At a Booster Luncheon in Toronto honoring Blue Jay second baseman Roberto Alomar several weeks ago, a woman stood up during the question and answer period—her jaw set firmly and fire in her eyes—and demanded to know why, after a full season in Toronto, Alomar was still living in a hotel room at SkyDome, the building in which the Blue Jays play their home games. The question set off such a buzz of clucking and head-nodding in the room and in the collective Canadian consciousness that it was picked up and replayed that evening on the network news. "Living in a hotel isn't that permanent," the woman, a devoted Jays fan named Susan Daniell, explained later. "I think a lot of people are nervous Robbie might leave town in the middle of the night. I mean, who lives in a hotel anymore?"
Alomar, who at week's end was second in the American League in batting with a .346 average and was in the top 10 in hits, runs scored and stolen bases, may be in the vanguard of a generation of athletes who never leave the buildings in which they play. This is the second year that Alomar has lived in a suite at the SkyDome Hotel, because, as he cheerfully concedes, it is too much trouble to go out and get a life of his own. "You have to go through all kinds of stuff to get furniture and cable," he says. "All I really need is a bed, and that's about it. I have cable in the room, I have a fridge. If I need laundry done, I call the laundry, and if I need food, I call room service."
From his wake-up call in the morning (and here the baseball purist likes to imagine a switchboard operator who can play the earsplitting, traditional ballpark cavalry charge) until he returns to his room at night and hears the Mantovani music that is beloved only by hotel chambermaids, Alomar exists in a world that is climate-controlled, air-filtered and exquisitely isolated from the real one outside SkyDome's mammoth walls. This child of the Caribbean now sometimes goes days without seeing the sun, his skin radiating a pale fluorescent glow and his pupils always dilated, as if he were a bottom-feeding fish. Alomar's world is one in which mints magically appear on pillows, no towel is ever used twice, and breakfasts ordered from room service—in seeming defiance of the immutable laws of nature—cost $27.
"He's got his own menu and everything over there," marvels teammate Joe Carter, who has been married for 11 years. "Comes home from a game and eats whatever he wants. Damn!"
According to a room service waiter who declined to be identified for this article—at one point he went so far as to hold a platter of chicken fingers in front of his name tag to conceal it—Alomar's favorite meals consist of a hamburger, a Coke and something called a chocolate fantasy, or the chicken and shrimp stir fry with no shrimp. "He is not a great tipper, no, no, no, no," the waiter said, dribbling honey-mustard sauce down the front of his jacket. "Fifteen percent or less, never more. I think rich people are not very good tippers."
To keep Alomar from getting any ideas about checking out of SkyDome as a free agent, the Blue Jays gave him a new four-year, $18.5 million contract in February. It made him the best-paid second baseman in the game for about a month, until Ryne Sandberg signed a four-year, $28.4 million deal with the Chicago Cubs. You might think Alomar would be one sorry second-sacker since Sandberg signed for $7.1 million a season, but it simply isn't so. "When Sandberg signed, people said, 'Roberto, what about now?' " Alomar says. "But I don't let money determine my happiness. Ryne Sandberg earned his money. I think I can live with $18 million. How many 24-year-old guys are earning the kind of money I make? I just try to do well, and we'll see what happens with the next contract."
This is about as close to making a joke as Alomar ever comes, and he allows himself a sly smile. He was voted the Blue Jays' most popular player by a 2-to-1 margin over runner-up Carter in a newspaper poll last year, and it is widely believed that after only slightly more than a season in Toronto, Alomar is already more popular than any hockey player in town. That's a first for Canadian baseball, eh? Only Sky Dome itself—with its Jumbotron scoreboard and 11,000-ton pop-top roof—is more beloved in Toronto. And if Alomar can just figure out a way to make the top of his head retract on sunny days, even that could change.
To girls of a certain age in Toronto, he is the closest thing to a matinee idol, perhaps because of the wavy hair and smoke-colored eyes that make him something of a Latin Luke Perry. And he is catnip to the older crowd, too, because of "that cute little accent that reminds you of Ricky Ricardo," as one woman put it.
"We've had girls running up and down the halls, knocking on every door trying to find his room," says John Kalimeris of the hotel's security staff. "You wouldn't believe some of the things I've been offered by girls to take them to his room. When he comes back from the games, we have a special route for him that bypasses the lobby so people can't follow him back to his room. Once we get him to his own floor, people who have been watching the game from one of the sky-boxes walk right by him and don't even know who he is. When you're walking down a hotel corridor, the last person you expect to see walking toward you is Roberto Alomar."
Well, maybe not the last person—not since Alomar settled comfortably into the neighborhood of the American League's top hitters and blew his own cover. Through Sunday he was batting .392 at SkyDome this season. But did you ever know a kid who didn't lead the league in hitting in his own basement?