Photo: El Nacional, retrieved.

On January 8th, this year, Águilas de Zulia played Caribes de Anzoátegui in the Alfonso “Chico” Carrasquel Stadium, in the city of Puerto la Cruz, the fifth game of the playoff series for the LVBP tournament. Caribes won 13-2, and the game had to be stopped twice on the bottom of the seventh inning, due to a brawl between the teams, resulting in the ejection of ten players, including a manager and a coach, eight from Caribes and two from Águilas.

There’s nothing unusual about this if you’re just reading that recap; brawls in baseball (or sports, in general) aren’t an everyday thing, but they do happen. Yet the cliché of an image being worth a thousand words stands for a reason, and one image in a Venezuelan winter league game was just about to travel the world, spreading like a virus.

The scene of Alex Romero hitting Gabriel Lino with a baseball bat is, at the very least, shocking and reprehensible. Social media exploded and did its thing, and it’s impossible to estimate how many millions saw those infamous seconds within the next 76 hours. Even primetime shows in Spain showed the video and, of course, just about everyone developed an opinion of how Romero should be dealt with. 

Alex Romero was born on September 9th, 1983, in Maracaibo. He’s been playing in the Venezuelan league since 2001, becoming one of the premier players of the tournament. A prolific hitter whose talent made him the 217th Venezuelan in the Major Leagues, he debuted for the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 2nd, 2008. 

Social media exploded and did its thing, and it’s impossible to estimate how many millions saw those infamous seconds within the next 76 hours.

Although his stint in the big leagues was short lived, it’s in the LVBP where he left his mark, being part of the so called “Tigres Dynasty,” where he won the national title on four occasions. With his arrival in Águilas del Zulia to play for his hometown team, he again won another championship. He even was in the 2006-2007 MVP finals, averaging a whopping .421 with 7 RBI’s in the series. 

“(Baseball) is a bit of everything,” he told me, exclusively. “It’s how I bring home the bacon. It has taught me all I know about dedication and discipline. Not only has it made me a working man and a human being, it’s also responsible for making me a social person, it brought many of the relationships I’ve cultivated in my life.”

Romero’s career seemed to be reaching a milestone, considering he had 883 regular season hits so far, with three or four seasons to reach a thousand, a feat only achieved by less than 10 players in the history of the league. 

Or so it was, until the game on January 8th.

His outburst is by no means the first one of such magnitude in the history of baseball, but all those arguably worse that came before didn’t happen in this age of real time global access. On May 15th, 1912, Ty Cobb charged Claude Lueker, a fan, in Hilltop Park, New York. Now, if you think a player hitting a fan is bad, consider that this fan had no hands. 

But much like Ty Cobb’s story is more than a player hitting a handicapped person, things aren’t so simple in Alex‘s case; what Romero did in that seventh inning was completely out of character, fueled by a particularly tense ballgame.

There’s a great deal of regret in his voice when discussing the subject: “I didn’t know how to handle the moment of anger. When Nesbitt (the pitcher) threw a pitch behind my back, I asked Lino (the catcher) to not do that. I had nothing to do with the problems that were already brewing in the game (…) When Nesbitt repeated the pitch to my body, I reacted.”

Just as in life, a moment in baseball does not exist in a vacuum. It was game 5 of an important series for both teams. Águilas won as visitors the previous nights. The score was a blowout at the time of the incident (which changes the way the game is played) and players on both teams had already shown signs of hostility towards each other, throwing pitches directly to their bodies. By the time of Romero’s reaction, it wasn’t a matter of one plus one, it was more a matter of one plus one, plus one, plus one… 

By the time of Romero’s reaction, it wasn’t a matter of one plus one, it was more a matter of one plus one, plus one, plus one… 

Romero is in the final stages of his career, not for lack of talent but because time is merciless to athletes. He’s taking the best care possible of himself and is very aware of injuriesknowing this makes a person like him particularly zealous about playing. Alex insists that the bad blood stayed on the field; he has since talked to Nesbitt and Lino and shares with them a relationship of mutual respect. “Our relationship is friendly, like with most players. Sharing this line of work normally creates a special bond.”

He has already served six games out of the 20 games suspension for the incident, and he’ll miss a good chunk of the first half for the next season. Disciplinary measures that emanate from clearly defined rules seem to be the appropriate step to take, and that’s what’s happening here. When MLB Hall of Famer Juan Marichal hit Dodgers catcher John Roseboro with a baseball bat in 1965, he was suspended for 8 games. Again, a key difference is that although this occurred in a much bigger game, it didn’t get round-the-world video coverage in real time, almost immediately after it transpired. 

But underlying this conundrum is a dangerous concept: is there such a thing as “social media justice”? Is the reaction on social media capable of reason and fairness, and if not, how can we stride towards those lines? Are we engulfed in such a fast-reward-chasm that we’re willing to toss aside our values to feel that we corrected a perceived wrong in record time? 

“I’m not gonna lie to you, of course it’s a great goal,” Romero says about the thousand hits mark, very aware of its meaning. “I try not to think about it, but it doesn’t escape my mind.”

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