Alomar all-in with Canada Juniors

* Robbie Alomar (shown here with his dad, Sandy Alomar, and Blue Jay Jose Bautista) has been wearing Team Canada red this spring as a guest coach with the Junior National Team. (Photo: Baseball Canada) ....

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By Bob Elliott

ST. PETERSBURG -- Robbie Alomar walked into the clubhouse of historic Al Lang Field on the night of Friday March 18, 2005 and took off his Tampa Bay Devil Rays uniform.

Alomar had made two errors in the same inning and struck out in his only at-bat against his old team, the Toronto Blue Jays.

After the game, his first since missing 10 due to tightness and soreness in his back, Alomar headed up the stairs to manager Lou Piniella’s office.

“I told Lou, 'I’m done, I don’t feel like playing anymore,'” said Alomar Monday morning looking back nine springs, now back in the same clubhouse and back in uniform wearing a red Baseball Canada uniform as a guest coach with the Junior National Team.

The Blue Jays make like good corporate citizens when they play the juniors Tuesday afternoon at Al Lang. Now, some corporate citizens would rather see them sign free-agent starter Ervin Santana, but giving Canadian high schoolers the chance to face Brandon Morrow and be on the same field as Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind and Munenori Kawasaki is a fine gesture.

Mississauga’s Dalton Pompey, Peterborough’s Mike Reeves, Michael Crouse of Port Moody, B.C. and North York’s Marcus Knecht are among the Canadian minor leaguers who will share the field as well.

Alomar showed where his old locker was -- third one on the right as you enter the clubhouse -- when he took off a big-league uniform a final time.

It was empty, as it was the after day Alomar retired. He returned for a press conference in which he said: “I said I’d never embarrass myself on the field, I can’t play at the level I want to, so it’s time.”

“After I spoke to the press, the Devil Rays had me throw out the first pitch,” said Alomar. “I was saying first day in, this was the park I retired at.

“It was time. I was hit on the hand by Ben Sheets the year before when I was with the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Tampa Bay) was better off going with youth (Jorge Cantu).”

Alomar said in his Hall of Fame speech, he was part Puerto Rican, part Canadian. Maybe a better place for him to have been this week was at the Bobby Mattick complex working with Blue Jays youngsters. But he’s all-in on helping Canadian baseball.

He was the commissioner of the 10-team Tournament 12 last year at the Rogers Centre, and holds the same position as preparations are made for the second annual Sept. 16-20.

“I’ve done a lot of work for the Jays Care Foundation,” said Alomar, who didn’t think it right that the flight cost was so high for players from across the country to travel to Toronto for the five-day event.

“I went to the board of directors, spoke to Melinda Rogers and asked if we could minimize the costs of the players coming so far and their hotels,” said Alomar.

The board, which consists of Melinda Rogers, daughter of the late Ted Rogers, vice-chair Stu Hutcheson, along with directors Paul Beeston, Ron Carinci, Ian Charlton, Peter Dawe, James Dodds, James Haggarty, John Macintyre, Dan Nowlan, Keith Pelley, Andy Redmond, Peter Sisam and Jim Treliving will contribute $100,000 this year.

Lefty Kurtis Horne was “iffy” about attending Tournament 12 last fall.

“Then, I opened up an email from Robbie Alomar inviting me to come to the tournament and represent B.C. It was awesome,” said Horne, a member of the Junior National Team, his locker a sunflower seed spit from Alomar’s old one.

“To get an email from a Hall of Famer, it was awesome,” said Horne of Sooke, B.C. (pop. 11,435) on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. “He’s everyone’s hero. He’s the best second baseman ever. He’s in Cooperstown.”

Alomar has one complaint about his three days with the juniors: “they don’t ask enough questions.”

“I told them the other day, I was your age once, go ahead ask me about the game,” said Alomar. “Baseball Canada runs a great program, I believe in it. It’s important to find Canadian talent.

“That’s why I’m behind Tournament 12. That’s why I’m here.”

Here on this day, which celebrated 100 years of spring ball in St. Pete’s, when the St. Louis Browns trained here in 1914.

Al Lang opened in 1947 and has been the spring home of the New York Yankees and Babe Ruth, who’s daughter Julia Ruth Stevens was on hand, New York Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets with Sidd Finch and Tampa Bay.

And scene of the retirement of one Hall of Famer.


HOF'er's picks: There were 42 pro scouts, a handful of college recruiters, and a pair of Hall of Fame eyes on hand as the Canadian Junior National Team played a team of Baltimore Orioles first and second-year pros.

The best five players Baseball Canada guest coach Robbie Alomar has seen over the first three days on the spring trip and his scouting report:

1. CF Gareth Morgan, North York, Ont.

“He’s great defensively and has been swinging the bat OK.”

2. OF Jean Francois Garon, Terrebonne, Que.

“He has a lot of tools, he can do most anything, he plays every sport and is good at it.”

3. OF Demi Ormoloye, Orleans, Ont.

“He’s real raw, but he stands almost 6-foot-5 and runs a 6.5 60 yard dash.”

4. 3B Robert Byckowski, Etobicoke, Ont.

“Robbie is a great hitter. Our coaches have done a good job with him.”

5. OF-1B Josh Naylor, Mississauga, Ont.

“He’s got talent. I’ve seen him have some great at-bats.”