There are two Roberto Alomars. There is the one you see at second base, turning baseball into ballet, and then there is the one you never will see.
The private life of baseball's best second baseman -- and maybe the game's best all-around player -- is so quiet that even his mother says he should get out more.
"I call him 'old man,' " said Maria Alomar, laughing. "He's very quiet. All he wants is to have his peace."
He always has been that way. His brother, Sandy, an All-Star catcher for the Cleveland Indians, is the social one. Roberto keeps to himself. More often then not, he spends his afternoons in front of the television. He just might be the world's most athletic couch potato.
"Sandy is the more active one," Maria said. "He likes to go to the movies and go out with people. Roberto has always been shy. [As a kid,] he liked to watch baseball on TV. He played both baseball and basketball, but he didn't like to go outside. He would go to the ballpark, play and then come right back home."
Funny how things turned out. Both brothers -- like their father, Sandy Alomar Sr. -- ended up in a business where it's difficult to carve out a peaceful moment, yet Roberto manages to lead a surprisingly quiet life. He spent five years holed up in a posh hotel room in Toronto, and now has come to a city where he will not be the center of attention as long as Cal Ripken is still in uniform.
Alomar found that out this year, when he took part in a joint news conference with Ripken on the day that both reported to spring training. The first five or six questions went to Ripken, who was coming back after completing his pursuit of Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record last September. Then came the first question for Alomar, who has two World Series rings and a chance to be remembered as the greatest second baseman of all time.
"So, Robbie," a television reporter asked, "how does it feel to be playing next to Cal Ripken?"
Perhaps some other player might have taken that as a slight, but Alomar took it as a sign that he had come to the right place.
The invisible man
Don't bother looking. There is no Super Nintendo Robbie Alomar Grand Slam Baseball game, though there are several versions featuring Ken Griffey and a number of basketball video games built around NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal.
Alomar is in the same class. He has no skeletons in his trophy case to drive away potential corporate sponsors. And yet he is something of an invisible man in the marketplace.
He knows why. Everybody knows why. Latin players seldom get major endorsement contracts in the United States, unless you want to count Reginald Martinez Jackson, and that would be a tremendous stretch.
"I don't get that many requests," said Alomar. "Being Latin and being in the States, sometimes they think you don't speak the language real well and they don't approach you. I don't care so much about that. I don't build my life around that kind of thing. That's secondary."
"He isn't driven marketing-wise," said Alomar's San Diego-based marketing representative, John Boggs. "His main focus has been to concentrate on what he gets paid to do."
Which is play baseball. Maybe better than anyone. In less than a season, Alomar has shown Orioles fans what their counterparts in Toronto have known for years. He is both the steadiest and flashiest second baseman in the game, an unusual combination that allows him to fade into the background between the spectacular plays and the big hits.
He batted .400 for much of the first half of the season, and nobody in Baltimore really knows who he is. That is not entirely an accident.
"I'm more on the quiet side," Alomar said recently. "I really like to just enjoy the game and avoid the pressures that come with those other things. I see guys getting up early to [shoot] commercials, and sometimes that takes all day. I don't want to do that before a game. I earn my money playing baseball."
Alone at the top
So what does this guy do when he isn't at the ballpark? He was known in Toronto as one of the most eligible bachelors in town, but that image didn't exactly conform to reality. Alomar lived at the stadium, in a specially prepared SkyDome Hotel apartment, and he didn't go out much. He preferred to spend his free time watching movies in his room, sometimes with friends and sometimes by himself.
If you want to call him a loner, he won't be offended.
"I've lived alone for a lot of years," he said. "You learn how to deal with it."
That's another one of the burdens that comes with being a Latin ballplayer in the major leagues. Alomar started out like all the others, struggling with the language and trying to fit in. He had one big advantage. He was a highly prized prospect from a baseball family, but that didn't mean that he didn't have to deal with the loneliness and isolation that Latin players feel as they climb through the minor leagues.
Alomar, 28, came up through the San Diego Padres organization, and had stopped at every level of the club's minor-league system before he turned 21. He was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays with Joe Carter in the blockbuster deal for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff in 1990.
Now, he's in Baltimore, which is as different from Toronto as it is from San Juan.
"I haven't seen that much of it yet," Alomar said, "but I like it. The main thing is playing baseball. I'm not thinking about the environment, but so far they seem like real good people here. The people I have met have treated me very nicely."
The same went for Toronto, with one glaring exception. Alomar was well-received there -- that is where he became a major star -- but a disturbing incident at the SkyDome Hotel reinforced his desire to remain out of the limelight. An obsessed female fan came to the hotel with a gun and told authorities that she had intended to shoot Alomar.
Maybe she never intended to go through with it. (She turned herself in before approaching Alomar.) Maybe she just was crying out for help. Alomar was never in danger, but the incident provided a reminder to all high-profile celebrities that they are vulnerable.
"You become more aware of what's going on around you," Alomar said, "but you've got to live your life."
No place like home
Back home in Puerto Rico, it's a little different. Alomar loves basketball and tennis. He does some commercials. He has a life away from the ballpark. And though he has no real hobbies during the regular season, he does have one in the off-season -- baseball.
He plays every year in the Puerto Rican Winter League, even though his $6 million annual major-league salary overpowers any financial incentive to play between big-league seasons. It is his desire to play in the winter that proves his lifelong love for and unwavering commitment to the game.
"I love this game," he said. "I see my dad [Sandy Alomar Sr.] and other people who have retired, and they all still want to be in the game. So why not play as much as I can while I can? People miss the game when they get out of it. Now, in the prime of my career, I want to enjoy the God-given talent that I have. I want to play."
There is another, even more altruistic motivation. Alomar knows that baseball fans in Puerto Rico seldom -- if ever -- get the opportunity to see major-league games in person. So he and other players such as Texas Rangers star Juan Gonzalez and former Orioles third baseman Leo Gomez bring the major leagues back to Puerto Rico.
"Maybe I shouldn't," Alomar said. "The way we get paid here in the States, they say it's a risk. But on the other side, I should play for those fans. People there, even in the middle class, can't fly here. Kids watch me there. They want to be like me. They want to be like a Roberto Alomar or a Rafael Palmeiro [who is of Cuban descent]. I want them to be able to see me."
They do get ESPN in Puerto Rico, and anyone fortunate enough to have a satellite dish can watch a variety of major-league games. Alomar's mother, Maria, may be the region's foremost channel surfer, because she has to keep up with both her sons.
"She's funny," Roberto said. "She spends a lot of time switching back and forth, trying to watch both of us. She'll be watching me and then she'll switch over because Sandy is coming up."
How many mothers have seen both of her sons play in the World Series? Roberto played in two with the Blue Jays. Sandy made it last year with the Cleveland Indians. They could end up facing each other in the playoffs this year, which certainly would reduce wear and tear on the remote control.
Pub Date: 8/07/96