The best Puerto Rican baseball player since Roberto Clemente had just finished lunch and was standing on the front porch of a Chili's restaurant in San Juan last month. Roberto Alomar, who was hours away from agreeing to a three-year, $18 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles, was dressed in running shoes, short pants and a green Chili's polo shirt that a waiter had given him during the meal. When an elegant woman wearing a long dress slinked out of the restaurant and saw him on the porch, she approached and handed him a white ticket. "Can you get my car, please?" she asked.
Rich, handsome and on track for the Hall of Fame, the 27-year-old Alomar is not only the premier second baseman in baseball but also one of the most eligible bachelors in Puerto Rico—yet the woman thought he parked cars for a living. After politely informing her that he was not the valet-parking attendant, Alomar looked at the ticket and giggled. "I could buy this place," he whispered to a companion, without a hint of pretentiousness. "I could take all these cars home."
Instead he climbed into his own black Lexus and headed for Old San Juan. Stopping at El Morro, a 16th-century fortress, Alomar started walking unobtrusively around the tourist spot and said, "I bet Cal Ripken can't even get out of his car in Baltimore."
Obviously Alomar has no such problem in his hometown. While he's loved and respected by his countrymen, he isn't mobbed wherever he goes in San Juan as he was in Toronto, where he helped the Blue Jays win two World Series during his five years with the team. "Here, people don't bug you," said Alomar, who was stalked by an armed female fan in Toronto last season. "The people have big egos here. They don't think anyone is above them. That's why I like it. I live a normal life. I don't like the spotlight."
He's an introvert, unlike his brother, catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. of the Cleveland Indians, or popular second baseman Carlos Baerga of the Indians. "Robby is like [ Seattle Mariner DH] Edgar Martinez; he's private," says Luis Mayoral, who does public relations work for the Texas Rangers and serves as an adviser to several Latin big leaguers. "That's how Clemente was; he had to be. Clemente built a wall around himself. Robby's wall is as thick as Clemente's."
That invisible wall protects Alomar from those who want to take his money, or endanger his livelihood, or compromise him; he knows that Cooperstown frowns on troublemakers. Being standoffish distinguishes him from some other Latin stars, like flamboyant Rangers outfielder Juan Gonzalez, who, at 26, has already been married three times and is currently dating merengue star Olga Tanon.
Alomar, according to Mayoral, "is a millionaire many times over. He's very aware of the value of a dollar, but he isn't stingy." Alomar's sister-in-law, Christie, a CPA, helped him invest his money. "Our family knows what it's like to be down and up," said Alomar, whose father, Sandy Sr., was a journeyman infielder who played for seven teams in 15 major league seasons. "My parents had a hard time at the beginning. The bank repossessed our house. So I don't throw my money around."
And nothing gets in the way of baseball, including endorsement opportunities. While he has done spots for Mennen Speed Stick and Doritos and will be on Kellogg's Corn Flakes boxes sold in Puerto Rico beginning next month, "I don't like to do too many because it takes away from my focus on the game," he says. "I'm a player; I'm not the commercial type."
In the script for the Doritos spot, Alomar was supposed to slide headfirst into second to break up a double play. But the correct way to slide in that situation is feetfirst, and Alomar wouldn't play his part until the script was changed. That's typical Alomar. Whatever he does, he must do right—that's what his parents taught him. His car is spotless and his apartment, says Mayoral, "is the cleanest I've ever seen." He dresses impeccably. (When he signed a clothing deal with Puma a few years ago, he wanted to help design the products.) He doesn't wear pounds of jewelry the way some players do, just a gold necklace bearing his number, 12, and a rosary.
But at times this need to achieve perfection, coupled with episodes of immaturity, causes him to be moody off the field. He sulked for days after the Blue Jays traded ace David Cone to the New York Yankees last July. "But," says former pitcher and Toronto teammate Dave Stewart, "he's a good kid." And he's good with kids. The wall comes down for them.