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02/28/10 5:25 PM EST
Tribe catchers find Alomar a vast asset
Seventeen-year playing career offers coach perspective
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The name in the catching slot on the Double-A Binghamton Mets' lineup card before a game in 2007 was a familiar one to Tribe catching prospect Wyatt Toregas. Toregas, a member of the Akron Aeros at the time, had grown up hearing the name from his mother, Laura. She worked for an insurance company based in St. Paul, Minn., and on business trips she'd go to Twins games at the Metrodome. The Indians always seemed to be the visiting club, and Laura always came home gushing about one player in particular. "Every game she went to, he hit a home run or had three hits," Toregas said. "I was a young catcher in middle school, and she would tell me, 'I saw Sandy Alomar Jr.'" So when Toregas saw that name on the Binghamton roster, he was shocked. He didn't realize the Mets were shuffling the veteran Alomar around their system near the end of his career. "I looked at the lineup card, and I see 'Alomar Jr.,'" Toregas said. "I thought, 'The same guy?' I get out on the field, and it's him. I got pumped up to play that game." Now, Toregas and the other young catchers on the Indians' roster -- Lou Marson and Carlos Santana -- are pumped to be on the same field as Alomar, under much different circumstances. He's not an opponent; he's on their side, brought aboard to be the Tribe's first-base coach and catching coordinator. And he has the knowledge that comes with 17 years of Major League experience, including 11 memorable years with the Tribe, to pass along to them. "He's seen everything 100 times," Toregas said. "I can't wait for these days coming up. I feel like I'm going to learn a whole lot. You get to a point where you've learned a lot and things start to come slower to you, whereas early in your career you're taking in a lot of things fast. But I feel like I'm starting over again. I can tell he sees things I don't see, and he knows how it's going to work out before it happens." That's why the Indians felt it so important to bring Alomar in as a member of new manager Manny Acta's staff. They knew of his playing credentials, of course, but they also heard laudatory things about Alomar from the last two years he spent as a catching instructor with the Mets. While with the Mets, Alomar developed a program for catchers that he's begun to pass along to the Tribe's backstops. "You want the players to be aware of every situation in the game," Alomar said. "And that's how I started my program. It's not just the same thing over and over, because that becomes boring. You have to throw different situations in the game at them so that they're mentally aware." The program here in camp begins with a series of morning drills in which Alomar has his catchers work on their footwork, their backhand and forehand scoops, and their blocking of wayward pitches. The number of repetitions is high, and the speed is advanced. "It loosens your hips up," said Marson, who is expected to be the Tribe's regular behind the plate at the outset of the season. "That's something he wants us to do before the game, too, so that we're loose before the first inning. Sometimes you go into a game and your hips are still kind of tight and you have to block that first ball. He's stressing that you can lose a game in the first inning, so you want to be ready in the first inning." The conditioning element of the drills should also help the catchers be more physically prepared to handle the grind of the season and the sheer length of games. "The first couple days [of Alomar's program] tire you out," Toregas said. "But once we catch up with it, we're going to be a lot quicker and a lot more explosive. Sandy's a smart man. He knows how to train. And he's the coolest guy I ever met." Alomar is one of the most popular players from the Tribe's glory days of the 1990s. In 985 games with the Indians, he batted .277 with 92 homers, 453 RBIs and 416 runs. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1990 and a six-time All-Star. But for all his successes, Alomar, like many of us, wishes he would have known then what he knows now. "If I would have known what development and evaluation is about," he said, "I would have evaluated myself much better and known what to do. The goal -- and it should be everybody's goal as a coach -- is to teach the player that eventually the player can manage himself or coach himself on the field." Alomar said Joel Skinner, Junior Ortiz and Tony Pena were all tremendous teachers for him early in his career. Now, he hopes to have a similar positive influence on Marson, Toregas and Santana, the Tribe's top prospect who figures to be the club's catcher of the not-too-distant future. But even grizzled veteran Mike Redmond, who will be the Tribe's backup backstop this season, sees the benefits of having Alomar around. "Some teams don't have anybody who can help the catchers," said Redmond, who played the previous five seasons in Minnesota. "We didn't have a catching coordinator with the Twins. It's nice to have a guy who has been in the battles and understands the grind of catching and handling a staff." Alomar also understands elements of the catcher's job that he believes go too often overlooked. "The simplest, No. 1 thing in catching that a lot of people don't even cover is covering signs," he said. "The majority of stolen bases are when people steal your sign from first base. Breaking ball? They're gone. People don't work on that, but we will." The work began last week and will continue throughout camp and into the season. Catchers usually don't have a set pregame conditioning routine before regular season games, but Alomar's catchers will. And Alomar already has their ears. "I asked him the other day how many years he played," Marson said. "He said '17,' and I thought, 'Wow.' I have a lot of respect for guys who can play that long and be consistent for that long. You can listen to and learn from a guy like that. He's been through it all."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.