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Wilsonville's Romero living a dream with Mariners

SEATTLE — There may be no more grateful major-league player than Seattle's Stefen Romero.

"It's been surreal," the former Oregon State star and current Wilsonville resident said Friday before the Mariners' 6-4 victory over Oakland at Safeco Field. "Playing in the big leagues is a childhood dream, and I'm living the dream. It's been an amazing experience."

Friday was a night to forget for Romero, however. The rookie outfielder went for the "golden sombrero" -- four strikeouts in four at-bats.

But Romero has made an positive impression on Seattle's first-year manager, Lloyd McClendon, who is using him in right field against left-handed pitching.

"Stefen had a great spring," McClendon said. "We need right-handed balance in our lineup. He provides that. I think he's going to be a fine major-league player. He needs to get his at-bats and time out there, but this young man can play the game. He's going to be an impactful type of player for us."ROMERO

Romero got his first major-league hit in his second game with the Mariners, against the Angels at Anaheim on April 2.

"Everybody had been joking with me, that they wanted that first hit to be a dribbler down the line," he said. "I was like, 'Hopefully not, but if it happens, I won't complain.' "

On his first at-bat, his broken-bat blooper fell in safely in shallow right-center field. He wasn't complaining.

"The night before, I hit a couple of hard-hit balls but they were caught," said Romero, who ripped a double for his first extra-base hit later in the game. "That's the way baseball is. It all evens out during the course of the year. It was great to get the first one out of the way, however it came. A big thrill."

Romero has the ball, a lineup card and game tickets from that night displayed in a showcase at the east-Seattle condo he shares with his girlfriend, Courtney Reid.

It's been a rather rapid rise up the ladder since Romero, 25, was taken by Seattle in the 12th round of the 2010 major-league draft. He sat out the rest of the summer after fracturing his elbow at Oregon State during the '10 season. After batting .280 with 16 homers and 65 RBIs in 116 games with Class-A Clinton in 2011, he hit .352 with 23 homers and 101 RBIs in 116 games while splitting time between Class A-High Desert and Double-A Jackson in 2012.

The 6-2, 220-pound Romero went into spring training thinking he had a "50-50" chance of making the Mariners after hitting .277 with 11 homers and 74 RBIs in 93 games with Triple-A Tacoma in 2013. The Tucson, Ariz., native had spent the first two months of the season on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle.

Romero started this spring 0 for 16 at the plate. A few words from McClendon at that point were fruitful, said Romero, who finished the spring hitting .304 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 12 games.

"Mac took a little pressure off me," Romero said. "He said, 'Just go out there, have fun and play your game, and everything else will take care of itself.' Fortunately, I found my way. An opportunity arose and I got the job."

Romero has enjoyed his experience playing for McClendon, who managed at Pittsburgh from 2001-05 and has been a coach with Detroit since then.

"He's a motivator," Romero said. "He's one of those guys who gives you responsibility and treats you like a man, which he should. He believes in us. As a player, you feel like you want to live up to that and you respect him much more, as both a man and a manager."

Romero is playing right field for the first time in his career. A third baseman at Oregon State, he fractured his elbow near the end of his junior season there and sat out the rest of the summer. During his first spring training the next year, "I couldn't make the long throw from third anymore," he said, so he moved to second base for the 2011 and '12 campaigns.

Last season at Tacoma, with his arm strength finally back, Romero was moved to left field.

"It was a little uncomfortable at first, but I got used to it," he said. "I played two games in right field. That's all I'm playing in the big leagues now.

"To me, right field's a little easier than left field, the way the balls come off. Most of the batters are right-handed and the ball doesn't come off as quick. In left field, right-handers pull the ball hard and it gets out there so fast.

"But I'm not complaining. Wherever they put me, I'll get my work in and try to help the team in any way."

It's the first time in Romero's baseball career he hasn't been an every-day starter.

"It's a little tougher, being a bench player, getting limited action," he says. "It's more difficult for me than for a veteran guy who is used to it and has a routine down, but I feel like the transition is going well.

"I want to go out whenever my name is in the lineup card and compete to the best of my ability. My job now is to start against left-handed pitching or be a pinch-hitter. If I hit consistently, maybe I'll be an every-day player down the road, but my goal right now is to help the team out in any way."

Romero and Reid -- whom he met at Oregon State -- spend the offseason at their home in Wilsonville. "She's taking on-line classes and enjoying the ride with me," Romero said.

Stefen keeps in regular communication with Oregon State coaches Pat Casey and Pat Bailey.

"During the offseason, I make the trip down to Corvallis once every few weeks, go show face, see coach Bails and coach Case," he said. "Every time I see them, they have the biggest smiles on their faces. They love alumni coming back and sharing experiences and reminiscing.

"It's great seeing all those guys. It's a nostalgic feeling. They run such a family-oriented program. I keep in touch with a lot of guys I went to college with, still some of my closest friends to this day."

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Twitter: @kerryeggers