HOFer Alomar was a catcher before playing second

By Bob Elliott

LANGLEY, BC _ It was a typical father-and-son day at Wrigley Field ...

The two sons wore their uniforms to the game.

And so did their father ...

It was the 1990 all-star game at Wrigley Field and coaching for the National League was Sandy Alomar while his younger son Robbie Alomar was backing up future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg at second base.

And in the American League starting lineup was Sandy Alomar’s older son, all-star catcher Sandy Alomar, Jr. who caught 20 years earning six all-star berths and a gold glove behind the plate. 

Yet, the first-ever catcher in the Alomar family?

Not Sandy. 

Not his father by the same name.

Nope, it was Robbie.

During a Q and A session at the 24th annual BC Coaches Convention Robbie told coaches and young players in attendance that he had been a catcher long before his older brother at home on a dusty diamond in Salinas, Puerto Rico.

“I was catching one day, Sandy took a double swing, the bat came around and hit me in the back of the head,” Robbie said. “I took off the glove and put it on the plate. 

“Took off the shin pads and put them on the plate. Took off the chest protector and put it atop of the pile on the plate.

“And I never ever caught in a game ever again.”

Who knew.

A friend of mine often says ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.”  

Covering Alomar as a member of the Blue Jays for five years, watching him in his post-season runs with the Baltimore Orioles and the Cleveland Indians, and his Hall of Fame elections, to St. Marys first and then Cooperstown, the fact he was a catcher first was something I’d never heard before.

How many young catchers have tossed away the gear after a bad experience. Thousands?

How many have gone on to a Hall of Fame career as a second baseman like Alomar? None that we know about.

Alomar highlighted the successful convention speaking to coaches, to players and at the banquet. 

Pan Am win: Speaking at the convention was Ernie Young, who played eight years in the majors for the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers.

Young was coaching on manager Jim Tracy’s Team USA staff at the Pan Am Games last July in Ajax. Rob Fai, the silver-tongued devil acting as M.C. for the night asked Young what he was thinking in the bottom of the 10th inning.

Canada had runners on first and second, after failing a bunt attempt as Team USA led by two runs with Peter Orr coming to the plate.

“I was sitting on the bucket thinking ‘I’m two outs away from a gold medal, we’re going to beat Canada in Canada, how great will this be? How am I going to celebrate?’” Young said. “And now here comes Pete Orr. I call him the Ernie Young of Canadian baseball, he played for a long time like I did.”

Young played until age 37 finishing with the triple-A Charlotte Knights in 2007. Orr, 36, was on loan from triple-A Colorado Springs last spring. Orr singled in a run to put runners on first and second with one out as Canada’s best hitter Tyler O’Neill stepped into the box.

Lefty David Huff, who had appeared in 118 games in the majors with the New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and the Indians was on the mound.

“Canada has Larry Walker coaching first, he’s been around 25 years or so, Peter Orr is Canada’s most experienced player and we decide to run a back-door pick-off play?” asked Young.

Huff’s throw sailed wild of first baseman Casey Kotchman into foul ground as Skyler Stromsmoe scored the tying run and Orr headed from first to third. The throw from right fielder Brian Bogusevic sailed over third base. Orr picked himself up and without so much as dusting himself off headed for home. 

“It looked like a circus,” said Young. The ball beat Orr home but his head-first slide dislodged the ball and Canada won gold.

“I sat there thinking ‘what the hell just happened? I wanted to choke the life out of him,” said Young.

Fai had a question ...

“You were a coach on Team USA that made two errors to allow the tying and winning run to score ... what are you doing here,” asked Fai as he slowly moved away from the 6-foot-1, 200 pounder.

“I was,” said Young, “the hitting coach.”

Fai asked Young the moment he knew had made it as a big leaguer and Young answered flying from double-A Huntsville to Oakland and “sitting in first class,” in 1994.

Young has a rough winter and headed home to Arizona where he had lost close friends Dave Henderson, Bob Welch and Tony Phillips. 

Standing Os: MC Rob Fai, the talented announcer with the Vancouver Canadians, called up Mike Kelly, who organizes the annual convention as coaching development director for BC Minor, to present the annual meritorious award at the Saturday afternoon luncheon inside the Langley Events Centre.

Kelly, the good soldier stood by ... ready to present the plaque, as Fai proceeded with the intro. On and on and on he went until he said “and this man was my former coach,” and finally you could see the light go on above the head of Kelly, the former North Delta Blue Jays coach.

