No. 12 becoming face of franchise

* Hall of Fame 2B Robbie Alomar, the first-ever player to go into Cooperstown with a Blue Jays emblem on his cap is rapidly becoming the face of the franchise from coast to coast. ....  2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors  2013 Canadians in College  Letters of Intent





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By Bob Elliott

Robbie Alomar has travelled Canada from coast to coast.

And now over 200 players from all 10 provinces have travelled to the Rogers Centre to play in the first annual Blue Jays Academy Tournament 12.

“When I was the age of these players you only had one opportunity for scouts to see you, one chance to open people’s eyes,” said Alomar, who grew up in Salinas, Puerto Rico.

“These kids are going to have a chance to show their skills.”

All 10 teams in the Tournament 12 are guaranteed four games before pro scouts and college recruiters. That’s a far cry from the late 1990s when amateur games staged at the SkyDome involving Canada’s best, the Blue Jay policy was to ban opposing scouts from the building.

“This is a fantastic idea,” said Howie Norsetter of the Minnesota Twins, at the Rogers Centre scouting the Anaheim Angels-Jays game. Norsetter, an Australia resident, signed Justin Morneau a third-round draft in 1999.

“It’s good for the scouts, good for the teams, good for the players,” said Norsetter. I don’t see how there are any losers.”

Well, there are some unhappy that their names are not amongst the list of invited players.

Yet, as one coach pointed out: this year’s tournament is better than last year’s ... the non-existant one.

”I’m totally behind this concept,” said Baseball Canada president Ray Carter from Vancouver. “This is what is needed, the next step in the development of Canadian players.

“It might take a year or two to shake out all the kinks, but it is good for baseball in Canada.”

Alomar’s travels the last two seasons as special assistant to the organization has taken the Jays first Hall of Famer to every province:

Nanaimo, Kelowna and Vancouver in British Columbia.

On the prairies he visited Okotoks, Alta., Saskatoon and Winnipeg.

London, Waterloo and Toronto were Ontario stops.

He’s been to Montreal.

Heading east he has visited Moncton, Charlottetown, Halifax and St. John’s.

“Robbie is remarkable,” said Carter, who sat a row away from Alomar at Nat Bailey Stadium as the Vancouver Canadians rallied to win the Northwest league championship again this month.

“For a Hall of Famer to sit and sign autographs for hours is impressive. Robbie and his father come to a one of Duane Ward’s camps and he and his dad are one of the guys.”

President Carter is in the feedback business from dusty diamonds across the county.

“People in B.C. will say ‘that’s Robbie Alomar out there teaching our kids?’” said Carter. “Same from the prairies and the Maritimes. He’s all for helping Canadian kids.”

And this tournament will attempt to do that.

Stephen Brooks, the Jays vice president of business operations, says that the Jays have a lot of great alumni out when Duane Ward conducts his camps.

“Robbie has worked with our minor leaguers in Florida,” said Brooks. “At camps speaking to kids and showing his passion for the game comes natural. He’s looking for a way to give back to the team, the city and the country.

“Robbie is becoming the face of the franchise in these communities.”

Alomar describes his trips into across Canada as “life-changing,” and “inspirational.”

Sure, you think.

When the Jays caravan visited Halifax, Alomar dropped the puck as the Mooseheads junior hockey game and then headed upstairs.

“A woman showed me a picture of her and I when she was in hospital in Toronto, when I played for the Jays,” he explained. “I didn’t remember meeting her, but she told me, I had told her in hospital ‘to continue to fight, to get better,’ and then she said ‘look at me now, I’m cancer free.’

“Sometimes you do things for kids and you don’t remember.”

Youngsters with big eyes, whether eight or 18 do ... as Jays third baseman Scott Rolen used to say “walk into a kids hospital in street clothes, no one notices, but put on a uniform, it’s like wearing a Super Man cape.”

Each Jays camper is given an Alomar Baseball glove and Alomar signs all of the mitts.

“We’re in St. John’s and when we break, we ask the kids to sits in the seats for their lunch, while the instructors have theirs,” said Rob Jack, the Jays social media director. “This little guy who had never played before tells us ‘no, I’m staying with Robbie.’”

Alomar gave him an Alomar Baseball t-shirt and the youngster strutted around like a big leaguer after a bases-loaded homer. Some children from the Boys and Girls Club had never played before.

“One 12-year-old says as he’s leaving says ‘Robbie will you be my agent?’ And asks for my email. It’s easy to put a smile on a kid’s face.”

Carlos Delgado has been to the Jays camps. Shawn Green too. Cecil Fielder, Lloyd Moseby and Ward. Altogether they combined for: nine all-star appearances, seven Silver Slugger awards, one Golf Gloves, an AL Hank Aaron award, a Babe Ruth award, a MLB Major League Player of the Year and a Roberto Clemente award. That’s some experience. That’s some talent.

“Robbie is the rock star,” said Jack. “Robbie is the one all the kids want to work with, He is the one the parents want to talk to, he is the face of the organization in many parts of Canada.”

Jays Canadian director of scouting Jamie Lehman with help from people in each province extended the invites. Did they get the best 220 in Canada? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s a good start.

It’s the largest aggregation of Canadian talent under one roof ... or on one field.

The Mizuno camp is a good thing, but usually has roughly 65 players.

Brooks says Alomar, who will be in each team’s dugout for at least one game, is more than an honorary commissioner.

“He’s not a figure head,” said Brooks. “He’s into the details along with T.J. Burton and Rob Jack.

Opening the page of rosters to Ontario Green team where players are listed in numerical order we see:

No. 11 OF Ian Wilson, Toronto, Toronto Mets.

No. 13 1B Ryan Bench, Fonthill, Ont. Bullet Proof Academy.

There isn’t a No. 12.

Not on that team or the other nine since the Jays retired the number in 2011.

There is only one No. 12 ... Robbie Alomar.