He walked the halls of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center a hero.
Children waited nervously by his side, hoping for conversation with the All-Star. The man wearing the black No. 12 Orioles jersey beamed throughout the day, and spoke softly with the kids as he signed photos and posters. Parents thanked him for coming.
The man they thanked was Roberto Alomar, the same player now infamous for spitting at an umpire after being ejected from a game in late September.
Alomar returned to Baltimore earlier this week to visit the hospital with third baseman/outfielder B. J. Surhoff and coach Elrod Hendricks and was applauded loudly Tuesday night at Pam Shriver's charity tennis event at the Baltimore Arena. He had not been in town since October, when the Orioles were eliminated from the playoffs.
And he was free of his shadow, at least temporarily.
The taunts and ridicule that had greeted Alomar in ballparks, hotels and restaurants since Sept. 27 -- the day he spat on umpire John Hirschbeck -- were absent this week in Baltimore.
The jeers also were absent in his native Puerto Rico, where Alomar returned a few days after the American League Championship Series.
Though his actions weren't condoned in Puerto Rico, they weren't condemned. When Alomar, 28, first took the field in a Puerto Rican Winter League game, he was cheered wildly, and (( the reception hasn't chilled.
Alomar, who will serve a five-game suspension at the start of the 1997 season, had admitted he made a mistake, asked for forgiveness and was granted it by fans in Puerto Rico. He said he hopes, in time, fans on the mainland will do the same.
"It was great to go home," Alomar said. "It was more than great. It was a big ovation when I started playing over there, just because people understood what the game means to me and what family means to me. Family is my first priority, and people understood that.
"It was good to be around people that know me. The people that know me know what kind of person I am. Not only one thing in life should hurt your entire career. I think everybody makes mistakes in life. We have to move on."
Part of moving on for Alomar meant going home. He spends each off-season in his homeland, playing for little money and giving Puerto Ricans the chance to watch him in person. It's Alomar's way of giving something back. Plus, he can catch up with his family, especially his mom.
Alomar said he looks forward to the homecoming every year, but this time it was particularly therapeutic.
"[My family] has helped me a lot," Alomar said. "They've given me some great advice, positive advice. My mom was hurt by the things that John [Hirschbeck] told me but we understand it was in the heat of the moment. She's helped keep me positive and to continue to move on with my baseball career. She and a lot of friends have helped me. The real true friends are the ones that are still behind me."
Alomar was ejected from the Sept. 27 game against Toronto for arguing a called third strike. He and Hirschbeck engaged in an intense verbal exchange, during which Hirschbeck called Alomar obscenity indicating incestuous relations with one's mother, Alomar said. Alomar said he spat on Hirschbeck after he used the word.
"Now people understand what it means, the name that he called me," Alomar said. "In a Latin way and an American way, there's a big difference. Hopefully, people understand and they'll just let me have fun playing the game of baseball."
When Alomar was approached by reporters after the game, he said Hirschbeck's demeanor changed after his 7-year-old son died in 1993 from adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a brain disorder. Hirschbeck had to be restrained from going after Alomar the next day when he learned of Alomar's remarks, but has since accepted the player's apology and his pledge to donate $50,000 to ALD research, with the Orioles matching his donation.
"Family is to me No. 1, especially my mom," Alomar said. "She helped me to grow up as a person, to grow up as a man and to grow up as a ballplayer, too. I think to anybody, your family, your parents, should be No. 1. In any job, that's the first thing they should respect -- your family -- and none of this would have happened."
The repercussions are likely to continue. The chants and signs probably will appear again at AL stadiums next season.
However, the Camden Yards crowds were quick to come around last season. Though there were plenty of boos, even heavy at times, during the AL Division Series with the Cleveland Indians, during the AL Championship Series against the Yankees, Alomar received standing ovations from Orioles fans.
The seven-time All-Star second baseman said he was touched by that response and looks forward to another season in Baltimore.
The Orioles confirmed that several teams expressed interest in Alomar during the winter meetings in Arizona a few weeks ago, and he heard rumors of a possible trade to the Indians in exchange for Kenny Lofton.
The Orioles said the trade talks were very informal, and general manager Pat Gillick said at the time there was a 90 percent chance Alomar would return for the second season of his three-year, $18 million contract.
"In baseball, you never know what can happen," Alomar said. "I never thought I was going to be traded from San Diego, then I got traded to Toronto. But I'm real happy here.
"Hopefully, I'll stay here and be a Baltimore Oriole for a long time. The organization has treated me real good. The fans have treated me real good. It would be sad if I got traded, because I'm just starting to get used to the team and the city and the organization."
Pub Date: 11/30/96