All about family in Puerto Rico

By Brad Horn

The morning visit to Guayama, Puerto Rico, on Sunday carried a similar theme for the visit of the four Hall of Fame plaques and the individuals so honored: Family. Or in this case, familia.

Scheduled as a visit to celebrate the hometown and birthplace of Roberto Alomar’s mother, Guayama was the second stop of this four-city tour, with the plaques on display at the Guayama Convention Center.

Droves of local residents turned out to salute their baseball heroes. During a one-hour presentation, the mayor of Guayama, Glorimari Jaime Rodriguez, presented special proclamations for each of the three living Hall of Fame members and to Vera and Luis Clemente, representing the legacy of Roberto.

Alomar told the crowd, “This is a day that I will never forget. For the Hall of Fame family to share in this special place for me and my family is a great honor.”

Tony Perez and his wife, Pituka, shared in the excitement, as did Orlando Cepeda, who talked of his father, Perucho, playing in Guayama in his baseball career.

A special appearance before the program began by former major leaguer Jose “Cheo” Cruz was a welcome addition to the Hall of Fame lineup.

Mayor Rodriguez led an inspired program that featured comments from the head of Guayama’s youth baseball program.

Rafael Serrano, the director of Museo Deporte in Guaynabo, shared a bit of history with the audience, describing how in 1938, when professional baseball was born in Puerto Rico, it was Guayama who was the best in the game, with Perucho Cepeda and Satchel Paige leading the way.

It was a morning for familia in so many ways.

Between cities on Day 3, the Hall of Famers and traveling party stopped in a Ladi’s Place on the waterfront in Salinas. Facing the Caribbean Sea and at the end of a seemingly quiet neighborhood, Ladi’s was the place to be on a Sunday afternoon, as we were hosted as guests of Roberto Alomar. Robbie’s childhood friend from “el barrio” in Salinas, Juan M. Gonzalez is proprietor of Ladi’s and he orchestrated an epic lunch for our traveling party.

Robbie used to play baseball and basketball right around the corner from here, and today they are playing “host” to this great group. Among the most popular dishes enjoyed were Mofongo Mariscada – a sampling of lobster, shrimp, octopus and conch. We met several members of Robbie’s family and enjoyed Caribbean music. Thank you – muchas gracias – to Juan and all of the great folks at Ladi’s Place for hosting us.

Once in Salinas, the plaques were put on display at the Olympic Training facility, where a Sunday afternoon turned into Sunday night.

The afternoon and evening portion of the southern region visit in Puerto Rico featured a stop and tour of the Olympic Training Complex in Salinas. This place has it all, including a great museum dedicated to Puerto Rico’s rich Olympic sports history.

While the plaques were on display, three members of the Alomar baseball playing family were on hand. The guest of honor, Roberto, was joined by his father, Sandy Sr., and his uncle, Rafael, a great Puerto Rican ballplayer.

In fact, Rafael collected the first hit in the history of Puerto Rico’s jewel baseball field, Hiram Bithorn Stadium in October 1962.

Robbie was greeted by fans of all ages and backgrounds, many who attended elementary and high school with him.

One fan even had an enlarged team photo of Robbie’s Salinas Little League team when he was 9 years old, with a cheery Alomar pictured in the center of the team photo, clearly representing his baseball acumen, even at an early age.

When the night concluded, the caravan moved to Ponce, where the four-day tour comes to an end Monday.

Sunday will always be one remembered for family, appreciation, and the impact Roberto Alomar has had throughout his life here on the southern coast of Puerto Rico.

Brad Horn is the senior director of communications and education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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