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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / AMERICAN LEAGUE

From Spitting Foes to Fast Friends

October 06, 1999|MIKE DiGIOVANNA

CLEVELAND — The relationship between Roberto Alomar and umpire John Hirschbeck was understandably cool and distant after the ugly 1996 incident in which Alomar spit on Hirschbeck during an argument.

"For a while it was 'Hello,' and that was it," Hirschbeck said. "We'd both go our separate ways."

It remained that way for more than two years, until Hirschbeck and Alomar had some in-depth discussions earlier this season. A surprising thing evolved from those conversations: a friendship.

"I think he's a good person, I really do," Hirschbeck said. "It was just a very unfortunate incident, but none of us are perfect. Life is about forgiving, forgetting and moving on, and we have."

Alomar, who was given a five-game suspension but did not have to serve it in the playoffs that year--a ruling umpires threatened to walk out of the playoffs over--has donated large sums of money to the research fund Hirschbeck started in memory of his son, John Drew, who died of a rare nerve-ravaging disease known as adrenoleukosystrophy (ALD).

Alomar has also spearheaded efforts to collect baseball memorabilia that has been auctioned to raise funds for ALD research. Hirschbeck's other son, 13-year-old Michael, has ALD but has survived with the help of a bone marrow transplant from his younger sister.

"Both parties have done what they can to forget the situation and move forward," Alomar said. "I'm trying to help find a cure for his other son. Every time I see John, I ask how [Michael] is doing. I care about him. John and I have become real good friends. He's a human being like me."

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