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Alomar hears cheers again as his number is retired

By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - It seemed like old times at the Rogers Center on Sunday with a packed house on its feet cheering for Roberto Alomar.

The Gold Glove second baseman has not played in the majors since 2004 and it has been 16 years since he last suited up for the Blue Jays but Robbie Alomar was the player a sellout crowd of 45,629 came to see as his number 12 was raised to the rafters of the domed stadium -- the first number ever retired by Canada's only major league team.

The unique honor capped a whirlwind few days for Puerto Rican-born Alomar, who last Sunday became the first Toronto Blue Jay enshrined in Cooperstown's Baseball Hall of Fame.

Alomar spent only five seasons of a brilliant 17-year career in Toronto but the city's love affair with "Robbie" has never faded.

Fans gathered under a broiling summer sun to soak up an hour-long pre-game tribute to the 12-time All-Star.

He was then given a rousing standing ovation when his number -- never to be worn by a Toronto player again -- was unfurled alongside the banners for back-to-back World Series championships he helped the team win in 1992 and 1993.

"Today I felt like a little boy," said Alomar, who was joined on the stage by former team mates and his mother and father. "It is a day I will remember for the rest of my life.

"I know Cooperstown is huge, it's something you don't even dream about. When I was a boy I didn't know what the Hall of Fame.

"What a great day for me, for my family. I have to thank the fans for appreciating what I did here in Toronto. To me it has been a blessing to have my number retired."

HANDSHAKES ALL-ROUND

Flanked by two Canadian Mounties, Alomar made his way onto the field for the pre-game ceremony after walking through the stands and stopping to shake hands with the fans.

Players from the Blue Jays and Texas Rangers stepped out of the dugout and applauded as the crowd chanted, "Robbie, Robbie".

Adding to a perfect sun-kissed day, the Jays cruised to a 7-3 win over American League West leading Rangers.

Alomar ended his ceremony by saying "Blue Jays let's go" and his former team went straight to work, jumping out to an early lead on Edwin Encarnacion's first inning two-run homer.

The Blue Jays tagged on single runs in the second and third innings to build a 4-0 advantage before exploding for three more runs in the fourth, keyed by a two-run double from newly acquired center fielder Colby Rasmus.

Coming over from a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, Rasmus had struggled since arriving in Toronto, going 0-13 at the plate before blasting out of his slump with a two-for-four afternoon, scoring a run and driving in a pair.

"It definitely feels good to have that weight off my shoulders, you always want to make a good impression coming somewhere new," Rasmus told reporters.

"It was a pretty good day; I'm going to soak it up until we go back to work Tuesday."

(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)

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