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New York Daily News

Robbie's Second Coming Alomar Vows To Prove 2002 Was A Blip


March 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Daily News, L.P. All rights reserved. 

PORT ST. LUCIE - Nothing was easy for Roberto Alomar last year. He changed teams, leagues and cities. He lost a lot, hit for the lowest average since his rookie year and felt uncomfortable in New York. He didn't get a contract extension after the season.

And now he is here, preparing for his sophomore year as the Mets second baseman. There is pressure, if only because everyone thought the Mets made a great deal when they traded a few minor-leaguers for Alomar last winter. The facts say otherwise: .266 at the plate, no All-Star berth for the first time since 1989, no Gold Glove for the first time in three years.

"We thought we were trading one of the best players in the league," Indians GM Mark Shapiro said last week. "Things have to get better for Robbie."

Ask anyone about Alomar and the answers are always the same. Last year was a freak, a blip, an anomaly. Whatever the word, the point is understood: This year will be different.

Shapiro said he thought Alomar was hurt by the move to the National League. Alomar is a cerebral hitter, and after 11 years in the AL, he knew how to hit almost every pitcher. This year he'll have a better idea how to handle the NL pitchers, Shapiro figures.

Art Howe said he's not worried about his second baseman, except for the little bit of discomfort in Alomar's right arm. Howe said he's convinced that Alomar's slow start (3-for-20 this spring) is just timing, and that he just needs more at-bats.

"He knows how to win," the manager said.

Howe plans to put Alomar into minor league games if necessary to get him more at-bats before the Mets go north.

"It's about work," Alomar said before a workout yesterday. "I am just working now to be ready for the season. And I'll be ready."

In some ways, Alomar is just happy to be here. He spent most of the winter at home in Puerto Rico with his family. He occasionally worked out with his dad and brother, but it was nothing specific - just staying in shape and enjoying the break.

Yet there were distractions. The Mets wouldn't renegotiate a contract extension, and Alomar's pitch for the club to hire his friend, Ray Negron, as a cultural liaison failed.

He's past that now. "I've said what I've had to say on it," Alomar said yesterday. He wants to focus on the new things around him.

Alomar has enjoyed watching the Mets' much-touted future shortstop, 19-year-old Jose Reyes, and said he's looking forward to playing in a game with him. He appreciated team owner Fred Wilpon's concern about his comfort level. He was happy with the Mets' offseason moves. He's glad Howe plans to keep him in the same spot in the batting order all year.

"It all makes a difference," Alomar said.

Alomar wasn't the only one responsible for the Mets' drop into the NL East basement last year. He wasn't the only one uncomfortable with Bobby Valentine's penchant for changing lineups as often as he did socks. He wasn't the only one who underachieved.

But Alomar recognizes that he was a noticeable shard in the shattered season, and that the focus will be on him even more once the games count.

Tom Glavine, Cliff Floyd, Mike Stanton. They are the new faces. The Mets would be happy if they could have the old Roberto Alomar with them.

"Last year is over," Alomar said. "I'm ready for things to be better."

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