Baseball Day in Orillia hits a home run
Dave Dawson/The Packet & Times This young T-ball player was all smiles Saturday as he got to meet Alomar, who conducted a few drills with the youngsters.
Before Roberto Alomar pulled on a Blue Jays jersey, decades before he won back-to-back World Series titles with Toronto and long before he developed into a Hall of Fame player who earned 10 Gold Gloves, he was a little boy in a small town with a big dream.
"When I was a kid, I was just like you and wanted to play the game of baseball," Alomar told a rapt group of bantam baseball players Saturday at Kitchener Park. "I had to believe in my talent, I had to believe in my coaches, believe in my work ethic and discipline to be able to achieve things I wanted in life. Dreams can become reality."
But it takes hard work and staying on the right path for those dreams to come true. "I remember my dad used to tell me: There's two paths in my life that I can take - a good one or a bad one. If you take the bad one, a lot of bad things can happen. If you take the good one, a lot of great things can happen."
Alomar urged the kids to take responsibility for their future. "Coaches and parents can only teach you certain things like discipline, values, eating properly, doing good in school... but what they cannot do is choose what you want to do in life. They can't be with you 24 hours a day. Your destiny is in your hands. Only you control what you do in life."
His message found fertile ground with the young Orillia Legion Minor Baseball players gathered at the south-end diamond for the fifth annual Baseball Day in Orillia event. The legendary slick-fielding, hot-hitting second baseman not only spoke to the players, he donned his shorts and led rookie and T-Ball players through a variety of drills.
"This is an incredible opportunity for baseball players in Orillia," said John Hammill, a board member of the Orillia Sport Council who helped organize the event. "It's amazing to see a legend like (Alomar) on our baseball diamond working with our kids."
While many of the young players did not really grasp this opportunity of a lifetime, many of their parents were in awe as they captured photographs and wore wide smiles as they watched a baseball legend share tips with their young charges.
"Every young person in Ontario worshipped Robbie Alomar because he did something we dream about: he won the World Series and put us on the map," said local MPP and leader of the Ontario Conservatives, Patrick Brown, who was instrumental in bringing Alomar to the region. "It's such a treat to have someone of Robbie's status in Orillia. The fact he came to Orillia twice is special and shows the heart he has for young ball players. He's not only a great Blue Jay, he's a great man."
On the field, with clouds threatening and temperatures soaring, Alomar was in his element. He joked with the kids like a dad helping out with the team; he halted drills to share a specific tip or to work with an individual player. He drew a triangle in the dirt and explained how to use that shape to improve positioning. He taught them how to use their eyes to properly throw and gave tips on hitting. "That's why I came back this year. I'm here to teach you guys how to play baseball," said Alomar.
Last year, when it was announced Alomar would be in town for Baseball Day in Orillia, hundreds of fans, many travelling from afar, lined up to glimpse the legendary Jay and get his autograph. This year, his appearance was not advertised so he would have time to share his skills and tips with the youngsters.
After spending time on the diamond with the youngest players, he visited the other diamond where the bantam players were competing in a homerun derby. Upon watching Nolan MacNeal take a few swings, he stopped the proceedings and quietly gave the 14-year-old some advice.
"He helped me a lot," MacNeal, all smiles, said after the brief exchange with Alomar. "It gave me more pop. He told me to lift my arms up and showed me where my right arm should be. On the next two pitches, I hit two homeruns."
While Alomar's visit, which concluded with an autograph signing session, was memorable, it was one part of a full day of festivities at Kitchener Park. The morning was all about minor baseball players as T-Ball and bantam teams battled and players competed in a range of skill competitions. In the afternoon, mens, womens and co-ed teams from the Orillia Slo-Pitch League took over the diamonds for games in addition to a pitching accuracy contest and a homerun derby.
Baseball Day in Orillia is not only a celebration of baseball, it's a fundraiser for the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame. Money is raised through entry fees, sponsorships - the event was sponsored by Orillia's Canadian Tire - and a variety of other components. Hammill said he hopes the event will bring in more than $2,000 for the local sports shrine.
For the kids who had the opportunity to meet and learn from a legend like Alomar, it was a day they won't forget. And his message is one they all needed to hear. "I know what it is to be poor, but I never used that as an excuse," Alomar told the local players. "If you work hard, put your heart and passion and discipline into what you want to do become professional - it doesn't have to be baseball. Make your parents proud. The only thing you can do is try, so try."