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Finding Alomar Where He Lives


April 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved. 

SALINAS, P.R., April 10 - The real Roberto Alomar, the one the Mets rarely saw during a miserable season last year, can be found an hour south of San Juan, off the highway, by turning at a gas station and knocking on the door of the middle of the three Alomar houses here.

Walk through the foyer and living room, both lavishly decorated with awards won by the 35-year-old Alomar and his older brother, Sandy Jr. Roberto's room is to the right, his bed ready for his visits. A picture of him as a 7-year-old in pinstripes, when his father played for the Yankees, is on the wall.

To the left is a prayer room where a framed picture of Jesus hangs over a miniature altar. Among the votive candles is a photograph of Alomar in a Cleveland Indians uniform.

"This is where I pray so those Mets win," Maria Velasquez de Alomar, Alomar's mother, said as she guided visitors around her house today.

Roberto Alomar has an apartment in San Juan, where he spends much of his time away from baseball, but he comes here for sanctuary. He returns home this weekend as the Mets play in San Juan in the first four of the Montreal Expos' 22 games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Alomar will be one of the biggest attractions.

Alomar did not have a successful return to New York last year, producing his worst season since he was a rookie in 1988. He batted .266 with 73 runs and 16 stolen bases, all far below his career norms.

He spent part of his childhood in New York; his father, Sandy Sr., played for the Mets and the Yankees, and the family lived between La Guardia and Kennedy Airports. Velasquez's English was limited and they rarely left the apartment except to watch Sandy Sr. play at Shea Stadium.

Velasquez did not visit New York last year, her lifeline to Alomar a cellphone. Her daughter Sandia, the oldest child, gave birth, and Velasquez remained here to help her. Roberto would tease his mother, asking her to visit and cook for him.

"I had a bad season because you didn't cook for me," Velasquez recalled him saying. She laughed and then stopped. "I know it hurt him last year that I wasn't there for him,'' she said. "He relaxes me, and I relax him. He's single. Sandy is married and has someone to talk to."

When Roberto Alomar signed with the Cleveland Indians before the 1999 season, he thought his life was set. He was playing with his brother, he had his nephews and nieces around, and he built a sprawling house to keep everyone close. But Sandy Jr. left as a free agent after the 2000 season and Roberto was traded before last season.

Alomar has grown to love the Mets, Velasquez said, but "the problem is, he was coming from a place he never wanted to leave."

Velasquez says she thinks her son was a bit lonely last season, living in a Long Island City apartment. His girlfriend then, the tennis player Mary Pierce, was traveling and treating a sports injury. He has since been linked romantically with the Puerto Rican singer Gisselle, and Velasquez said they were good friends.

Velasquez, 58, stands in her living room surrounded by her sons' plaques and trophies. A handful of Roberto's 10 Gold Gloves at second base are in a trophy case. His most valuable player trophy from the 1992 American League Championship Series with Toronto stands on a coffee table, surrounded by World Series programs and magazines featuring the All-Star brothers. She says she tells Roberto to get married so "someone else can take care" of all the awards.

Alomar, the youngest of the three children, is private and guarded and discusses little of his personal life, but he spoke unabashedly of his mother in an interview at Shea on Sunday. Roberto and his mother call each other best friends and speak nearly every day.

"She's the one reason I'm doing what I'm doing," Alomar said. "People ask me about Mother's Day. Mother's Day is every day for me."

Velasquez married into a baseball family 40 years ago. Her husband and three of his brothers played professionally, following their father, who played on the streets of Salinas, a quiet town on the south shore that is off the road to the larger city of Ponce.

Demetrio Alomar Jr., Sandy Sr.'s older brother, owns a bar near the baseball stadium here, and when the Mets or the Chicago White Sox, Sandy Jr.'s team, are on cable television, they pass for live entertainment here. Sandy Sr. is a Colorado Rockies coach, and Demetrio can generally find one of the Alomars on television.

Velasquez has grown to love baseball, although it has kept her family separated. Sandy Jr. pursued motocross, surfing and tae kwon do. Roberto cared only about baseball. He stubbornly told his mother he could go to college after his playing career and shrugged off his parents' warnings about the hard life of a player.

Satellite dishes and antennas sprout from the Alomar complex, and Velasquez watches the opponents' broadcasts so she does not have to listen to critiques of her son.

"I know when he's sad," Velasquez said. "I know when he's happy, when something's bothering him inside and we talk. I never tell him what to do, because he knows what to do. He asked for help. 'Mami, I need your support.' He's always been like that since he was a child."

With four decades of a baseball education, Velasquez could tell Roberto was uncomfortable last season. She saw him swipe the infield dirt at Shea with his feet or his hands, knowing the hard surface bothered him defensively. She could see he played much of the second half of the season with a strained groin muscle, although he was evasive in discussing the injury with anyone.

She knew Alomar enjoyed Bobby Valentine's managing style, but moving Alomar around the lineup "paralyzed him," she said. Art Howe, the Mets' new manager, has vowed to use a regular lineup and have Alomar bat second most of the time. Alomar was batting .229 with no home runs or stolen bases through tonight's game, keeping the Mets waiting for the All-Star they traded for.

Alomar is spiritual and sensitive and is a perfectionist, Velasquez said, and he spends much of the day leading up to a game envisioning his role that night. When he is home, he sleeps and watches television, and she kids him that is an old man at 35.

Velasquez says Alomar is more relaxed this season. Last season, he struggled and the Mets, expected to contend, finished 75-86. He has had time to adjust to New York's tempo. New York is fast, unlike any city Alomar had ever lived in.

"You have to get used to the fast life," he said. "You have to think of where I come from. I come from Puerto Rico, a small town with not much to do."

The Mets' owner, Fred Wilpon, took Alomar to dinner last October, and Alomar called his mother later.

"He says he wants to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases to give him a championship,'' Velasquez said, "because he deserves it."

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