Emotional night in store for Gillick

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:34 PM ET

TORONTO - Around 7 o’clock on Friday night Pat Gillick will take the mound for the ceremonial first pitch at the Rogers Centre.

He’ll bite his lower lip — to stop it from quivering — look around at the soldout house, with fans applauding in appreciation.

Beside him will be his five-year-old grandson Cooper.

“It will be like the old days,” Gillick said Thursday afternoon referring to the early 1990s when the SkyDome sellouts were routine and the Jays drew four million people a season to set attendance records.

Then, the lefthander will throw the pitch to get the Jays 2011 season underway.

On the other end, will be Robbie Alomar, catching a strike, Gillick hopes.

Baseball has a way of joining people at the hip for decades.

Like George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin.

Like Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner.

Or like Gillick and Alomar.

Gillick tried unsuccessfully to sign Alomar in 1985, but the second baseman joined his brother Sandy with the San Diego Padres.

Not to be deterred, Jays scout Wilbur (Moose) Johnson did the leg work identifying Alomar as the best second baseman available and Gillick made the trade.

We remember that day at the Hyatt Hotel during the winter meetings in Rosemont, Ill., on Dec. 5, 1990.

Howard Starkman going to the microphone before a press release had been printed and bellowing: “THE TORONTO BLUE JAYS HAVE TRADED FRED McGRIFF AND TONY FERNANDEZ (gasp from those in crowd) FOR JOE CARTER AND ROBBIE ALOMAR.”

Managers Tommy Lasorda and Bobby Valentine began clapping from the back of the room.

Finally a trade — a blockbuster at that.

“It was an old-fashioned trade, good for both teams,” Gillick said, as the Jays went on to win back-to-back World Series in 1992-93, while McGriff and Fernandez were both all-stars for the Padres.

We recall little from that eight-story day except the caddy telling Carter he’d been dealt and a reaction piece we did from those in the lobby.

On the Jays end, the focus was RBI-machine Carter ... until we got to Buck Rodgers, the Montreal Expos manager.

“The best player in the deal right now, five years from now and when all is said and done is Robbie Alomar,” Rodgers said.

Alomar and Gillick will be together again on stage when they are inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in July, along with former ace Minnesota Twins’ Bert Blyleven.

“It’s a special moment being back in Toronto and being welcomed,” said Alomar, who the Jays named as a special assistant on Thursday. He had worked with young players during instructional league in the fall.

“This is it’s not about me, it’s about Pat Gillick, I am honoured to be there on his night. He was the one who got me here, I am so grateful to him. He gave me the opportunity. People talk about Joe Carter, Paul Molitor and myself, but without Paul Beeston, Pat Gillick and the fans, we would not have been able to achieve our goals.”

Alomar pointed out how Gillick also brought the second baseman to Baltimore in 1996 where two more trips to the post-season followed, saying: “Every time he touches an organization, he does the right thing. He’s a winning person and a class act.”

Alomar said he has not called his brother Sandy for catching pointers.

“I don’t think I’ll get as far down (as) Sandy did when he caught,” Robbie said.

Alomar and Gillick were together last June in St. Marys when Alomar was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Pat’s a real emotional guy, during my speech he was very upset,” Alomar said.

The one-night catcher says he probably won’t need a sponge for Gillick like Pat Borders used for Juan Guzman.

Who knows?

Gillick might throw a wet one.

“It may be emotional for both of us,” Alomar said.

bob.elliott@sunmedia.ca


Photos