Monday, August 1, 2011

Here's to you, Roberto Alomar. Thank you for baseball.

It started one spring day in 1992. I was eight years old. My younger brother had just turned 5, which my father felt was a good age to pass on the great American father-son tradition of baseball. My first reaction to this was, as any older sibling would react, jealousy of all the extra time my dad was spending with my brother. I was the oldest, and therefore clearly the better child in my 8 year old mind, so if my brother could do this baseball thing, then so could I. I informed my father that I had suddenly become a baseball fan, thank you very much, would he please pass me the newspaper so I could choose a favorite baseball team? At this point in my childhood my family were all Atlanta Braves fans, and we were living in Oregon so technically the hometown team was the Seattle Mariners, so my dad tried to push me in one of these two directions, but I took one look at all the team names and with no doubt or hesitation in my voice I declared myself to be a Toronto Blue Jays fan through and through. They did, after all, have the prettiest mascot of all the teams in either league. A few days later there was a game on TV with the Blue Jays, and though I can't remember the exact reason why, there was one player that caught my eye more than any other. Perhaps he hit a homerun that day. Or perhaps he made a diving catch that took my breath away. But whatever the reason, the result was the same. I declared that day that Roberto Alomar would then become and forever be my all time favorite baseball player. And here I am, 20 years later, never regretting a single moment.

It was too incredible to be coincidence, it could only have been fate, that in 1992 the Toronto Blue Jays would go on to win the World Series. Against the Atlanta Braves, no less. My family still laughs over the memories of that series spent huddled on my parents bed, eyes glued to the TV, the entire rest of the family jumping up and down on the bed cheering loudly when the Braves would score a run, while I would sit pointedly ignoring them, knowing they were being foolish for of course my Blue Jays would overcome in the end. And how was I to have known, months earlier, that my very own favorite player would become on of the key figures in that series? My joy and obsession would only increase the next year as the Blue Jays and Roberto Alomar won the World Series again. By this point my entire bedroom was covered in baseball posters and I had a baseball card collection to rival any other 9 year old. I probably had more Blue Jays hats and posters and figurines and shirts than any other person on the West Coast. I had officially become hooked.

I think the highlight of my baseball career must have been the Cleveland Indian years. Before Roberto Alomar was traded to the Indians I was already well aware of his superior fielding super powers at second base, but when his mastery of the infield was combined with the skill of Omar Vizquel at shortstop, baseball ceased to be a sport for me and became a heavenly art. The finesse. The grace. The intuition. The elegance. The acrobatics. Never has this world seen before nor will it ever see again anything so beautiful and so glorious at a 4-6-3 or a 6-4-3 turn by those two infielding gods.

Even in the beginning of high school when I was introduced to the thrill of the Red Sox, the Curse of the Bambino and Yankee-hating at its best, Roberto Alomar was still the key to baseball for me. The Red Sox may have become my favorite team, but none of their players, not even the extremely talented and attractive Nomar Garciaparra, could over take my devotion to skill of the best second baseman to ever play the game. The Gold Gloves, the stolen bases. That is what a true baseball player for me is. In high school I played 2nd base on my softball team, just to be like Robbie. I soaked up everything my Spanish class could throw at me, just because Robbie spoke Spanish too (as a side not this also started my obsession with all languages, and now 4 1/2-ish languages later I still can't get enough of them). I even decided to become a Certified Athletic Trainer when I grew up, so I could spend the rest of my days reveling in the joys of life that only baseball could bring. To anyone who knew me in high school, I was the girl obsessed with baseball, who thought of nothing else. Baseball, indeed, was my childhood.

In 2005, Roberto Alomar retired. I was serving a mission for my church in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and had not been involved at all in the 2005 series. In fact, when I got home near the end of the 2006 season, it was like coming home to a stranger. Baseball had changed. Roberto Alomar was no longer there. Even Nomar, no longer a Red Sox, would only hold on for a few seasons longer before retiring himself. I still knew many players, but I had lost the vital element of my baseball fandom. Even still today when I watch a Red Sox game, there is something missing. I root for Jacoby Ellsbury, not so much for his great talent as much as for the fact that he grew up in the same middle of nowhere farm town in Oregon, and for the fact that while he probably hasn't been to church in years, I think members of his family still go to my church, and for the fact that I used to watch him play in high school now and again when his team would play against my brother's team. But when all is said and done, it almost doesn't even matter to me anymore. The soul of the game is gone for me.

I will, of course, enjoy baseball for the rest of my life. But it will never be the same. There will never be another Roberto Alomar. Years from now, when I have children of my own, they will ask what life was like for me when I was a kid. And I will pull down the boxes that I have treasured away. And next to the box of snow leopard stuffed animals and Winnie-the-Pooh figurines, I'll pull down my box of baseball cards and reverently hand them to my kids. This. This was my childhood.

Here's to you, Roberto Alomar. Thank you for baseball. Though this is the year you first became a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, you have long since been in my Baseball Hall of Fame. Congratulations, for what ever my opinion may be worth, to the best second baseman in the history of baseball.

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