Roberto Alomar, Pat Gillick Head To Baseball's Hall For The Toronto Blue Jays
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - To walk down Main St. past the Baseball Hall of Fame is to step back in time. The tree-lined route through the historic village carries the unmistakable feel, not unlike the sport itself, of something that never changes.
At least until this weekend.
It's suddenly impossible to go anywhere in Cooperstown without seeing a Blue Jays logo -- an image, until now, that was only scarcely represented in the birthplace of baseball. With Pat Gillick and Roberto Alomar set to gain entrance to the Hall, throngs of Canadians made the pilgrimage to the foothills of the Catskill Mountains to watch it happen with their own eyes.
"I was out yesterday for awhile on the street and it took me about an hour and a half to get back," Gillick said Saturday. "That's great. I mean, that's wonderful. I really enjoy the fans and that's what it's all about.
"I'm just glad that there's going to be a number of people from Canada down here tomorrow."
Gillick was the architect of Toronto's back-to-back championship teams and Alomar was the resident rock star. When they're enshrined in the Hall of Fame alongside former pitcher Bert Blyleven on Sunday afternoon, they'll take a big chunk of Blue Jays history in with them.
Four other major-leaguers who once played for the organization have previously earned a place in Cooperstown -- Phil Niekro, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Rickey Henderson -- but none of them carries a Blue Jays logo on his plaque like Alomar will.
It marks a significant moment for a team that was born in 1977 and became the first from outside the United States to win the World Series in 1992. Now the Blue Jays have a place to call their own in the hallowed Hall.
"I think it means a lot for the franchise," said Alomar. "The organization that we have now, we have a lot of pride in the organization. For me being the first Blue Jay inducted to the Hall of Fame, I think it's going to bring more joy to the organization, more joy to the fans.
"Hopefully, there's going to be many more to come."
A stroll around the one-stoplight town suggests that Blue Jays fans will represent a good percentage of the crowd for the induction ceremony. On Saturday afternoon, they could be seen lining up for autographs at the ubiquitous souvenir shops that line Main St., posing for photos outside the Hall or chatting with each other while trying to catch some shade outside Doubleday Field on a steamy afternoon.
It didn't go unnoticed by the inductees.
"Canadian people especially like to be proud of their athletes and proud of their accomplishments," said Gillick. "The opportunity for Robbie and I to go into the Hall of Fame, I think it's a feel-good story for the fans in Toronto, a feel-good story for the people across Canada."
Even Blyleven can claim some connection to the country. Born in the Netherlands, his family immigrated to Canada and settled in Saskatchewan -- moving between Saskatoon, Melville and Regina over a four-year period when he was a young boy before eventually relocating to California.
Given that Ferguson Jenkins is currently the only Canadian-born member of the Hall of Fame, it's quite unusual to have a class of inductees that have all lived in the country.
"We've all kind of got Canadian ties," said Gillick, a Californian who became a Canadian citizen in 2004. "From a sentimental standpoint, it's wonderful. I'm going to enjoy tomorrow -- there might be a few 'ehs' out there, too."
Cooperstown is not without Canadian ties. The village is a twin town with Windsor, N.S. -- which claims to be the birthplace of hockey -- and a Canadian Maple tree is planted in the courtyard adjacent to the Hall of Fame, a gift from former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.
The Montreal Expos found some representation this weekend in the form of Dave Van Horne, the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting. He called Expos games for 32 years starting in 1969, making him one of the original voices of baseball in the country.
"I've had as many people from Toronto and throughout Canada stop me as Montrealers on the streets here," said Van Horne. "It's very special. I was touched by the fact that in the Hall of Fame program, the Blue Jays took out an ad paying tribute to Robbie Alomar, Pat Gillick and they included me in that ad.
"I thought that was a real classy touch by the Blue Jays."
Gillick moved to Toronto prior to the first season in franchise history and helped build the team into a winner during a tenure that lasted almost two decades. He would go on to make stops in Baltimore, Seattle and Philadelphia -- where he won a third World Series in 2008 -- but made it clear where his heart lies.
"You know, somebody hasn't asked me, but if I had to wear a hat in it would be a Blue Jay hat too," said Gillick.