* Robbie Alomar, who serves as commissioner of Tournament 12, which took place last week at Rogers Centre, has fully embraced his role in growing the game of baseball in Canada, and he’s been all over the country doing it. (Photo: Craig Chapman). ….
Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
Robbie Alomar travelled from coast to coast from the day he signed a pro contract in 1985 until he hung up his cleats in the spring of 2005.
And now that he’s retired?
He’s travelling even more — and not on a charter flight — so much so, it’s as if he’s writing another verse to the “I’ve Been Everywhere” song Johnny Cash and Stompin’ Tom Connors made famous.
He was on an Atlantic tour with the Blue Jays Academy to Halifax, Moncton and Charlottetown for the Honda Super Camps.
Alomar flew from Cornerbrook, Newfoundland, to Toronto, drove to Cooperstown N.Y. on the Friday for the Hall of Fame, attended the Sunday ceremonies, drove back to Toronto and flew out the next day to St. John’s.
He’s flown to Vancouver three times, he’s been to Alberta — Okotoks, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. He’s been to Saskatoon and Regina.
On one Vancouver visit, he worked out with a team from the Challenger Division, a branch of Little League which enables boys and girls with physical and mental challenges to play. He was asked to coach the team in Williamsport, Penn. Alomar flew home from Calgary to Toronto and drove to the home of the Little League World Series as the B.C. team played Detroit.
“One of the boys from Vancouver, Tristan, he’s about 11, has Down’s syndrome, we’re pals,” Alomar said. “He’s a fun kid. He loves to wrestle. He took me down in Vancouver. When I got to Williamsport, he wanted to wrestle again. I said ‘not right now, we have a game to play.’ I know what those kids and their families go through.
“Working with those kids, you can’t top that.”
If the Challenger experience was a highlight, one could add … so far.
And then there’s Alomar’s favourite week: the second annual Tournament 12, which has eight teams from across the Dominion and one Hall of Fame commissioner. Last year he sat by one dugout or the other for all but two games offering advice, wisdom and answering questions.
He addressed each team and their coaches in the Jays clubhouse.
Blue Jays president Paul Beeston tells of walking to the Royal York hotel for a 7 o’clock breakfast meeting early this month and …
“Here comes a guy walking towards the Rogers Centre wearing a cap, sweats and looking a million bucks … it’s Robbie,” said Beeston, who asked Alomar why he was headed to the stadium so early.
“Final camp for Tournament 12 in Ajax, we’re looking at 50 kids or so to see who gets the last few spots,” answered Alomar.
Said Beeston: “Robbie’s amazing.”
Jays head Canadian scout Jamie Lehman and T.J. Burton did the evaluations.
Alomar knows who is who. The special eyes and instinct he had which gave him the ability to throw behind a runner making a wide turn at third also works when evaluating players.
“It’s good to see the talent we have here in Canada, with this program we want baseball to grow,” said Alomar. “Last year we signed Andrew Case (an all-star with the Vancouver Canadians). Kids got scholarships.
“Hopefully, this year it will be even bigger so that these players can be seen by college recruiters or pro scouts and reach their dreams.”
Alomar’s extra work and fund-raising efforts helped impress the Jays Care foundation enough to contribute $100,000 to subsidize travel costs. This year a player outside of Ontario will spend $330 to cover flight, hotel and transportation — everything but food. Players inside Ontario will pay $220.
A year ago, there weren’t many Vancouver-Toronto or Calgary-Toronto return flights for $330.
As a player, Alomar was always co-operative with the media whether it was with the Blue Jays, the Baltimore Orioles or the Cleveland Indians. But at times he was shy. Now, he is confident and comfortable speaking to groups: a group of 12-year-old campers, 50-year-old high rollers or taking a group on a private tour of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, which he did earlier this month after a winning bid of $23,000 (Avi Wachsman).
The Hall of Famer has found what he likes to do and in a way he’s very much like his second hero — his Hall of Fame father Sandy is No. 1 — but Roberto Clemente is next in line. He wants to be like Clemente and leave the baseball world in a better place than when he found it.
“Robbie Alomar visited Seaman Stadium this past summer during the Blue Jays Super Camps and home run derby,” said John Ircandia, the Okotoks Dawgs’ founding father. “In terms of interaction, he engaged positively with those he came in contact with. There is no questioning his credentials as a Hall of Fame player and he is warming to this new role.”
This spring when the Canadian Junior National Team headed to Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Alomar was there working with the country’s best teenagers.
“It was very special to have Robbie work with our young players during our spring training camp,” said coach Greg Hamilton. “While his extensive knowledge of the game was evident and invaluable, it was his Hall of Fame character and genuine desire to contribute which will be remembered by all players, coaches and staff.”
Third baseman Ashley Stephenson (Mississauga, Ont.) and coach Sam Magalas (Burlington, Ont.), of Canada’s women’s team, teased Alomar for always “helping out the guys,” and asked him to be a guest coach. So Alomar flew from Calgary to Vancouver before the team headed to Japan and the World championships. He gave all the players Alomar Baseball hoodies after practice.
The man cannot say no.
Alomar’s wife Kim gave birth to the lovely Lourdes Maria five months ago, and still the Hall of Famer is on the move.
“What we’re doing would not be possible without the support of a lot of people,” Alomar said. “Paul Beeston, the Jays Care Foundation, Duane Ward and all the alumni guys.”
The alumni consists of some of the best names ever to wear a Jays uniform: Jesse Barfield, George Bell, Juan Beniquez, Denis Boucher, Homer Bush, Frank Catalanotto, Carlos Delgado, Juan Guzman, Pat Hentgen, Candy Maldonado, Brian McRae, Lloyd Moseby, Rance Mulliniks, Paul Quantrill, Tim Raines, Tanyon Sturtze, Otto Velez, Devon White and Mookie Wilson, all have appeared at one or more clinics or Honda Super Camps.
“I may have lot of miles, but Rob Jack, T.J., John Cram and Jake Paddle do all the hard work when it comes to getting the hotels, tickets and the uniforms for everyone.”
Former Jays centre fielder Lloyd Moseby wonders if any other Hall of Famer has such a busy schedule.
Alomar’s 2014 road trip … to date:
Guelph, London, Sudbury and Chatham.
Victoria, Nanaimo and Vancouver,
Whitby and Toronto.
Corner Brook, Cooperstown, St. John’s, Charlottetown, Moncton and Fredericton.
Saskatoon for the Canada Cup, Okotoks, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat for the WMBL final and Regina.
Alomar has been everywhere … just the way Stompin’ Tom and Johnny sang it.