CLEVELAND -- The love affair between Sandy Alomar Jr. and Cleveland remains as passionate as ever.
Alomar received the Lifetime Achievement Award on Wednesday at the 19th annual Greater Cleveland Sports Awards. Then he further endeared himself to the fan base that quickly embraced him when he was traded to the Indians before the 1990 season.
“I’m honored to be a part of Cleveland,” he said. “Cleveland has been the best thing that ever happened to me.
“Cleveland is about humble people. And I love to make a difference here. That trade changed my life forever.”
Alomar was Cleveland’s catcher for 11 seasons from 1990-2000. He was Rookie of the Year, a six-time All-Star and was inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame. With the Indians, he hit .277 with 92 home runs, 194 doubles and 453 RBIs in 985 games.
He finished his playing career elsewhere but is in his ninth season on the Indians coaching staff, mostly as first base coach. He’s made a home in Northeast Ohio.
“It was a wonderful time, a bunch of great memories that we have here,” Alomar said of the glory days of the 1990s.
The 1997 season was the highlight of his career. He hit .324 with 37 doubles, 21 homer runs and 83 RBIs in 125 games. He was named All-Star Game MVP after hitting the winning homer at then-Jacobs Field.
The Indians went to the World Series that season -- for the second time in three years -- after Alomar homered off Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera in Game 4 of the Division Series.
“He always came through in big moments,” former teammate Carlos Baerga said.
Alomar choked up talking about former manager Mike Hargove, who presented him the award along with Baerga.
“He understood what it took to be a winner,” Hargrove said. “Sandy is a leader in the true sense of the word.
“There’s no one I would rather have around me than Sandy Alomar.”
The night featured a litany of current and former Cleveland stars, including Baker Mayfield, Bernie Kosar and Larry Nance Sr. and Jr.
Alomar captured the vibe.
“Let me tell you something. Many good things are coming to Cleveland,” he said. “You’ve got (Francisco) Lindor, (Jose) Ramirez, that man right here, Baker Mayfield. He’s got guts,” Alomar said. “I’m telling you, he’s going to bring some good stuff for Cleveland.”
Kent State’s Erin Gardner didn’t win Female Collegiate Athlete of the Year, but making the list of three finalists as a freshman shows how much she’s already accomplished and promises a bright future. Baldwin Wallace soccer star Rachel Bender won the award.
Gardner, who won Lorain County Miss Volleyball last season at Avon, was voted to the Mid-American Conference All-Freshman team in the fall.
Playing the libero position, she set Kent a freshman record with 562 digs, which ranked 21st nationally. She had double-digit digs in all 16 conference matches and averaged 5.56 per set against MAC opponents.
THE BIG BOPPER
Keystone softball star Madi Nunez lost out to Solon track and cross country standout Olivia Howell for Female High School Athlete of the Year despite eye-popping numbers.
Nunez, a freshman at Wright State, was co-Lorain County Miss Softball after setting a county record with 66 RBIs as a senior -- third in Ohio history -- as the Wildcats won the Division II state title. She hit .531 with seven doubles and 11 homers. Her four homers in a sectional title win over Rocky River set a county record and tied a state record.
For her career, she hit .406 with 26 doubles, six triples, 24 home runs, 138 RBIs and 101 runs scored.
Howell was state champion in the 1,600 meters and runner-up in cross country.
AND THE REST
- Sophia Pecjak won the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Courage Award. The 15-year-old freshman at Lake Catholic overcame heart failure in 2014 due to myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. She went into cardiac arrest at the hospital but was revived.
After a long recovery, she was able to return to the soccer field and basketball court.
- Lakewood soccer All-American Malvin Gblah won Male High School Athlete of the Year.
- The University of Akron men’s soccer team, national runner-up, was named Male Collegiate Athlete of the Year.