By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
AJAX, Ont. – Some might say Roberto Alomar was right at home.
But to know whether they meant with the Puerto Rican team at the Pan Am Games in Ajax, Ont., or during batting practice on Thursday when he was reunited with all of his friends and colleagues who arrived with Baseball Canada would be difficult to determine.
The Hall of Fame second baseman himself was split, having a similar sentiment to what he felt when he matched up against his older brother Sandy twice in the majors, once beating him in the playoffs as a member of the Baltimore Orioles in 1996, and then again the following year when Sandy’s Cleveland Indians came out on top and went to the World Series.
“It feels like when I was playing against my brother in the big leagues,” Alomar said before the Puerto Rico’s matchup against the Canadians. “I feel like I’m playing against my brother on the other side. It’s a decision we have to make of course, and I can’t wait for it. It’s exciting to have that feeling, but a little mixed and I can’t wait to see how I react during the game.”
A proud native of Puerto Rico, the former Blue Jay has taken a lot of initiative in the last several years to help support and grow the game in Canada, a place he considers to be his second home.
Outside of his role with Toronto as a special assistant to the organization, and a proud part of the club’s amateur camps across the country, Alomar has accompanied the Canadian Junior National Team on its two most recent trips to St. Petersburg, Fla., for spring training as a guest coach, he joined the Women’s National Team on multiple occasions, and he is the commissioner of Tournament 12, an event that brings together the nation’s top amateur talent for a showcase and games at Rogers Centre.
“It is a little weird being on the other side,” Alomar said. “I have a lot of respect for Canadians, and today is a point where I have to represent my country. I know they understand that, but I wish them the best of luck and hope that we can play them again later on in the tournament.”
Only with the squad representing his home country for a few days at the Games, Alomar couldn’t be more excited to have had the opportunity to do something he always wanted to accomplish as a player, finally getting the chance to fulfill another career dream.
“It’s been great to be with this team because I never had the opportunity to be a part of the Pan Am Games before, when I played,” Alomar said. “This is like a dream come true for me. Something in my baseball career that I didn’t have and was missing was this, and now I’ve accomplished this. So I’m here to enjoy the experience and hopefully we can get a medal.”
The 47-year-old is incredibly excited for the Canadian women to get their games underway at Pan Am – starting on Monday – knowing that they will have the same feeling he’s had with Puerto Rico and perhaps even better, the team earning a chance to compete at a multi-sport event for the first time in program history.
“The women’s team means a lot to me, the Canadian program team,” Alomar said. “Through Andre [Lachance, manager of the Women’s National Team], I had an opportunity to be with them, to practice with them, and to help them be recognized here in Canada.
“They deserve the same respect that the guys have, and that’s just one of the reasons why I’m so supportive of them. Hopefully they can come here and prove that they can play the game and get a medal for Canada.”
In the stands for Thursday night’s Team Canada victory over Puerto Rico, Lachance was excited to see Alomar, even though this time he was in the opposing dugout.
“It’s totally normal and it makes sense,” the women’s team’s skipper said. “That’s where he comes from, and he’s been kind enough to help the two countries he loves. I saw him at the [athetes’] village yesterday and it’s been fun. He enjoys being with Canada and he enjoys being with his home country.”
Before the competition began, Alomar’s blue jacket could be easily spotted among the sea of red players and coaching staff he found himself in the middle of. When Puerto Rico’s batting practice came to an end, the former infielder stuck around for some extra time on the field with his adopted country’s team.
“It’s great to see them and catch up,” Alomar said. “One of the things I have accomplished here in Canada is to have many great friends around the game. I meet a lot of players and I meet a lot of people, and they’re all my friends on the other side. It’s always nice to go over and embrace them before the game but when it’s game time I’m in the [Puerto Rican] dugout …
“This is all about competition, it’s about playing for your country, and it’s about them giving you their best out there. Canada has a great team, and we have a pretty good team too. It’s always going to be a competitive game and no one is going to back down from anything.”
At the top of Alomar’s list of people to speak to and catch up with was Baseball Canada’s director of national teams, Greg Hamilton. The Hall of Famer has worked side-by-side with Hamilton during his time with the juniors, and quickly realized just how much the man has meant to the sport in the country north of the border.
“I have a lot of respect for Greg,” Alomar said. “Greg Hamilton has brought a lot to baseball here in Canada and people should appreciate what he has done and what he’s doing. I have had the chance and I’ve been blessed just to work with him for the last three years with the junior team. He’s a phenomenal guy and he deserves more respect too.
“This year was one of the biggest [for Canadians] signing through the draft with 30 guys and it’s all about Greg Hamilton, what he’s done since Day 1. To me, he’s worth every penny they give him because he’s a great man and he deserves it.”
Whether he’s wearing Puerto Rico’s red, white and blue, or Canada’s maple leaf, Alomar is grateful for the experiences he’s had and is always excited to represent either country.
“This is a different feeling,” Alomar said. “When you play for a team, it’s just a team. But when you play for your country, you’re representing your whole country and it’s a completely different vibe. It’s a really different experience.”