CLEVELAND -- With Jim Thome on second, Sandy Alomar Jr. stepped into the batter’s box and drilled an RBI single to left-center field, over the head of shortstop Francisco Lindor. As Thome rounded third, he yelled, “Just like old times.”
It may be 19 years since the two Cleveland legends both represented the Indians -- back when Lindor was just 6 years old -- but the three came together on Tuesday afternoon to be named the official 2019 MLB All-Star Ambassadors during a surprise pickup game with a group of local baseball and softball players at Progressive Field.
“It’s special,” Lindor said. “We have two Hall of Famers, one in the Cleveland Hall of Fame and the other one in the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s special, unique and to be an ambassador with them, it makes me happy, it makes me proud. They both came out of here. Hopefully one day I’ll be close to them.”
“It was fun hanging around with the kids and have a chance to promote the festivities we’re going to have in Cleveland for the All-Star Game,” Alomar said. “Having the All-Star Game back here means a lot, for us and the community.”
Local participants from MLB’s RBI program had a special opportunity to play a game in the outfield of the ballpark, but they had no idea they’d be joined by the three Ambassadors. As Lindor, Alomar and Thome walked out of the bullpen in right field, the kids all yelled. Lindor hopped on defense and the two retired players joined the team at the plate.
“It was fun, yeah," Thome said. "You go through life and everybody’s got their routines and what they’re doing. That’s what makes the game special. No matter how long you’re away from it, when you reconnect, there’s always that special bond you’ll have with your ex-teammates.”
The three will have plenty of time to reconnect this summer, as they will represent the hometown team in a variety of community and promotional efforts over the next two months leading up to and during MLB All-Star Week in Cleveland. They will help with the Legacy Project dedications in the community, events at Progressive Field like All-Star Sunday and PLAY BALL PARK (with the first 3,000 fans to arrive on its Opening Day of July 5, receiving a limited edition miniature Lindor bobblehead).
“I just want to show off my city,” Lindor said. “I want to show off what we have here and let the world know that we have a great city and even better people.”
Only seven players prior to Lindor have served as All-Star Ambassadors while playing for the host club: Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Torii Hunter, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Justin Upton and David Wright.
“When you walk in a room, there’s certain guys that have this energy,” Thome said. “[Lindor] has a great smile. He loves the game. You never really know when he’s struggling because he has joy and excitement playing the game. ... Let’s face it, when you’re good and you’ve got everything that comes with that, and you’re a good person, and you give back to the game like he has, that’s why you’re up there as far as the top five faces of baseball -- special. And it’s great for Cleveland because they can embrace a guy like that and say, ‘He’s one of ours.’”
After walking away with the MVP trophy in the last All-Star Game hosted in Cleveland in 1997, Alomar now has a special opportunity to be involved in the 90th Midsummer Classic. The six-time All Star launched a two-run blast in the seventh inning 22 years ago that gave the American League a lead it would not relinquish.
“I didn’t even know if I was going to play, to be honest with you,” Alomar said. “I just wanted to be a part of the All-Star Game in ’97 because it was here in Cleveland. I never anticipated a home run or being the MVP, but the situation arose and I was up there with a man in scoring position and I was just fortunate enough to hit that home run. Everything aligned for me that night and I was so proud of the moment, and my family is, too, so I cherish those moments forever.”
Thome, a first-ballot selection to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018, spent 13 of his 22-year career in Cleveland. As an Indians slugger, he was a member of six AL Central champion clubs and finished his career as the franchise’s all-time leader in home runs (337) and walks (1,008), and he ranks second in club history in RBIs (937). He was the other Indian, along with Alomar, to represent the hometown club in the 1997 All-Star Game.
“Reflecting back to the days of the 1990s, we’ve always talked about whether it was an All-Star Game, all those great playoff games, a World Series -- it brings back a lot of great memories,” Thome said. “And that’s what this will do to the young kids. It will do it to the parents, the grandparents that will spend five days during All-Star Week. They’ll get to really, truly enjoy what’s the best about the game, and that’s the players and everything involved."