San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Sergio Romo throws a nasty slider and a 90-mile-per-hour fastball, but who would have thought that under that snow white Giants jersey beats the heart of a political activist.
As the team made its way down Market Street in their World Series victory parade last Oct. 31, there must have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of photos taken. But among those that made it into the next morning's newspapers, one stood out among all the others and has become engraved in my mind. It was Romo decked out in a blue T-shirt that declared, "I only look illegal."
The son of Mexican immigrants, who was raised in the farming community of Brawley near the California-Mexico border, used those few simple words to deliver a powerful message.
There were critics who wondered if he was not mocking his own heritage, a charge ridiculous on its face. Others questioned whether the parade was the right place to make a political statement. I would say there was no better place.
Romo showed himself in interviews during the course of the season to be a fun-loving person, and I don't know exactly what he had in mind. But I choose to view his display as an affirmation of a fundamental right to move about without being asked to "show me your papers," and a perfect rejoinder to those would use racial profiling to impose their anti-immigrant views.
A young Mexican American from Salinas watching the parade told the San Jose Mercury News he thought Romo was taking a stand to combat the animosity and hatred toward people of Mexican descent. He said he was deeply moved by the T-shirt message. The Giants star, he said, was making the point that "I'm successful. I'm here. I made it. This is who I am."
Pitchers and catchers will report for spring training in February, and for the Giants, that means a trip to Scottsdale in a state Arizona where it is legally possible to be stopped for questioning on the basis of your accent or your skin color. Alabama in the Deep South is the only other state with such a policy.
I hope Romo keeps his T-shirt handy. Maybe he will wear it one night to that holy grail of spring training steakhouses, Don and Charlie's.
Maybe he can persuade the infamous Maricopa County sheriff, Joe Arpaio, to join him. I'd love to see that photo.