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Romero Fulfills Baseball Dream

Cal State Fullerton's ace is selected sixth in the amateur draft. USC's Clement is third and Long Beach State's Tulowitzki is seventh.

June 08, 2005|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Ricky Romero dreamed of playing baseball at its highest levels, even though many youngsters he grew up with in East Los Angeles didn't share those aspirations.

But Romero broke the mold, first starring at Los Angeles Roosevelt High and now at Cal State Fullerton. And Tuesday, the left-handed ace pitcher for the defending College World Series champions took a step toward the next level when he was selected sixth overall by the Toronto Blue Jays in Major League Baseball's amateur draft.

Romero was part of a banner day for local college and high school players, four of whom were selected among the first seven. USC catcher Jeff Clement went third to Seattle and University of Miami third baseman Ryan Braun, a former Granada Hills High star, went fifth to Milwaukee. After Romero was chosen, Colorado took Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki with the seventh pick.

Romero and Braun became the first two former City Section players to be selected in the first round in 25 years. Braun's selection was the highest by a City Section player since Darryl Strawberry was chosen first by the New York Mets in 1980.

For Romero, a former City player of the year, the last two years have been especially rewarding. "It's just unbelievable, the things that have happened to me," he said. "Winning a national championship. Now this. There's no better way to script it."

Romero, who is 12-5 with a 2.95 earned-run average, will pitch this weekend, when the Titans play host to Arizona State in an NCAA super-regional beginning Friday night. He said his focus was on getting back to Omaha and the College World Series but acknowledged that it was a big day in the family's home.

He said that, after signing with the Blue Jays, he would pay off the mortgage. Romero is the highest drafted Cal State Fullerton player since Adam Johnson went second overall in 2000.

"It's a dream come true for not just me but also for my parents," he said. "I think I've made them proud and I think I've made the community of East Los Angeles really proud."

In all, seven area players went in the first two rounds. The first local high school player taken was Ryan Tucker, a right-hander from Temple City, who went 34th overall to Florida in the supplemental portion of the first round.

San Diego had the next pick and chose left-handed pitcher Cesar Ramos, Tulowitzki's teammate at Long Beach. Two picks later, at No. 37, the Angels used their first pick to select hard-throwing right-hander Trevor Bell of Crescenta Valley High.

Clement said his feelings about the previous 24 hours couldn't be "put into words." USC advanced to a super-regional at Oregon State with a 5-2 victory over Pepperdine on Monday night.

The slugging junior said he got a good feeling when the telephone rang after the first two picks -- high school shortstop Justin Upton of Chesapeake, Va., and third baseman Alex Gordon of the University of Nebraska -- were made. The Mariners have had trouble trying to find a permanent replacement for aging catcher Dan Wilson.

"I think it's a wonderful fit," said Clement, a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award as the nation's top college player. "If they didn't feel they needed a catcher, they wouldn't have drafted one so high."

Tulowitzki, a smooth-fielding 6-foot-3 shortstop in the mold of Oakland's Bobby Crosby, also a Long Beach State product, said he was thrilled at the prospect of playing at Coors Field after spending his college career at the 49ers' pitcher-friendly Blair Field.

On some draft projections, the Long Beach star was expected to go third to the Mariners. When Seattle went with Clement, he slid down as Washington took college third baseman Ryan Zimmerman of Virginia and Milwaukee and Toronto locked in on Braun and Romero, respectively.

"I guess Seattle was still in the mix but it wasn't a set deal by no means," said Tulowitzki, who hit .349 with eight homers this season. "You don't want to put any pressure on yourself but, yeah, hitters talk about [Coors Field] all the time. I guess it's the baseball gods working in a mysterious way."

Braun, whom the Brewers project as a third baseman or an outfielder, is also a Golden Spikes finalist, hitting .396 with 18 homers and 75 runs batted in for Miami, which plays in a super-regional Friday at Nebraska.

FIRST ROUND, LOCAL SELECTIONS, D8

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