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Alomar claims now—for the first time—that he was led on by reporters, that he had not been aware of Hirschbeck's family tragedy until a reporter mentioned it to him that night. "How would I even know?" he says. "You can put a Bible in front of me. I never was the one who first talked about his son. They asked me a question about it, and I said he's had a tough life. I was betrayed."
The next afternoon Hirschbeck, eager to move on, arrived at the SkyDome early to face reporters. "Can we talk to you about what Alomar said last night?" a writer asked him in the umpires' room.
"What did he say?" Hirschbeck asked.
"He said you'd become bitter after your son died," the writer said.
"That son of a bitch is going to mention my son?" Hirschbeck recalls saying. "You want a story? I'll give you a story."
Hirschbeck stormed a few steps down to the visitors' clubhouse. "You talk about my kid, I'll kill you!" Hirschbeck screamed at Alomar. He remembers little else from that moment other than fellow umpire Jim Joyce's arms twisted around his neck as Joyce pulled him back and said, "Calm down, John, calm down!" Alomar had been preparing to face reporters and read a carefully crafted statement of apology, but after Hirschbeck's outburst the Orioles advised their second baseman to hold off.
"I was in a rage," Hirschbeck says. "I just walked away and left the ballpark—I didn't care."
He wanted to disappear, to be left alone with his wife and his three children back home in Poland, Ohio. But when he returned home that Sunday night, there were so many television crews on his street that he had to call the police to tell them that his neighbors could not to get to their houses. The media requests were relentless. "We're very private people," says Hirschbeck. "Our idea of a big night is to have a few friends over for a cookout on the grill. Having everybody in the world asking for something—for articles, for books, someone wanted to do a movie—it was all something I wasn't prepared for."
The truth? He wanted to turn his back on the world. But he would always remember the words he heard that weekend from an old friend: "How you handle yourself through this is going to define you as a person."
The ballplayer made a pact with himself long ago: He was never going to be one of those players who hung around too long. When it was his time to go, he would go, and he would never turn back. No regrets. So at 36, just 276 hits away from 3,000, Alomar walked away from the game in the spring of 2005, even as the Rays were offering him a starting role. "I knew better than anyone else: It was my time to go," he says.