When Darryl Strawberry had wrapped up his Major League Baseball career in 1999, Roman March was almost two years away from being born.
Years later, the Baltimore resident learned about Strawberry’s combined four World Series championships for the New York Mets and Yankees and his 1983 National League Rookie of the Year award after setting Mets rookie records for home runs (26) and RBIs (74).
But when March got to meet Strawberry at MLB’s Breakthrough Series in Compton, Calif., in late June, the soon-to-be Franklin High School senior was shocked by the eight-time All-Star’s 6-foot-6 frame.
“He’s really tall,” March said. “I didn’t know he was that tall.”
March met Strawberry, former Minnesota Twins pitcher Pat Mahomes (father of Kansas Chiefs quarterback and NFL Most Valuable Player Patrick Mahomes) and several more former players and coaches as part of the Breakthrough Series, a diversity-focused development and scouting camp for high school players. About 65 players were mentored by former players such as Mahomes, former Orioles outfielder Eric Davis, former All-Star closer Tom Gordon and former Los Angeles Dodgers catcher and Angels manager Mike Scioscia.
Scioscia called the camp “terrific.”
“Going back where I was 45 years ago, it’s crazy to think — although we never had showcases and opportunities like this — to see their energy and see how much they want to absorb and how hard they’ve worked to get just an invitation to this event,” Scioscia told MLB’s website.
March said listening to players such as Strawberry was awe-inspiring. He said Strawberry did not shy away from his battles with substance abuse.
“He had a past, but he said to us, ‘Don’t let the past determine the future. Just improve from your mistakes, and do better than you were,’ ” March said. “It really affected me because he was saying that he evolved personally and that people shouldn’t be stagnant, that they should evolve personally. He was saying that you should evolve into a man and be a teammate and be a good man and be responsible for your actions.”
March said the prospects were offered advice on how to improve their chances of drawing interest from major league clubs.
“There was a New York Mets scout there talking to us about how the draft works, and he said the scouts are looking for two things,” he said. “They’re looking for tools and makeup, and makeup is basically how you present yourself on the field and off the field. That really made me question myself. ‘What is my makeup?’ So, I’m trying to improve that every day.”
During the Breakthrough Series’ 12 years, dozens of participants have been drafted or played in colleges. Earlier in June, more than 30 alumni were chosen in the 2019 draft, including second-round picks Nasim Nuñez (No. 46 overall by the Miami Marlins) and Kyren Paris (No. 55 overall by the Angels).
“The whole entire purpose of the program is to give kids in underprivileged places a place to come out and play, and also understand how the game is played and should be played,” Gordon, the former pitcher who has coached at the Breakthrough Series for six years, told MLB.com. “It’s a great program, we’ve done a real good job with trying to teach the kids to understand their abilities. When they go out there and give it their all, someone’s always watching.”
March estimated that about 95% of the participants were African American. He said the number of faces that looked like his was an unfamiliar sight, as he is one of only two African-American players on his club team, the Rawlings A’s out of Gambrills.
“It opened my eyes to see how many African Americans are actually playing baseball, and I’m not the only one playing baseball,” he said. “It shows how much baseball has changed since having Negro Leagues and black players taking over baseball.”
March credited William “Stoney” Briggs with helping him get to the Breakthrough Series. Briggs, who was a 1991 eighth-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays and played for minor league affiliates associated with the Orioles, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Blue Jays, said he has known March since he played a couple of seasons at Franklin with his son, Shareef.
Briggs, who serves as a Maryland/Delaware contact for the Breakthrough Series, said March deserved a shot.
“Going around and watching many of the ballplayers locally, I can see that he’s just an elite talent,” he said. “It’s his power, his speed, his knowledge of the game, his base-running awareness. His power and bat speed for his size are at a whole different level. It’s not on a high school level. The sound of the ball coming off his bat is a lot different from other kids.”
In 19 games, March finished his junior season batting .551 with five home runs, 11 doubles, four triples, 29 RBIs and 30 runs scored in 70 plate appearances. He also had a .629 on-base percentage and a 1.245 slugging percentage.
Franklin coach Ryan R. Hain said March, who primarily played in left field, has developed more power and confidence.
“Roman's strength is his ability to adjust to any pitch and use the entire field,” Hain wrote via email. “He is a true five-tool player and will continue to get better. One aspect he needs to work on is trusting his speed on the bases. He is one of the fastest guys in the state, and when he starts using that to his advantage, look out.”
March said at the Breakthrough Series, he was instructed to run through the bases and take a strong lead. But he said the biggest advice was learning to get his hands quicker to the ball and using more of his back leg when striking the ball.
“I think it will help me get more hits,” he said. “Before the camp, I was struggling a little bit to get hits. I didn’t feel comfortable with my swing. After the camp, I feel more comfortable with my swing. I really think that’s going to help me improve.”
March said he has yet to make a college commitment, but Briggs said programs would be wise to begin recruiting March.
“I foresee him at least making into the minor leagues somewhere because of his dedication and his quick bat and being a left-handed hitter who can jump right in on those sliders,” Briggs said. “I can see Roman playing professional baseball for quite some time.”