Tribe opportunity perfect fit for Alomar
Return 'home,' talented young catchers too much to pass up
CLEVELAND -- When Sandy Alomar Jr. returned to the ballpark formerly known as Jacobs Field this past summer for his induction into the Indians Hall of Fame, he had no idea he'd be back as a Tribe coach in 2010.In fact, just a week ago, such a possibility seemed remote, because the Mets were not inclined to let Alomar walk away from his job as their catching instructor. The Mets even upped the ante on Alomar and offered him their first-base coaching position. But the lure of returning to his Indians roots, not far from his Chicago home, was too great for Alomar to pass up. He pressed the Mets to grant Indians manager Manny Acta the right to interview him, then accepted Acta's offer to become the Indians' first-base coach. "The Mets treated me with a lot of respect," Alomar said Wednesday. "They were great to me. These were special circumstances. Coming to Cleveland, close to my family, and being with a franchise I have a lot of great memories with ... this is an opportunity I couldn't let pass by." It's a perfect marriage, in that sense. Because the Indians hope to not only benefit from having an accomplished player like Alomar working with their young catchers, but they also hope to engender some positive feelings from their frustrated fan base. The response to the Alomar hire, which was announced Tuesday, has been overwhelmingly positive in these parts, and Alomar, whose 19-year-old son, Marcus, and 17-year-old daughter, Marissa, still live in this area, said he is just as excited for this reunion. "I have a lot of great memories here," Alomar said, "and this is a chance to work with a great catching core of young guys." Those young guys include Lou Marson, one of the prospects acquired in last summer's Cliff Lee trade with the Phillies, and Carlos Santana, who was acquired in the 2008 trade that sent Casey Blake to the Dodgers. Marson currently projects to be the regular behind the plate in 2010, though Santana, who will begin the year at Triple-A Columbus, is one of the top prospects in all of baseball and is not far behind. Wyatt Toregas, who is more of a defensive specialist, is also in the catching mix. Alomar, 43, will be entrusted with those players, and he'll look to impart some wisdom gained from 20 years in the big leagues, including 11 with the Indians from 1990 to 2000. Those days with the Tribe saw both Alomar and the Indians at their best. Alomar was a six-time All-Star with the Tribe and had a career season in '97, and the Indians won five AL Central titles and two AL pennants with him behind the plate. When his playing days ended in '07, Alomar didn't take long to get into the coaching side of the game. And in two seasons as the catching instructor with the Mets, he created a catching program he plans to install with the Indians. "Mentoring is one thing, teaching is another," Alomar said. "You try to get them to focus on the program so that they understand being a catcher at the Major League level is not an easy thing. It takes a lot of focus and hard work. I like guys to take charge." Alomar said the adjustment to the Majors can be particularly jarring for a young catcher. "You have to understand the opposition will make a lot of adjustments very fast," he said. "In the Minor Leagues, you can play blindfolded. In the big leagues, there's no secrets. Guys are adapting to you, and if you don't adapt to them right away, they have the upper hand." Alomar has aspirations to one day manage in the big leagues, and he viewed his experience with the Mets as an important first step. He cited the use of the double-switch as one aspect of the NL game that creates learning experiences for a manager-in-training. "Being a National League coach early in your career is very important, I think," he said. "But the real offense is in the American League. Seeing and understanding the offense in the AL, it's a perfect challenge to step up. If I'm going to manage one day, I really want to be prepared. I don't want to rush myself." Though he had a long career in the big leagues, Alomar said he felt as though his playing days went by in a flash. But he said he's not pining for days gone by. Rather, he feels fully immersed in his new role in baseball. "Last year was good for that transformation," Alomar said. "The Mets gave me more responsibility in creating their catching program. When I was responsible for that, I felt I transformed from a player to a coach."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.