CLEVELAND: The stands were far from filled, a sign to Indians management that even putting one of Northeast Ohio’s favorite sons at the helm of its baseball team will not move the now-electronic turnstiles during a miserable season.
No matter how many showed up for the game Friday night against the Kansas City Royals, when he sat down in front of the media about 2½ hours earlier, Sandy Alomar had to be struck by the enormity of the moment.
One who has known him since he arrived via trade from the San Diego Padres after the 1989 season said he was visibly nervous.
At age 45, he had finally been handed his dream job of managing the Indians, albeit on an interim basis and with the job security of only six games.
He has been in baseball virtually since birth, his father Sandy Sr. playing for six teams during 15 years in the big leagues. His dad’s bloodlines in the game run deep, Sandy Jr. notching 20 years of major-league experience as a catcher, his younger brother Roberto totaling 17 at second base.
Since he became a professional, his managers had told him he would be good at this because of how he handled himself on the field and managed others.
He was succeeding Manny Acta, who was fired Thursday, and was trying to cope with that uncomfortable situation. It was Acta, not the Indians, who brought Alomar back to Cleveland after he worked two years as a minor-league catching instructor with the New York Mets. It was Acta who promoted him to bench coach this season after two seasons at first base. Serving under Acta, Alomar had earned managing interviews with the Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, big-city experiences Alomar considers valuable.
Former players like Robin Ventura (Chicago White Sox) and Mike Matheny (St. Louis Cardinals) are enjoying success as managers this season, which helped pave the way for Alomar but also created great expectations.
Yet he was managing a talent-depleted team for six meaningless games, six games that General Manager Chris Antonetti said would do nothing to change his status as the “primary” candidate. As surprising as it was that Antonetti gave Alomar that label, former Red Sox manager Terry Francona is also in the running. Francona or other big-name veterans who end up on the short list could beat out the “primary” candidate.
And as good a relationship Alomar had with the media during his playing days, he had never spoken for the team before, a dangerous duty where even a slipup of a few words can make national news.
Although he wouldn’t concede it, it would have been natural to have an ounce of doubt, wondering if he was ready, if he could really do this.
“I feel good about it. I feel like I have coached enough. Experience is great, but I feel good about it,” Alomar said.
It would be natural to be nervous, especially in a place he considers so special.
“When I left Cleveland via free agency I went to Chicago and they treated me great, it was a great organization,” he said of signing with the White Sox in 2001. “I had a great deal of fun. Then I started bouncing around.
“But I’ve never been treated the way I’ve been treated here. Sometimes the grass is not greener on the other side. I can say this about the Cleveland Indians, the guys used to harass me all the time to cut the cord. But this is a place where I had success. You try to relate with success. I had a lot of learning experiences here — failure, injuries, I endured so many things in this organization, American League championships, not a World Series win. That’s something that will always linger in my heart, that we were not able to go that far.”
That would be the ultimate. After 11 years in an Indians uniform, Alomar managing the Indians as they win a World Series. But first came the face-slapping reality of the Tribe’s 65-91 record going into Friday night and the battle with the Minnesota Twins to stay out of the AL Central cellar.
Alomar will have to change his demeanor as he moves from bench coach to manager. But he hopes that playing so long in the big leagues will help him make connections in the clubhouse.
“That’s something in New York that made a huge difference because I was able to communicate to management the way players think,” he said of his time with the Mets.
Praised by Antonetti for his leadership skills, Alomar conceded that he’s being given a chance at his dream job, even if there are no guarantees.
“If it happens, yes. If the organization feels it’s my time, it would be great,” he said. “If they feel it’s not my time, I can understand. Nobody owes me anything in life. You get paid for what you do. If they make a different decision, I respect what they decide.”
Grappling with the enormity of emotions in his first full day on the job, Alomar had only one request. It was not directed at management, but instead at Tribe fans.
“I don’t know what to expect,” he said. “People might be excited. I appreciate they are. Just don’t boo me right now, for six days.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.