St. Edward’s baseball twins thrive on each other’s success

Juan and Romeo Cortina after a series sweep on March 25.

St. Edward’s University slugger Romeo Cortina, Jr. has a long list of baseball superstitions, at-bat rituals and uniform consistencies, but one in particular may have been the key to his most exciting game so far.

“The Jordan wristband will always stay with me,” Romeo said. “I wore it at the beginning of the season and I was doing really well, and then I took it off for about four games and I did terrible.”

In his first game back with the wristband, he went 4-for-4 — and all four hits were home runs. This home-run record in a single game on March 14 is more than any player across all NCAA divisions has reached this season, earning him the Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week, HERO of the Week and Heartland Conference Co-Hitter of the Week titles.

As Romeo circled the bases feeling like he was in a dream, his twin brother Juan “Jon Jon” Cortina celebrated in the bullpen with the other pitchers.

“That was a special day for him,” Juan said. “All the other pitchers and I were going wild, because I’ve never seen such a thing happen — especially since it was my twin brother doing something incredible. I really didn’t tell him much, I just said that’s how he should be hitting the ball, because I know his potential and how good he is.”

Red-shirted juniors, the Cortina brothers are new to the team this season, after transferring from the Division I Sam Houston State University. Romeo is the starting right fielder and Juan is a closing pitcher.

Although they have a few differences, they have many more similarities. For example, while Romeo had his hitting slump, Juan was dealing with an elbow strain. He is expected to return to the mound in the middle of April when the team hosts St. Mary’s University.

Six minutes older, Juan was named in his paternal grandfather’s memory, while Romeo was named after his father. The fraternal twins grew up on the outskirts of Houston, playing multiple sports in Humble, Texas — but baseball was the game they most loved.

Their father was their first baseball coach, as he turned the family’s backyard full of trees into a baseball field for his sons to practice. Following in their footsteps, the twins’ younger brother Steven is a high-school freshman also playing baseball. Their mother is their biggest fan.

“From Tee-ball to Little League, you name it, I’ve played it with my brother,” Romeo said. “When I see him pitch and he’s just striking out everybody, I’m just like ‘Let’s go, Jon Jon.’ He hypes me up — and then if I do good, he gets hyped up.”

Still, when you play sports with a sibling, you’re going to be compared — even more so when you’re twins.

Although Juan said Romeo is the best teammate he could ask for, and that they truly root for each other, he also said playing alongside his brother pushes him to try and be the better twin. He said this interpersonal competitiveness ultimately makes them better at their positions.

They unconsciously compete, even when making jokes. When separately asked for ways to tell them apart, Romeo said, “My brother’s getting a little chunky right now. He hasn’t been lifting weights or anything [due to his injury],” while Juan said, “My biceps are way bigger.”

Since Little League, Romeo relied on his speed to help him in the outfield. Juan grew up relying on his strength to help him as a catcher and hitter — not focusing on pitching until his freshman year of college.

After graduating from Atascocita High School, the twins played baseball at Sam Houston State, then at Alvin Community College their sophomore year. Later, they returned to Sam Houston State — until unrelated, identical injuries led to red-shirted junior seasons.

Racing a four-wheeler on Dec. 5, 2014, Romeo fell when making a sharp turn — and tore his left ACL. While recovering from surgery during winter break, he sat watching Juan and some high-school friends play basketball.

Warned by his injured brother to be careful, Juan then went up to for a dunk, got swatted from below, fell on his knee — and tore his right ACL and meniscus.

In two weeks, they both managed unbelievable, freak accidents that prevented them from contributing to the Sam Houston State program, so they were cut at the end of last season.

Done with grueling knee rehab and looking for a new Texas team, they e-mailed St. Edward’s, because it is considered the best Division II program in the conference.

Soon after, they received a phone call from a former summer team coach Jonathan Burns, now the assistant pitching coach at St. Edward’s. This connection influenced the Cortina brothers’ transfer.

Starting over at multiple universities is hard, but Romeo said he’s found comfort in always knowing at least one person each time he moved.

“Outside of baseball, if I need someone to throw with or workout with, I always have him,” Juan said. “It’s almost like having your best friend 24/7. Sometimes it can get annoying, but in the end, he’s my brother and he knows I love him.”

Both majoring in kinesiology, the Cortina twins think the quality of education is better at St. Edward’s. They also appreciate how down to earth their teammates and coaching staff are.

On the field, they both wear their childhood favorite baseball players’ jersey numbers. Romeo plays the same position and wears No. 15 like Carlos Beltán, and Juan wears No. 5 like Albert Pujols.

Another way to distinguish the twins is by their bible verse tattoos. Romeo’s tattoo wraps around his right wrist, and Juan’s is on the inside of his wrist.

Romeo has current .673 slugging and .956 fielding averages. Juan earned saves in all four of his relief appearances so far.

“Personality-wise, they’re both fun-loving guys that love to play baseball,” St. Edward’s Head Coach Rob Penders said. “They love to compete, and that’s one of the biggest assets that any baseball player can have — but when you have a double dose of it, it’s even better.”