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BALLPLAYER HEADS FOR MILITARY.

Byline: Amy Raisin Staff Writer

VALENCIA - The biggest ovation at last week's Valencia High baseball team's end-of-the-season banquet erupted for James Romero, an outfielder who didn't always get the start in the Vikings' best-ever season.

Tears flowed from the lanky senior's eyes and many in attendance followed suit as coach Jared Snyder announced that the young man who wouldn't quit, even when it looked as though he would not make the team, was headed for the Air Force after graduation.

``I don't think it really had anything to do with the fact that he was leaving for the Air Force,'' Snyder said. ``It's more about who he is as a young man, that he decided to stick it out in baseball even when it looked like he would be cut.''

Romero, 17, said emotions are running high in recent weeks because of graduation and his summer date with boot camp in San Antonio. After four years in the Vikings baseball program, his teammates have become his brothers.

``It just kind of made me cry (at the banquet) because I'm leaving,'' said Romero, his dark hair still bleached blond - a team ritual in the playoffs. ``This whole team is like my family. They're my best friends. Every weekend we'd all hang out.''

He admits that he relied even more on his teammates because his family wasn't able to make it out to his games. Where Vikings baseball is concerned, games and fund-raisers are like a religion to most of the parents.

``They really didn't come to many of my games during high school. We've had our ups and downs. But you just have to get past that,'' he said. ``But I still love them.''

Many of the players' parents, however, found the teen's gentle manner and unwavering determination irresistible.

Sally Clark-Ives, mother of center fielder and pitcher Jared Clark, said she looks at James like a son. In fact, when he spends weekends at her home, her 8-year-old son happily gives Romero his bed.

``I'm just going to be so sad when he leaves,'' she said. ``He doesn't have his (driver's) license, so we'd give him rides to games. He's even been here when Jared's not here. He's A-OK in my book.''

Teammate Jared Clark, a sophomore, said he's learned a lot about sportsmanship and selflessness from Romero, who's one of his best friends.

``Even though James didn't get to play that much, he never complained,'' Clark said. ``It's really hard for us to know he's leaving, especially because (our families) kind of take care of James. I think he knows that our parents care for him like a son. I know his parents love him, but our moms treat him just like a son.''

Romero's grandmother, Antelope Valley resident Adele DeRienzo, said she is proud of her grandson, though the thought of sending him off to join the military is a bit scary.

``I'm very proud of him, but at the same time I'm a little anxious,'' the 72-year-old said. ``We've never had any boys in the service. We had four girls. With everything that's going on right now, I'm anxious. But I'm sure he'll do very well.''

Romero realizes that boot camp will be perhaps his greatest challenge, but his ability to stick it out in baseball will likely serve him well when he's taken to task by a venerable drill sergeant.

Snyder, Romero's coach at Valencia High, is confident that his most determined player will make it in life.

``He went from a player who was literally on the verge of being cut - he said, 'I will do anything you ask me to do' - to becoming one of our best center fielders. He brought his teammates up a level by how hard he worked,'' Snyder said.

Romero, with 20/20 vision, said he may be interested in becoming a pilot, but right now, he's not looking too far past surviving boot camp.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

James Romero, his hair blond from a team ritual, will enter the Air Force, backed by baseball coach Jared Snyder.

David R. Crane/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 27, 2002
Words:683
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