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02/23/05 2:58 PM ET

A fresh start for Alomar

Twelve-time All-Star hopes for health, hits

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A new uniform, bearing No. 2, and a spot hitting second in the batting order were waiting for Roberto Alomar when he officially joined the Devil Rays on Wednesday.

"I'm very happy to be here," Alomar said. "I'm ready to help the team and I'm eager to play for Lou Piniella."

Piniella missed the Rays' first full-squad workout to be with his ailing father in the hospital. But the veteran skipper said when Alomar signed that he expected the second baseman to make an easy transition in the field and behind Carl Crawford in the lineup.

"I anticipate using him just like I did Tino [Martinez last season]," Piniella said. "He's going to get a day off each week. I talked to Roberto and told him we had pretty good success with Tino that way."

Alomar, 37, is a 12-time All-Star with 10 Gold Gloves who is eager to put his physical ailments of the past three seasons behind him. He hit .336 with 20 home runs, 100 RBIs and 30 steals for the Indians in 2001. But he has hit a combined .262 with 20 home runs and 116 RBIs in the subsequent seasons with the Mets, White Sox and Diamondbacks.

Alomar hit .263 with four home runs, 24 RBIs and no steals in 56 games for the White Sox and Diamondbacks last season and was on the disabled list with a broken left hand for more than two months.

Being healthy means much more to Alomar now that he is just 276 hits shy of reaching 3,000 for his career.

"Now that I'm so close, it's important," Alomar said. "I never thought I would get that many hits. Hopefully, I can stay healthy and get there in a couple of years. It's an amazing accomplishment."

Alomar was on the Indians in August 1999 and watched from second base as Devil Ray Wade Boggs hit a home run to right field for his 3,000th hit.


"I was clapping for him," Alomar said. "I was happy for him. Hopefully I can see myself being one of those guys."

If he falls short of 3,000 hits, Alomar still believes he will have made a lasting impression in baseball.

"I don't think you need to get to 3,000 hits to get into the Hall of Fame," Alomar said. "If you do, there are not going to be that many guys getting in."

But a chance to collect hits is not the only reason Alomar chose the Rays and a $600,000 contract [with $200,000 in incentives] over the Cardinals for this season. He wants to show that he can still work his magic in the field, too.

"I've always loved playing defense," Alomar said. "Sometimes when you make a great play, you get a real kick out of it."

Alomar's presence means Jorge Cantu, who hit .301 with 20 doubles in 173 at-bats last season, will be the utility infielder this season. Piniella said Cantu will get plenty of playing time.

"Cantu's still going to play a lot," Piniella said. "He'll be our guy to rest [all of the infielders]. He'll get a lot of at-bats. He's our second baseman of the future."

Cantu said he understands that and will perform in whatever role the Rays need.

"They brought Alomar in to help win ballgames, I understand that," Cantu said.

And Cantu can count on a lot of friendly advice from the accomplished veteran.

"I talked to him already today," Alomar said. "Every day, I am going to keep watching him and helping him. It's good because [the younger players] are looking up to you. And you want, later on, for them to be able to say, 'Roberto helped me become the player that I am.'"

Alomar said he considers helping younger players his duty, an important part of the game.

"Tony Gwynn helped me a lot when I was young," Alomar said. "I played with a lot of great veterans -- Paul Molitor, Cal Ripken and many others."

Alomar looked around the Rays clubhouse and saw a few other veterans, like Hideo Nomo, Denny Neagle and Chris Singleton. But he also saw several very young players.

"We have a lot of guys who are young and they have a lot of energy," Alomar said. "When I was young, I had a lot of energy and I worked hard every day. I learned that from my dad. You learn to appreciate every day in this game."

Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.