About this series: I pick a D-Back randomly and write a story about him or her. Or maybe I don’t really pick them that randomly. But the idea is you will read about people you might not even remember. But you could know them because there is something remarkable about their time with, before or after the D-Backs.
He is Canadian
Just 1.15% of all players that have played in the MLB, according to data from Baseball Reference, hail from Canada. There aren’t too many famous baseball players that come from Canada and even less from London, Ontario, unless you believe George Gibson and Paul Quantrill to be stars.
We could say that London, Ontario, is perhaps a pretty random town from a baseball point of view and that makes sense, since the 450,000 inhabitants of the city are considered as average as a Canadian can be.
It is in this city where Jamie Romak is born in 1985 and he attends the AB Lucas Secondary School. A country, state, city and school more famous because of their ice hockey players than baseball players.
“I played hockey, but baseball was my love and that was what I wanted to do. [...] I just had a different type of passion for it.” - Jamie Romak on his background in an interview on milb.com
Romak is a good baseball player, no doubt about that. Before draft day he had spoken to several teams and there was a good probability one of Braves, Expos or Pirates would pick him.
“I remember going into the day with some expectations, just from teams I had talked to. It was looking like I could go between the third and seventh round [...] I remember believing it would happen, but when the Draft started, I start hearing all the names getting rhymed off [...] and I’m just this 17-year-old Canadian kid thinking, ‘How does my name fit in with any of these guys?” - Jamie Romak on his background in an interview on milb.com
And it is the Atlanta Braves who draft Romak in the 4th round of the 2003 draft.
Eleven years a minor leaguer
Still just 17 years of age he starts his pro career in 2003 with the GCL Braves. The following seasons he is stuck in the rookie leagues as well, with the Danville Braves, battling injuries and poor results. Romak recalls it as a moment where he actually thought about leaving the game for what it is.
“Growing up, you think you’re invincible. You’re used to being the big fish in a small pond, so to speak. That’s the time of your life when everybody is telling you how great you are and all that. Once you start in pro ball, you’re just one of all of these guys who’ve been told how great they are.” - Jamie Romak on his background in an interview on milb.com
The Pirates acquire Romak in a 2007 trade. Baseball prospectus writes positively about his power and the ability to draw walks, but also highlights his struggles with lefties and the high number of strikeouts. After a drop in power, walks and a constant high strikeout rate the Pirates decide to cut Jamie Romak loose in 2009.
That was a huge blow for the batter, who recalls that in 2008 his path to the majors was open, as the Pirates had told him. It was tough, and he sincerely thought if it was possible to get over what was a terrible 2009 season:
“I got ahead of myself. When they start to talk to you about how close you are, you get too far away from your own game and what made you successful.” - Jamie Romak on the cause of his 2009 setback in an interview on milb.com
He is signed by the Kansas City Royals several times on a minor league contract, but it isn’t until 2012 when he makes his Triple A debut at 26 years of age. The results are terrible and in a very low profile deal the Cardinals acquire him from the Royals for cash considerations.
In 2014 he is a Dodger and ready to make his debut after two seasons of decent AAA results for both Cardinals and Dodgers. While his time in Dodger blue definitely isn’t what he had hoped (.048/.130/.095 in 21 PA), it is a remarkable feat for the player who spent almost 11 years in the minor leagues before reaching the big leagues.
So many different places. I’ve spent so much time away from home. Away from my wife and family and friends. I’ve missed weddings. We’ve sadly lost people in the family and I couldn’t even get home for their funeral. I played winter ball for years at a time and really reduced my off-season time with the people that are close to me. If I’m going to do that and they’re going to make that sacrifice, I owe it to myself and I owe it to them to see it through. And everyday I put on the uniform to do the very best I can and to make them proud and to reach the ultimate goal of becoming a big league baseball player. - Jamie Romak about where his perseverance comes from, in an interview on sportsnet.ca after making his MLB debut.
After his debut in the majors, and subsequent release by the Dodgers, Jamie Romak lands a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks on November 21, 2014, with an invitation to Spring Training. The D-Backs aren’t expected to be competitive so it is a good opportunity for Romak to return to the major leagues. As Jim McLennan would write, Romak has a decent Spring Training batting line, but by the end of March 2015 he is assigned to the Reno Aces anyhow. Romak would finish the season in AAA leading the Aces in runs, homers and walks (but also in strikeouts), so it does not come as a surprise that the Diamondbacks give him a second shot at the majors.
That invitation does not show up until August though, when the D-Backs trade Cliff Pennington to the Toronto Blue Jays and select Romak’s contract in a corresponding move.
Jamie Romak’s debut was not a performance to write home about: he struck out looking as a pinch hitter. But it was the game he debuted in that forever will be remembered: it was the day on which the Diamondbacks retired Randy Johnson’s #51. The D-Backs went down 4-1 against the Reds, but imagine how cool it probably was for Jamie Romak to make his debut at Chase Field with more than 40,000 people in the stands and to see a ceremony where a fresh HOF gets his jersey retired.
Romak’s stats for the Diamondbacks were actually quite fine with a .333/.375/.467 line, but his SO% was 37.5% and his BABIP was huge with .556 so it looks like the D-Backs front office led by Dave Stewart didn’t really buy into his brief period success as a bit more than a week after being called up to the MLB, the Diamondbacks option Romak to the Reno Aces after they activate Randall Delgado. Romak does not return, finishes the season in Triple A and is eventually released by the Diamondbacks in November.
Romak decides to look for baseball success overseas, although somewhat cryptically he would later recall:
Had things worked out differently with the Diamondbacks, I probably would have stayed in North America and continued to pursue a Major League career. [...] But there is a lot that goes into maintaining a Major League roster spot, outside of your performance alone. There is a lot of roster movement that is just out of your hands. I could kind of see the writing on the wall, and that a chance to play every day in Asia would be a better path for me. - Jamie Romak on his departure out of the MLB in an interview with St. Marys Independent
A Legend in Korea
After being forced to leave Arizona, Romak lands in the Japanese NPB with the Yokohama Bay Stars, but finds no success. He signs a minor league deal with the Padres in 2017 and mashes in the PCL like he did before for the Aces. That catches the eye of Korea’s SK Wyverns, who are looking for a foreign slugger.
He takes the lessons he has learned in Japan with him and probably experiences the most successful and most fun time he has had in baseball.
“You have a cheer master and a cheerleading squad and it’s basically a concert going on the whole game. After the game, if you get the game MVP you go up on the stage with the fans and they make you dance and do embarrassing things. The first time I went up there I was like ‘this isn’t me, this isn’t the environment I’m used to.’ But I’ve gotten better at being comfortable with being a little uncomfortable and the games here are a blast. The most fun I’ve had playing baseball.” - Jamie Romak in an interview for thestar.com
He becomes a well-known player in Korea, but also finds his way in North American media outlets via several interviews like this and this one with Fangraphs as he becomes one of few players to have long lasting success in the KBO.
In the end he has won a Korean Series with his team, together with Merrill Kelly, and also becomes a true legend: in five years in the KBO, Romak bats .273 with 155 home runs and 409 RBIs in 626 games, putting him at third on the all-time KBO home run ranking for foreign players.
When Romak announces his retirement in November 2021 his team rewards him by not retiring his #27 jersey, but reserving it for any foreign hitter to join the team.
Nowadays, after hanging up the cleats, Jamie Romak has joined Great Lake Canadians, an elite amateur baseball organisation in his native Ontario, as director of player performance.