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Alomar lends talents to Canadian Junior National Team

While Hall of Famer originally hails from Puerto Rico, Toronto close to heart

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Roberto Alomar is officially a member of Team Canada.

The Toronto Blue Jays' Hall of Fame second baseman made his debut in the red-and-white uniform on Friday, proudly taking the field at Al Lang Stadium as a guest coach with the Canadian Junior National Team.

"It's great to be here and be surrounded by the kids," Alomar said, at the same stadium from which he retired. "I learn from them the same way they learn from me, and I think this is a great opportunity for them to ask me questions about what I've learned and what I know. It's just great to be here with Team Canada."

The native of Puerto Rico has had a special bond with the country north of the border ever since his playing days in Toronto, which included two World Series championships with the Blue Jays.

Alomar has taken it one step further over the last several months, using his stature to help grow the game across the country by joining Blue Jays camps and tours, and even becoming the commissioner of Tournament 12, an event designed to allow more Canadian college-eligible players further their careers in the game.

"I wore the Toronto Blue Jays uniform for a long time, for five years," he said. "I have my home in Toronto, and I think it's great [to wear the red and white]. It's great that I get the chance to represent the junior team and that I'm representing the country with a lot of pride."

The 10-time Gold Glove Award winner got in touch with Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada's director of national teams, because he was looking to do even more.

"He had an interest in doing it," Hamilton said. "He reached out through T.J. [Burton, Blue Jays coordinator of amateur baseball] and the Jays and said he'd love to help. Obviously, that's an easy yes on our part. We're real fortunate and very happy to have him."

Added Alomar: "I was honoured. To me, it's just an honour to be here and I'm so happy that Greg has given me this opportunity to first of all, be wearing this uniform, and then it's great to be here supporting the junior Canadian team."

Home is where the heart is for Alomar, and he has mentioned on many occasions just how much his time in Canada meant to him. The 46-year-old is always quick to say that he believes he is at least a little bit Canadian, despite his place of birth, and all those within the country's baseball community would agree.

"We have a really tight alumni family [with Baseball Canada]," Hamilton said. "A lot of guys have gone and had success in this game, and he is a part of that extended family.

"He's Puerto Rican by birth, but spent a big part of his baseball life [in Toronto] and had a huge impact on Canada as a baseball player. The fact that he cares enough to invest here and be here is something that we're very fortunate for and we're obviously very happy to have him here."

Some of the young members of the national squad were in disbelief at the thought that they might be able to share the field with a 12-time Major League All-Star. 16-year-old shortstop Royce Ando was one of the first to spend significant time with the Hall of Famer, as Alomar helped give the middle infielders some tips throughout their first workout day, and Ando couldn't hide his excitement.

"Having Robbie Alomar here and listening to the stuff he said to me [today], it's insane," the native of Mississauga, Ont., said. "It's not every day that you get to work with a Hall of Famer. It's just the stuff that he's been telling me -- everything about the mental game, physically, and always being ready. You've got to have that feeling of being ready; that's what he told me."

Tristan Clarke, a 17-year-old outfielder from Brampton, Ont., has been fortunate enough to have spent some time talking with Alomar in the recent past, but is grateful for every opportunity to do so.

"I love the fact that I get to use him as a resource and ask him any question," Clarke said. "And he'll answer it honestly, whether I would like to hear it or not ... I just went right after [batting practice] and I asked, 'What was I doing?' He told me straight up what I needed to do and what I had been doing wrong."

The fact that the advice and constructive criticism comes from a man of Alomar's stature gives it a little more weight for the young ballplayers.

"It goes without saying," Clarke said. "But since the day that I met him at Tournament 12, I can't say enough about who he is. Everyone knows him and it's amazing just to say that he knows my name."

Even though all of the members of the junior team were born after Alomar's tenure with the Blue Jays ended, Hamilton is confident that they have an undeniable understanding of just how much it means that he is a part of the program.

"Obviously, having a Hall of Famer on the staff is incredibly special," Hamilton said. "He was a game-changer in all facets -- being able to change the game offensively, defensively. And from a defining moment perspective, in Canadian baseball he was at the centre of it. He was a guy who was a huge factor in the World Series championships in Canada.

"[The young players] may not have watched it directly, but all these kids Google and they can bring up those things very quickly. I think they have a real appreciation for just how special he is and how fortunate we are to have him."

Alexis Brudnicki is a contributor to
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