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Bronx Zoo gets wild with Alomar paying an unwelcome visit From introductions through final at-bat, fans don't hold back

NEW YORK -- The bleacher bums of the Bronx take it as a matter of pride that they are called the rudest, crudest baseball fans on the planet, so it should come as no surprise that the chant that greeted Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar during each of his six at-bats yesterday cannot be printed here.

"I just wish I was a couple of rows closer so I could spit back," said Phil Striano of Manhattan, who instead did everything possible to make himself heard from 20 rows back on the field level. "The Orioles should have sat him."

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Alomar knew it was coming. Everybody did. He has been the object of extremely hostile fan reaction at every road stop since he spit in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck on Sept. 27 in Toronto. There was no reason to expect any less from a place that is proud to be known as "The Bronx Zoo."

He was booed heavily during pre-game introductions. He was heckled from the seats close to the Orioles dugout. He was subjected to a ringing torrent of verbal abuse before every pitch of every plate appearance.

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Alomar said batteries were thrown at him while he was in the on-deck circle. When asked how far in the outfield he ventured during the eighth-inning argument following Derek Jeter's home run, Alomar smiled and said: "Not very far. I can't do anything about the fans. New York has some very good baseball fans. They love the game. They support their team."

But the reaction was so visceral that stock trader Frank Klein of Roslyn, N.Y., couldn't help but wonder how much of it was moral outrage over the spitting incident and how much was just traditional Yankee partisanship.

"We were just talking about that," Klein said. "If he was a Yankee, would we be cheering him or booing him?"

The fans would play a starring role throughout the first game of the American League Championship Series. Twelve-year-old Jeff Maier of Old Tappan, N.J., reached out and snatched a fly ball out of the hands of Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco in the eighth inning to turn a likely out into a game-tying home run for Yankees rookie Derek Jeter.

That, at least for a few minutes, diverted attention away from Alomar, but he figures to be the villain du jour in every game played at Yankee Stadium.

It was bedlam in the bleachers, but what else is new? The fans behind the right-center-field fence are notorious for their rowdy behavior, even under far less compelling circumstances. They were on their feet throughout the early innings, shouting epithets and singing bawdy rhymes composed especially for Alomar.

"I sat down there last week," said Jeremy Roth, 23, of Manhattan, who was perched in a safer seat in the second deck yesterday. "Let's just put it this way. I wouldn't bring my mom there."

It's a tough stadium.

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How tough? The McDonald's restaurant outside the stadium has razor wire around the perimeter of the kiddie playground. There were so many police officers assembled around the ballpark before the game, you'd have thought it was a Riddick Bowe fight.

Manager Davey Johnson said that Alomar already had weathered the worst of the fan reaction.

"I think it hurt him more in Toronto, because he played there and those fans used to love him, but he overcame that," Johnson said. "In Cleveland, I think he accepted it. He knows the crowd is going to be loud, but he can handle it."

Alomar hit the home run that clinched the wild card in Toronto. He responded to the blaring disapproval in Cleveland with a game-tying hit and a game-winning home run in the decisive game of the Division Series. The louder the fans, it seems, the more focused he has been.

This time, he did not play a major offensive role in the game, contributing a single in six at-bats, but he got out of Yankee Stadium unscathed, which has to be considered a victory in itself.

Though the Yankee fans wanted to keep the issue alive, even Alomar's opponents were anxious to see the controversy put to rest.

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"Anybody who knows Robbie and has played with Robbie knows that it was way out of character," said David Cone, who will start for the Yankees in Game 2 today. "He's a nice kid. That said, there is no excuse for what he said. But the fact that John Hirschbeck has come forward [and forgiven Alomar], maybe some good can come of this.

"Maybe it will increase donations to fight that disease [adrenoleukodystrophy, which killed Hirschbeck's 7-year-old son John in 1993] and maybe it will lead to a better understanding between the players and umpires."

Pub Date: 10/10/96


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