Tucson High School graduate Craig Bjornson, now the bullpen coach of the Boston Red Sox, was misidentified the other day at the Sun Belt College All-Star Game at Kino Stadium as being the Godfather of former Badger standout Raul Soto-Romero.
That is not their relationship but Bjornson might as well be Raul’s “Nino,” for he is that close to the Soto-Romero family. Having known Raul’s father Auggie Romero since early in grade school — when Auggie was in second grade and Craig in kindergarten — Bjornson is like a brother to Auggie and uncle to Raul and Raul’s sister Talisa.
“Craig is like my second dad, man,” Raul, a member of the Tucson Champs of the Sun Belt College League this summer, said with a smile. “That dude is at our house more than ever. He’s always giving me tips of what it’s like to be at the next level.
“He’s been in the majors for eight years now and it’s awesome because I’m very lucky in the sense that I’m always learning the new stuff, like with their coaching with the Red Sox. When he was with the Astros, he would have the hitting coach come to Tucson every year to work with me. I’m blessed in that sense.”
Bjornson, 50, was the bullpen coach for Houston in 2012 and from 2014 through 2017. He and Tucsonan Brent Strom, Houston’s pitching coach, earned a World Series championship ring with the Astros two years ago before he took the same position with the Red Sox.
“We’ve been close since Craig was four or five years old. We played in high school together at Tucson High and we played in college together at Arizona Western,” said Auggie, who helps former Pueblo, Pima and Arizona standout George Arias coach the Tucson Champs.
The baseball relationship between Auggie and Bjornson continued to flourish after Auggie played at Pacific and Bjornson at Nicholls State. After Bjornson’s three-year run as a minor-league pitcher, they coached together at Pima for four years.
In 2002, Bjornson embarked on his professional baseball coaching career as the pitching coach with the Spokane Indians and Auggie set forth on his education career that has him now in the Baboquivari School District as an administrator and educator.
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Raul is bound for Western Oregon University after a stellar career at Tucson High.
As a second baseman, third baseman and designated hitter with the Badgers, he batted .378 this season while recording at least one hit in 19 of their 25 games. In his 51-game varsity career the last two seasons, he committed only two errors.
“He’s made some real good progress in baseball. He’s very committed. He’s very focused,” Auggie said. “I always tell him, ‘Is your dream crazy?’ So his crazy dream is he wants to be a major-leaguer.”
Auggie added an important message is expressed to Raul in that pursuit from himself, Arias, fellow Tucson Champs coach Rob Campillo, Bjornson and Bjornson’s coaching contemporaries with Houston and Boston.
“He’s been told the physical piece is one thing and then you acquire information,” Auggie said. “That’s the other thing. But then how do you utilize those things? How do you operationalize those things? How do you put them in place?
“So you’ve got the information, what are you gonna do with it? For him, it’s now processing the information and putting it to good use. “
Raul does not look at it as information overload nor overwhelming visiting major-league ballparks and coming in contact with many stars of the game through his connection with Bjornson.
At the beginning of the season, Raul joined Boston for its batting practice before the Red Sox played the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. He took his cuts in a businesslike manner.
“Hitting with the Red Sox hitting coach (Tim Hyers) was amazing because they pick out so many simple things that not a lot of guys can see and it helped my high school season a lot,” he said. “I improved a lot just from the two hours I was with them.”
Of his numerous big-league experiences, Raul said, “It’s impacted me a lot. When I’m in the weight room and when I’m tired and stuff, I know what it’s like to be there. It pushes me to do that extra rep, take 100 more cuts at center field.
“I want to get there because that’s a great lifestyle to live.”
Raul has also endured through some hardship in his career, a meaningful balance to all the fun times with Bjornson.
He is as motivated persevering through three surgeries in his high school career and having to prove himself as worthy of joining the varsity when he was a sophomore. He frequently was moved between the junior varsity and varsity before finally sticking with the varsity as a junior.
“There were a lot of ups and downs,” Raul said. “It really taught me to never give up and always move forward, keep my faith and there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes down to it.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.