Former UM star Romero in awe of pro-style fame

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Sierra Romero had no idea what the reception would be like at the M-Den when she arrived for a two-hour autograph session Wednesday.

Romero, a three-time Big Ten player of the year at Michigan and the national player of the year last season, was here to play two games for her professional team, the USSSA Pride, on Tuesday and Wednesday at Michigan’s Alumni Field.

“I didn’t know if there was going to be a ton of people or not very many people, but the line was wrapped around the stairs,” Romero said Wednesday. “When I was little I had no idea that I was going to get this far with this sport. The fact I’m here doing autograph for fans, I never knew my name was going to get that big to where people were going to come line up and camp out to get those wristbands. It was awesome.”

Romero was the face of Michigan’s softball program since her arrival from California, leading the Wolverines to College World Series appearances in three of the last four years.

Last season, Romero hit .451 and had 76 runs, 73 hits, 19 home runs and 79 RBIs. She ranked third nationally with 1.29 runs per game and 1.32 RBIs per game, and was sixth with .577 on-base percentage and .883 slugging percentage. A three-time Big Ten player of the year, she holds NCAA records for career runs (302) and grand slams (11), and is the only player in history with 300 runs, 300 hits and 300 RBIs.

“I’m never going to get over this,” Romero said. “I was that little girl going to the end of the foul pole trying to get high five from players and asking for autographs. ... I remember when I was a little girl and you look up to these women and you want to be like them, and I want to make sure I’m always a good role model and I do what I can do for the fans when I’m around.”

Romero stayed in Oklahoma City after Michigan was eliminated from the College World Series — and wore Oklahoma gear to watch her sister, Sydney, a freshman, play in a championship game before heading off to the Pride.

Sierra Romero never won a national title at Michigan, and she said she didn’t endure any angst watching her little sister win.

“I was just happy for her and it was really cool,” Romero said. “My whole career she showed up in Michigan gear, so now it was my turn to do it for her. I’m glad she hit the home run for me to see.”

Romero admits it felt strange the first time she walked onto Alumni Field for warmups Tuesday — wearing something other than Michigan gear.

“But I was just happy I got to play on the field as a pro athlete this time,” she said. “What are the odds that’s going to happen?”

The Pride season lasts until August, and Romero said she can make a living playing professionally when most of her income will come from endorsements, which she’s currently finalizing. She is working out a deal with DeMarini, which supplies bats and gloves, and one with adidas.

“So we can focus on playing like a real professional should,” she said.

Not surprisingly, the pro game is different than college.

“The game is harder,” Romero said. “It’s a lot faster. Every pitcher you face is really good. You’re facing the ace from other college teams so you’re never facing a weaker pitcher. That was definitely different when it came to adjusting with my hitting. The game’s faster, the girls are quicker, so you have to be better on defense.”

After the season ends, she will take a month off — from softball and conditioning.

She plans to sleep in, watch movies, go to the beach and have fun with her Pride teammates.

“This time off is literally going to be just letting my body rest,” Romero said. “No softball, no nothing. As soon as that time off is done, I’ll kick it right back into full gear and go hard at it.”

Romero also intends to pursue a career in sports broadcasting with either the Big Ten Network or ESPN.

“The goal is to do anything and everything, but I’m sure I’m going to start with softball,” she said. “I’ve watched a lot of analysts and gotten to know (ESPN analyst) Jessica Mendoza and spoken to them a little bit. I’ve created relationships with those people and gotten tips. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I know it’s a very hard job.”

Romero is a professional softball player now, but she knows she is forever tied to coach Carol Hutchins and the Michigan softball program.

“She’s built me into the woman I am today,” Romero said. “I came to Michigan a little girl, and I’m leaving a woman. She’s taught me so much, leadership skills and so much about myself and what I’m capable of doing.

“Leaving Michigan and leaving the Michigan softball program, I know that nothing but success is in my future.”

Twitter: @chengelis