said. “It was playing backyard baseball with kids in the neighborhood. … For it to align, it took a lot of people saying yes. Those people, I’ve thanked a million times. Any one of them could have said no, very easily.”

Ausmus, a catcher for the Tigers when Halter played all nine, discussed the idea with Romine in 2014, but the historic event didn’t happen until September 2017. The Tigers were in the early stages of their rebuild and already decided not to renew Ausmus’ contract for the next season. Ausmus created the detailed plan to use Romine at all nine positions.

“Brad pushed it really hard. I know he did because he was super excited about himself being part of the previous one,” Romine said. “I was like, ‘Let’s do it, man.’ We were already out of (the playoffs). He already knew he wasn’t coming back. The Twins were already in the playoffs. Our game didn’t matter to anybody. I mean, talk about things working out.”

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Romine made his first and only career appearance at catcher in the seventh inning, with left-handed reliever Blane Hardy on the mound. The Tigers’ actual catcher — Bryan Holaday — played second base and called pitches.

“We had a system where (Holaday) would tell me what pitch to call, and then I would put that down,” Romine said. “When I threw the ball back, he would give me another signal for the next pitch. Every pitch that was called was actually coming from him. He would hold his hand in a fist if he wanted a fastball, or he would hold his hand open if he wanted off-speed.”

Spanning Romine’s 11-year MLB career, he played 205 games at shortstop, 160 at third base, 89 at second base, 75 at first base, 48 in center field, 24 in left field, 14 in right field, eight at pitcher and one at catcher.

Romine, a fifth-round pick in the 2007 draft out of Arizona State, never hesitated to move positions. Defensive versatility became his chief asset.

“If I say no, they’re just going to get somebody else to do it,” Romine said. “So, what kind of dummy would say no? I’m not going back to Triple-A. That’s not happening. I just said yes to everything. I went out there, got there hours before everybody else took the field, worked my ass off, learned different positions and became really good at them.”

‘I’m not going to walk away’

Romine couldn’t have imagined a better ending.

He got called up for 26 games with the Cubs in 2021 ,already knowing it was his final season as a baseball player.

“Once I had my daughter, life changed, big time,” Romine said. “My priorities changed. Everything that I was thinking about, from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep, changed. One of the main things that we talked about was, we’re going to wait until we’re done to have kids. Little do I know, I’m playing at 35 years old. I didn’t expect to play nearly this long.

“We eventually got to a point where we didn’t want to wait any longer. We ended up getting pregnant right away. … We were thinking, maybe the pandemic ends my career. And then, I get a call. People had a need for somebody like me, which is cool because you don’t see that a lot anymore. … We had talked about this season being my last hurrah.”

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The Cubs promoted Romine from Triple-A Iowa to the big leagues on July 30. He had spent the previous six months in the minor leagues, leading by example for the next generation.

Romine had his first of two unforgettable experiences Aug. 6 at Wrigley Field. The Cubs were playing the Chicago White Sox in the opener of the crosstown series. He faced closer Craig Kimbrel — who hadn’t allowed an earned run since May 15 — in the eighth inning and hit a game-tying three-run home run. It was the 11th and final homer of his career.

“We’re talking about an almost 100% guaranteed Hall of Famer,” Romine said.

On Aug. 12, Romine pitched in the ninth inning of a blowout loss against the Milwaukee Brewers. His younger brother, Austin, returned from the injured list that day. He entered the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth and caught in the ninth. The brothers delivered a scoreless inning, striking out Jackie Bradley Jr. to end the frame.

Andrew and Austin became the first brothers to make up a pitcher-catcher duo in the same game since Norm and Larry Sherry in 1962.

“They could have called up some young kid,” Andrew said. “But they chose to reward me and give me a chance to come up there. I got to play with my brother. That’s another thing I get to hang on my wall, a picture of us in the same uniform. Things that we just never thought would happen, we hoped would happen, but as the years go on, we don’t really have control over that.”

Although Romine’s playing career is over, he isn’t ruling out a return to professional baseball. He hopes to coach at some point.

“I made some calls and had some conversations with teams,” Romine said. “There were some opportunities for me to go do certain roles with teams. After sitting down with my wife (Kathryn) and my family, we decided it might be a good thing to do something else for the moment. I’m still doing lessons. That’s one of the things I really enjoy.”

Romine is taking a break to be with his family. He earned his mortgage loan originator license during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and recently joined LendUs, where he is focused on “helping young athletes get into homes and create a life of their own.” He also works as a baseball instructor.

When the time is right, Romine and his family will revisit the topic of professional baseball.

“I’m not going to walk away,” he said, “that’s for sure.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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