After Fai said the name “our winner this year is Mike Kelly,” the jam-packed audience stood and gave a standing ovation. Kelly returned to his seat wiping his eyes.

Later that night Fai’s golden tones were at the microphone again he singled out Baseball Canada president Ray Carter (Tsawwassen) whose term comes to an end in June after 16 years in office.

President Carter -- who will always be President Carter, no matter whom the next President is (example if you run into Bill Clinton, do you call him President Clinton or Mr. Clinton?) -- received a lengthy standing ovation and tapped his hand over his heart as the applause continued and continued.   

The two Justins: Justin Thorsteinson (Richmond) and Justin Morneau (New Westminster) of the Colorado Rockies before a spring training game in 2015 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Scottsdale, Az.

The two Justins: Justin Thorsteinson (Richmond) and Justin Morneau (New Westminster) of the Colorado Rockies before a spring training game in 2015 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Scottsdale, Az.

The sports that binds: Jordan Thorsteinson was on the BC team at the 1987 nationals when Mike Kelly was one of the coaches of the bronze-medal winning team. 

And Jordan, was at the clinic watching his son Justin Thorsteinson, a minor bantam with the Richmond Chuckers, learn from Concordia-St. Paul coach Mark (Lunch) McKenzie and his son Marcus (Snacks) McKenzie, Dr. Tom Hanson, Dr. Ryan Harrison, Alomar and Young and others.  

Jason Thorsteinson (Richmond) was selected in the 46th round of the 1991 draft by the Montreal Expos and played two seasons.  

Last spring the Thorsteinsons made a trip to Arizona to see the Colorado Rockies and Justin Morneau (New Westminster) play. Morneau, who also played for Kelly with the North Delta Blue Jays, spotted the youngster wearing the No. 33 and came over for a chat and signed autographs.

On the same trip a Rockies employee spotted Justin Thorsteinson and asked if he wanted to be the bat boy for the afternoon. Upon reaching the dugout Morneau looked at Thorsteinson and said “what are you doing here?”

BC Minor Awards _ Outstanding athletes: 13U, Carlin Dick, Abbotsford Black in the spring, 10 homers, 33 RBIs, .650 average, 1.368 slugging in 24 games ... and on the mound 0.96 ERA, 84 strikeouts in 44 innings, made BC Selects ... And in the summer for Abbotsford peewees 13 homers, 58 RBIs, hit .652, 1.536 slugging mark in 21 games ... And on the mound 1.24 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 45 innings, perfect game vs. Coquitlam-Moody with 14 strikeouts, picked up by Richmond to go to San Diego, top pitcher at 2015 13U Westerns, gold medal winner, top arm 13U at Baseball Canada nationals, silver medallists.

15U, Damiano Palmegiani, Cloverdale, played for the provincial champs excelling in the field and at bat for his third consecutive provincial championship, won gold at Western Canadian Summer Games ... Now a members of the Vauxhall Academy Jets.

18U, Dylan Emmons, Vernon, led in doubles (10) and RBIs (18), second with 15 stolen bases, while hitting .252 ... On the mound had a 1.96 ERA fanning 126 and walking 23 in 78 innings, pitched eight complete games with five wins. 

Female, Kennsington Renneber, Kelowna.

Elizabeth Brampton Memorial award (unsung hero): Devan Hanson, Pender Island. 

Wayne Brampton award (rookie of the year): Jayan Nicolette and Allison Shroeder, Team BC 14U and 16U ... at 14U won gold for BC. 

Coach of the year: 13U, Ryan Steele, Misson.
15U, Cam Frick, Delta Tigers, 21-9 record, fourth-place finish. 

18U, Jordan Blundell, Nanaimo Buccaneers.

Teams of the Year: 11U, Surrey Canadians Blue Jays, coached by Phil Quon and Arjan Manhas. 

13U, Ladner Red Sox, coached by Paul Bach, double-A club which qualified for triple-A provincials.

15U, Abbotsford Angels, coached Tim Blake.

18U, Ridge Meadows Royals, co-champs at BLE invitational in Arizona, lost in semi-finals of Best of West in Kamloops, had 14-game and 20-game, regular-season winning streaks, finished 38-4 ... won Aldergrove tourney, lost in final in Kamloops, beat Kamloops at provincials 2-1 at Nanaimo ... 69-19-3 over-all record. 

Builders: Dan Hodgens, coach, Tsawwassen, South Delta Trojans, junior.

Daryl Payne, coach, Tsawwassen bantam.

Association of the Year: Newton Canadian Baseball. 

Umpire _ Michael Yamaguchi, Richmond.