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Alomar joins Jays Level of Excellence

Alomar joins Jays Level of Excellence

TORONTO -- Being at the center of fan and media attention on Friday night in Toronto brought memories flooding back to retired second baseman Roberto Alomar. A key component to the Blue Jays' World Series championships in the early 1990s, Alomar was once an adored athlete among the city's fans.

"This is like home. This is my house," said Alomar. "I feel like putting my uniform on and going to play, but I know I cannot do that now."

Alomar was back in his old stomping grounds at Rogers Centre -- known as the SkyDome when he manned second for Toronto -- to receive the club's most distinguished honor: being elevated to the Blue Jays Level of Excellence.

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Prior to the Jays' home opener against the Red Sox, Alomar was greeted with fireworks, a standing ovation and chants of "Robbie! Robbie!" as he waved to the fans from the center of the infield. Alomar then watched as his name and No. 12 were unveiled on the facing of the stadium's 500 level -- just beyond the right-field foul pole.

"I appreciate all the support of the fans here in Toronto," said Alomar, standing at a podium amidst loud cheers. "I wanted to say, when I put the uniform on, I was proud to wear the Toronto Blue Jays uniform."

As a surprise addition to the festivities, former Blue Jays president and front-office executive Paul Beeston was also added to the Level of Excellence. In 1976, Beeston was the first employee of the team, joining the Jays only a month and a half after the birth of the franchise.

But the loudest cheers were reserved for Alomar.

"It's exciting," said Alomar, speaking to a crowd of reporters before the game. "I think this is one of my biggest moments in baseball now. To have your name in the Level of Excellence here in Toronto is an honor. It is a day that I will remember.

"Toronto means the world to me. This is where I became a good Major League ballplayer."

Though only with the Blue Jays for five seasons from 1991-95, Alomar's contributions to the team were substantial. During each of those seasons, the second baseman was selected to the American League All-Star team and was awarded Gold Glove honors for his defensive skills.

His .307 career average as a Jay is also the highest mark in franchise history among players with a minimum of 2,000 plate appearances. Speed was another important aspect to Alomar's game. His 206 stolen bases for Toronto are the second-highest total in club history.

Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Godfrey did not understate Alomar's contributions to the team, giving the former Jay perhaps the biggest endorsement of all.

"Robbie Alomar, in my opinion, is the best player ever to wear a Blue Jays uniform," Godfrey said. "Offensively, defensively, he could create excitement and drama and pull off those superlative catches and the unbelievable home run."

One such homer came in Game 4 of the 1992 AL Championship Series against the A's. Alomar hit a ninth-inning shot off Oakland closer and Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley to tie the game at 6. The Jays went on to win, 7-6, in the 11th inning, and they eventually captured the first of two consecutive World Series crowns.

"I was lucky enough to get a good pitch and hit it over the fence," Alomar said. "It gave us an opportunity to win the game. To me, it was the biggest hit I ever had."

Godfrey praised that home run as being one of most important in franchise history.

"The home run off Eckersley, I think, was the defining moment," Godfrey said. "I know everybody refers to Joe Carter's [walk-off homer in Game 6 of the '93 Fall Classic], but Robbie Alomar's home run off Eckersley in that late inning put the Blue Jays back in a very contentious series that got them to their first World Series."

The eighth and ninth members of the Level of Excellence, Alomar and Beeston join former players Carter, Tony Fernandez, George Bell and Dave Stieb, as well as former manager Cito Gaston, former general manager Pat Gillick and former broadcaster Tom Cheek.

David Singh is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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