Photo by luked.
For at least one day the clock turned back at the Rogers Centre, and the building felt uncannily like the SkyDome again, the site of so many Blue Jays triumphs over the years. This Sunday the air was thick with nostalgia as over 45,000 fans gathered to pay tribute to Toronto’s first Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and watch as Roberto Alomar’s number 12 was hung from the rafters, retired in honour of his accomplishments.
A sold-out crowd braved the heat, many of them arriving early to try to claim a Roberto Alomar bobblehead as a souvenir of the momentous occasion. Some even lined up as much as three hours before game time, ensuring that they would qualify as one of the first 20,000 to receive the giveaway. All the bobblehead Alomars had been snatched up more than an hour before proceedings officially got underway.
The field was temporarily transformed for the occasion, a large “12” centred fittingly over second base. A couple of placards in the outfield displayed action shots of Alomar in his prime, while a small stage in shallow center field served as the base of activity for the ceremony.
Many Blue Jays, both past and present, were in attendance to celebrate with their friend and teammate. Jerry Howarth, the man who had called the action for nearly all of Alomar’s and the team’s finest moments, made a perfect emcee, introducing some of the talent that helped Alomar bring Toronto back-to-back World Series titles in ’92 and ‘93. From Kelly Gruber (looking very much the rock star with long hair and a pair of dark shades) to the speedy centrefielder Devon White, some of the best to ever don a Jays uniform were on hand. Former set-up man Duane Ward and current Jay and fan favourite John McDonald received nice rounds of applause, but the biggest ovation was reserved for the man Alomar later referred to as “the greatest manager I ever played for,” Cito Gaston.
When his name was finally called, Alomar emerged through the crowd of a very fortunate section 114, slapping hands and greeting well-wishers as he made his way to the field flanked by two (presumably overheated) Mounties.
Photo by luked.
Video tributes allowed everyone to re-live Alomar’s clutch home run off Dennis Eckersley in game four of the 1992 ALCS, and marvel at Alomar’s magnificent plays, and at how routine he made all of them appear. Perhaps Gaston explained it best: the team’s acquisition of Alomar, he said, was the difference between “almost getting there and getting there.”
Jays CEO Paul Beeston also made a few remarks before Alomar stepped to the podium, speculating that it will be “many, many years before another number will be considered” for retirement. While obviously intended as a glowing endorsement of Alomar’s abilities, it also inadvertently highlighted the team’s recent failings. Even Roy Halladay, a perennial all-star and Cy Young Award–winner, may find himself enshrined as a Phillie rather than a Jay, should he ever be awarded his own spot in the Hall of Fame.
When Alomar finally did speak, his remarks were brief. “I was blessed to come play for a great city, a great organization,” he told the appreciative fans, adding later that he would “love to see every day so many faces.” (Perhaps the appropriate collective retort would be that so many faces might be seen every day if more players like Alomar were on the field.) He referred to Beeston as a “second father” and said, “to the 2011 Blue Jays: let’s go!” And with that, he embraced those on the stage, taking special time to acknowledge his mother and father, Maria and Sandy Alomar Sr.
As he walked off to more chants, there was a sense that while the Blue Jays have been a team since 1977 and have two World Series wins to their name, they are still a comparatively young franchise whose mark is only beginning to be made on the majors. Not only was it Roberto Alomar’s name being etched into the record books, but an entire city that stands behind him, cheering wildly, hungry for more success.