TUCSON — The Edmonton Trappers faced a serious problem as they left for Canada this morning after completing a Pacific Coast League series with the Tucson Toros Wednesday night: You almost can't get there from here.
The Trappers were scheduled to fly to Phoenix, then to Los Angeles, to Salt Lake City and finally on to Edmonton, a circuitous itinerary that many of the Trappers hope will be extended ultimately to include Anaheim, where the parent Angels play.
Most hopeful, perhaps, is Ron Romanick, who knows the way to the Big A. He traveled it in reverse July 22 when he was demoted to the Angels' Triple-A farm club after having failed in a series of attempts to retain his role as the varsity's fifth starter.
The decision prompted some sharp language from both the 25-year-old Romanick and General Manager Mike Port, and set fans to wondering. Less than a year earlier, the right-hander rolled into August with a 13-4 record. He won just 1 of his last 10 starts last season, though, and then won just 5 of 18 starts this year.
So far, Romanick has started six games for the Trappers, and he will probably start two more before the Angels must decide if they are going to recall him before Sept. 1, making him eligible for the playoffs should the Angels win the American League West title.
There is no word from the Angels, no clear evidence as to the depths of disfavor into which Romanick has fallen. If anything, the Angels seem to suggest that Romanick is ticketed for trade, that he is working to re-establish his marketability.
Romanick, in the meantime, believes he is already there. He believes that by deciding to re-establish his fastball, rather than relying on finesse, he has re-established his career and is ready to pitch again in the majors--preferably for the Angels.
"I'm back," he said. "I'm just not back in Anaheim yet."
Romanick says that he is not bitter but that he is bewildered by the Angels' refusal to elaborate on his future when neither Ray Chadwick, the rookie, nor Vern Ruhle, the veteran, have satisfied the team's search for a fifth starter.
"You can get mad, you can get emotional, but what good is that going to do?" he said. "It doesn't get me called up. It doesn't win me any respect. I decided at the time that I had to come down and straighten myself out, make myself the best pitcher I could be again."
Said Winston Llenas, Edmonton's manager: "A lot of guys would have come down and said (bleep) it, but Ron's attitude has been great. He hasn't missed a turn, he hasn't big-leagued it. He knew he had work to do and he's gone about doing it."
Said Marcel Lachemann, the Angel pitching coach, who is in frequent contact with Frank Reberger, Lachemann's counterpart at Edmonton: "I give Ron credit. He's gone down and done what he had to do, which was work at getting himself squared away. Some guys go down and say, 'Well, I'll be back in a matter of time no matter what.' Many times it's too late when they finally realize that's not the way it works."
Attitude, of course, is important, but ability is the bottom line. The Angels were wowed by Romanick's when he jumped from Double-A in the spring of 1984 and won 12 games as a rookie. They grew uncertain about it when that 13-4 of '85 began to disintegrate, and the struggle lingered through '86.
Romanick now seems to be impressing people again. He has allowed only 11 hits and 7 runs in the 20 innings of his last 3 starts. He is throwing hard, challenging hitters with a fastball clocked in the mid to high 80s, and cutting back on his off-speed and breaking pitches.
Said Llenas, who managed Romanick at Nashua, N.H., before the pitcher jumped to Anaheim: "He had gotten too cute, but now he's changing that. Now he's back throwing the way he did when I had him. He knows that he's got to use the fastball if he's going to go back up. Use it or lose it. It's still the best pitch in baseball."
Preston Gomez, former Angel coach and big league manager who is now Port's assistant, watched Romanick in his last two starts with the Trappers.
"There's a night-and-day difference between this and what we were seeing in Anaheim," Gomez said. "The other night he threw more fastballs in the one game than he did in the last two years combined.
"He's never going to be in the 90s with it. He's never going to strike out a lot of hitters. But he can throw it 85 and 86 and that makes his breaking pitches better, and his breaking pitches make his fastball better."
Said Romanick: "I'm throwing better now than when I made the team in '84. I'm not trying to trick people. You pitch aggressively and with confidence and good things happen. You get the double play. You get the ball hit at someone rather than blooped over their head. You've got control without having to think about it. Now I can remember the way I used to throw."
If he can remember now, why couldn't he remember earlier? If he can remember now, how and why did it get away from him in the first place?