DUNEDIN, Florida - On the day his teammates began the journey north to Toronto - starting with a two-night stop in Philadelphia - Ricky Romero was at the Blue Jays' minor league complex and still unsure of his plans for Tuesday evening.
"It hurts almost to where I don't want to watch opening day, that's just the way it is," said Romero, clearly still stunned by Tuesday's demotion to Single-A Dunedin. "I care for those guys and I wish them the best of luck but at the same time something inside you, your gut, it just doesn't feel right especially being there the past four years."
Romero was optioned and as a result had 72 hours to report to the Dunedin affiliate. Instead he wasted no time, arriving the next day, eager to continue work on the nuanced changes to his delivery aimed at giving him better command of the strike zone.
But as he works, he is pained. Never a control pitcher, Romero had at least felt in control of his career. He'd heard all spring the fifth starter's job was his; he insists he was blindsided by the news general manager Alex Anthopoulos delivered in a meeting just hours after he was removed from Tuesday's game against Pittsburgh.
"It is what it is; it's one of those things where you just never know in this business," said Romero. "You understand where they're coming from and you've got to deal with it. They're the ones that make the decisions and I can only control what I can control ... Obviously the job wasn't good enough and I understand that and (I have) to move on."
Asked what Anthopoulos imparted to him, Romero, like most of us when dealt bad news, heard he'd been cut and then not much else.
"To tell you the truth I don't even remember," he said. "You kind of hear those words and you kind of zone out after that. It's an emotional meeting when you hear something like that."
Also, as too is the case in life, Romero was awakened to the depth of his closest friendships as he hit the lowest point of his big league career.
"I don't think I've ever realized how much I mean to those guys," said Romero. "Me and J.P. had an emotional talk the night it happened. We've been together for such a long time; we talked about this moment for such a long time and being able to be together and be part of this team for a long time ... What I've come to realize the past couple of days is the impact I've had on these guys and the relationships that I've been able to build not just with my teammates but guys around the league that have reached out to me, college coaches, high school coaches. It just shows me things I don't see I've been able to see the past couple of days."
There is no timeline for Romero's return to the Blue Jays; there are no assurances of a role in the starting rotation if he does come back. J.A. Happ will begin the season as the club's fifth starter, newly outfitted with a contract extension announced Wednesday evening that will pay him $5.2-million in 2014. The Blue Jays hold a club option for 2015 valued at $6.7-million.
"J.A. pitched great all spring training and I texted him right away and said, 'Hey man, you deserved it' and 'you earned it and I wish you nothing but the best,'" said Romero.
Hindsight is 20-20, Romero knows better than anyone at the moment, but he isn't willing to speculate about whether he'd have approached spring training differently with the knowledge he was competing for a job.
"There wasn't much I could have done because of the surgery that I had on my elbow so I was restricted a little bit," said Romero. "I told myself, for the first time in my career, I'm going to take a step back and not come in as ready as I've come in years past and I'm going to finish getting ready in spring training. To say that that cost me the job, I don't know. But in no way shape or form have I ever gotten complacent or have ever been like, 'This is my job.' There's always going to be someone who wants your job no matter what. I don't care how much money you're making or what you're doing or what you've done. What you've done in the past is in the past and it's what you can do in the future and in the present. It's one of those things where I'm not going to make excuses for anything."
No excuses but instead a pledge. Romero's message to Blue Jays fans eager for their team's arrival back home.
"I'll see you soon, Toronto."