Tuesday, May 26, 1998 | 11:17 a.m.
Mandy Romero knows all about the meaning of "perseverance."
The 30-year-old Las Vegas Stars catcher is, after all, a living definition of the word.
It took 10 years of long bus rides, dumpy hotels and fast food meals that are minor league baseball before the graduate of Miami Senior High in Miami, Fla., finally achieved his goal of playing in a major league baseball game.
Romero, who had played 792 minor league games, had two brief stints with the San Diego Padres last year, batting .208 with two home runs and four RBIs in 21 games.
Now Romero has one simple goal: to get back to the big leagues.
"That was a great experience, something that I'll never forget for the rest of my life," said Romero, who leads the Stars into a 12-game home stand that begins tonight with a 7 p.m. game against the Colorado Sky Sox at Cashman Field. "Hopefully I can get back up there again this year."
Even though it took him 10 years to get to the big leagues, Romero says it was well worth the wait.
"It's a totally different atmosphere up there," Romero said. "Just the players you're around. ... I mean, I got to play with guys like Tony Gwynn, Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley, Wally Joyner. I was kind of in awe."
So far in 1998, Romero has been putting up the kind of numbers that might earn him another trip the major leagues.
He enters tonight's game with a .293 average with seven home runs, which ranks second on the team behind George Arias, and 21 RBIs. Perhaps even more impressive is that he has thrown out 12 of 27 base stealers (44.4 percent). Thirty percent is considered good.
"He's starting to throw the ball real well," Stars manager Jerry Royster said. "He's a legitimate major league catcher now. He's down here fighting to get another chance to go up there."
One area Royster believes Romero needs to work on is calling pitches. Because of that, he's allowing Romero and backup catcher Creighton Gubanich to call their own pitches this year.
"It's been a struggle for Mandy at times, but he's learning," Royster said. "He's got to learn that sometimes you have to (call pitches) by a gut feeling. You can't be thinking, 'What would Jerry call here?' He's got to learn our pitchers and what is the best pitch for them to throw in certain situations."
Royster calls Padres catcher Carlos Hernandez, "one of the best game callers around. He handles the staff up there nicely. Mandy needs to do that here. He needs to take charge in a game. A lot of times a pitcher wants to throw a certain pitch in a situation, but a catcher needs to overrule him because he's knows it's the wrong pitch."
"I've got to work on that," Romero admitted. "I'm just going to continue to give 100 percent every day here. I love this game. I've devoted almost all my life to it. I've been playing it since I've been nine years old. I know in my heart that I can play in the big leagues. But I'm not going to put any extra pressure on myself to get back there. If it happens, it happens."
* STARS NOTES: Stars officials were still not sure if left-handed reliever Ben VanRyn would join the team for tonight's contest. VanRyn was designated for assignment by the Padres on Saturday to create a spot on the roster for Mark Langston. VanRyn is out of options, meaning 29 other clubs have the chance to claim him off waivers for $20,000. VanRyn, 26, also could sign with another club if he clears waivers. Or he could accept a spot on the Stars roster. In six outings with the Padres, VanRyn retired just eight of 16 batters, giving up four walks, three hits, a hit batsman and a wild pitch. ... It appears Padres utility man Archie Cianfrocco could be Las Vegas bound. Cianfrocco was put on the 15-day disabled list with a oblique strain retroactive to Thursday to clear a roster spot for Ken Caminiti. Padres GM Kevin Towers said last week that Cianfrocco, who had just three hits in his last 39 at-bats, would likely rehab at Las Vegas when he comes off the DL. ... Right-hander Brad Kaufman (1-3, 4.55 ERA) faces left-hander Mike Vavrek (2-5, 7.94) in tonight's series opener. ... A reminder: Wednesday's game is a Businessperson's Special and starts at 12:15 p.m.