By Stephen Ramirez
@SteveRRamirez on Twitter
LA PUENTE — The clock for John Romano’s time at Nogales High School is winding down.
The long-time Nobles baseball coach, who built the program nearly from the ground up to one of the area’s best, had said previously that his season would be this last, and that leaves Thursday’s regular season finale at home at 3:15 p.m. vs. Northview and any possible CIF-Southern Section playoff games in the coming weeks before he walks away, which he does so with no regrets.
“It’s bitter sweet,” he said. “It’s the last week. I’m not looking forward to it ending, but everything has to come to an end. My baseball career at Nogales High School will end after the playoffs, and I’m OK with that.
“Will I coach baseball again? I hope so. Will I coach high school baseball again? Possibly, or something else. But it’s been a wonderful journey. I’ve been very fortunate to have very supportive parents, a very lovely wife of 27 years. There’s an outstanding young man for a son, Christopher, who will graduate from Michigan State in 2016. I’ve been very fortunate in that respect, but also I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had some good players over the years, and some unselfish players from Danny Garcia (2006), who was the best player I’ve ever coached, to the bullpen catcher who didn’t get to play more than a couple of innings. They’ve all been unselfish and put the team first.”
But Romano was definitely the pilot for the Green and White ship, guiding it to be one of the top programs in the area. Romano, who was at Yucca Valley before moving to Nogales, comes into today with a record of 620-321-9 record in 34 seasons at Nogales, with an overall mark of 634-333-9. He was inducted into the California Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2006.
His resume will feature six league and 11 tournament championships, with 18 of his players drafted by Major League Baseball teams and 29 receiving four-year university scholarships. He also had three players play in the Mexican Leagues.
For most in the area, Romano is Nogales baseball. But he said he did not do it alone. He credited his coaching tree, which includes former assistant Tim Ward, now Chaffey Union High School assistant superintendent; Chis Conlin, baseball coach at Irvine University; former Ventura coach Paul Togneri, who was Romano’s first star player, and Don Montanez, his assistant the past 29 seasons. All, among others, played a big part in what Romano has accomplished at Nogales.
“In 37 years, I’ve built a lot of relationships,” Romano said. “Those relationships were during good times, during bad times. But they were all positive, whether with the players or coaches. What people need to understand is that John Romano as he sits here today would not have been as successful if Don Montanez hadn’t been an assistant coach for 29 years. Don’s desire to be here 29 years allowed me to have two head coaches, and hopefully Don will be the next head coach here.”
Romano said another key person behind the scene in his success has been athletic director Bruce Alley.
“I can’t say enough about Alley as our athletic director,” he said. “Before Alley, we had no batting cages. He knew baseball was important for this community and he made it important at the school. Before him, Nogales was a football, a basketball school.”
Romano also coached three high school All-Americans — Cecil Fielder (1981), who later became a Major League star for the Detroit Tigers; Mate’ Borgogno (1987) and Danny Garcia (2005, 2006) — and one Olympian — Bert Reyes, who played for the Mexican National team at the 1992 Olympics.
Romano said Andrew Melchor (2009) was his best pitcher, with Garcia his best player, even over Fielder.
“Cecil and me are going to be tagged at the hip for the rest of our lives,” Romano said. “Cecil is a great human being who has opened up many doors for me in my life. That relationship is a special relationship between me and him. I hope he reads this down in Atlanta, but Danny Garcia is the best player I’ve ever coached.
“There were three high school All-Amecians. Cecil was the first, Mate’ Borgogno in 1987 and Danny was the third.”
Now Romano will wait for the end to come, whether it be Thursday against Northview, or in the CIF-SS playoffs, which begin next week. Either way, he’s ready to end this part of his life.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I can’t thank people enough.”