For Roberto Alomar, Sunday capped off a whirlwind week for the retired second baseman. From being inducted into the Hall of Fame to having his number retired by the Toronto Blue Jays – it was no doubt a special week for him and his family.
Over the course of his career, Alomar has achieved so many honours and accolades but it’s his tenure with the Blue Jays for which he will be remembered the most. He earned the majority of his success in Toronto including five of his 12 All-Star Game selections, five of his ten Gold Gloves, one of his four Silver Slugger Awards, two ALCS Championships, ALCS MVP in 1992 and, of course, two World Series Championships.
The Blue Jays went the distance to make this an extraordinary event for Alomar who chose to be enshrined in Cooperstown as a member of the blue and white. This marked first time in franchise history that the Jays retired the number of one its players and 46,629 fans came out in appreciation of one of, if not the best player to ever don a Jays uniform.
The organization dubbed the game as Hall of Fame Day and gave out bobblehead dolls to the first 20,000 fans in attendance. For the pre-game ceremony, a large podium was constructed in shallow centre field with a Canadian and Puerto Rican flag on either side of it while second base was draped in a large flag of the number 12. Alomar addressed the fans and was joined by former teammates, current Jay John McDonald, former Manager Cito Gaston, team President and CEO Paul Beeston and his parents.
Roberto Alomar's retired number 12 hangs from the rafters at the Rogers Centre alongside the Blue Jays' World Series Championship banners
"What a great day for me and for my family," said Alomar after the pre-game ceremony. "When I was out there on the podium, it was a great honour to be there and see so many fans and a sold-out crowd. I'm so blessed and I would like to thank the fans for appreciating what I did here in Toronto and I'm real proud to be representing them in the Hall of Fame. To me it's been a blessing day to have my number retired."
Alomar watched intently as his retired number unfurled from the rafters right next to the World Series banners of ’92-93 above the Jumbotron while another unfurled outside above Gate 8. The number 12 was also emblazoned on the turf directly behind home plate.
“Wow, I couldn’t believe it,” added Alomar who was also inducted into to the Jays Level of Excellence in 2008. “I tried not to look at anybody’s face because I did not want to cry. It was emotional to have my number retired. I was talking to Paul (Beeston), he was beside me, ‘your number is going to be inside and outside for the rest of your life and that’s real special’.”
The Puerto Rican is best remembered for his game-tying homerun off of closer Dennis Eckersley in the ninth inning of Game 4 in the 1992 ALCS. Alomar instantly knew it was a homerun and watched intently with his arms pumped in the air – a pose captured on the bobblehead handed out Sunday. The homerun kept the Jays in the game and prevented the series from being tied 2-2. Toronto eventually won the game in the 11th inning, to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Most people remember Joe Carter’s walk off homerun to win the ’93 World Series, but Alomar’s homerun is considered the second biggest hit in franchise history.
“Looking back I remember being a lot of shadows and sun at the same time,” said Alomar describing the moment. “It was real tough to see the baseball, but I was waiting and concentrating on one pitch. I was facing the best closer in the game of baseball at the moment and I just wanted to go out there and try to drive the ball. Lucky enough, I put a good swing and I put the ball over the fence. That was one of my biggest moments in my baseball career.”We Are Family
For Alomar, the game of baseball has been very much a family affair – from his mother taking him to ballparks to watch his father play to him and his brother both making it to Major League Baseball and eventually playing alongside each other in Cleveland. He was very thankful of the support and love of his parents and was grateful to have them by his side for such an important week in his life.
“My parents – it means everything to me,” said Alomar who had over 20 friends and family present for the ceremony. “I remember my mom when I used to be a little boy, she used to carry me around to go to the ballpark and now looking at my mom’s eyes and looking at how emotional she gets, I know how proud she is of her little son. I’m blessed that God has let me share this moment with both of my parents and I’m so grateful for that.”
Roberto Alomar addresses the fans with his parents standing behind him
His father, Sandy Alomar Sr., taught him and his brother, Sandy Jr., everything they know about the game and each had long successful careers in the majors. He also credits his father for providing him with the motivation and inspiration to put forth his best effort every time he stepped out onto the field.
“My father - when I used to watch my father play, my father was a guy who played hard every day,” added Alomar. “And he will always be my hero, he’s always the guy that I want to idolize and just by watching him play, I want to be just like him.”
Alomar was also very appreciative of Gaston being present as his number was retired. The former Jays manager was a mentor to Alomar and the two have remained friends over the years. During his speech, Gaston declared Alomar to be the best second baseman to ever play the game and he is certainly not alone in that assessment.
“I will always have respect for Cito (Gaston),” said Alomar. “He was my mentor when I came here. He let me play my game. Cito is a person that was not only a manager but a close friend. For him to be up on the podium, I thank him for that because he means a lot to me.”
The now Hall of Famer has been very much humbled by the events of the past week. He was honoured to meet some of the best baseball players in history of the game – players he grew up watching as a kid.
A Blue Jays fan holds up a sign congratulating Roberto Alomar
“It’s been crazy, but it’s been fun,” said Alomar. “Being in the Hall of Fame it was beautiful to be surrounded by the greatest players that have played this game. To have my family beside me every day and enjoy that moment – it was special. But just to be surrounded by players that my dad used to play against and I used to watch when I was a little boy, and now being with them in the same group is a moment that I will always remember.”
Alomar was also very thankful to all the fans that supported him in his five seasons in Toronto as well as the fans that travelled to Cooperstown and everyone who was in attendance on Sunday.
“I’m so appreciative of the fans here in Toronto. I see so many people grateful for what I did here, but I’m more grateful for them embracing me since day one. They gave me their hearts like I gave them mine and today is a day that I will never forget. This was impressive – thank you fans, you are the best.”
Alomar’s accomplishments will be forever tied to the glory days of the 90's and for many Jays fans his time with the club represent some of the greatest moments in Blue Jays history. With his number 12 now hanging from high above in the Rogers Centre, his legacy will be preserved and on display for generations to come.