Commentary

Alvarez following in some famous footsteps

Originally Published: June 3, 2008
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPN.com

At El Nuevo Caridad restaurant in Washington Heights, $12.95 can get you a special of ox tail, rice, pinto beans and lemonade, otherwise known as "the Pedro Alvarez." And though the dish is not quite as renowned as a "Manny Ramirez" (goat stew) or a "Pedro Martinez" (chicken stew with avocado) -- at least not yet -- it's special nonetheless to the baseball-loving owner who serves it.

"Pedro [Alvarez] is the heart of this community," says Miguel Montas, owner of Caridad. "If I've dedicated plates to people that I've met after they were in the big leagues, then why wouldn't I dedicate a plate to somebody I see as a son?"

In just a few days, Montas and the entire Washington Heights community anticipate that their native son, Pedro Alvarez, a star third baseman for Vanderbilt University, will be the highest player ever drafted from the upper Manhattan neighborhood of New York City. Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez have both called the Heights home -- though A-Rod spent most of his childhood in Miami -- but Alvarez has lived here since he was 1.

[+] EnlargePedro Alvarez
Amy K. NelsonPedro's uncle, Jose (holding framed picture); Caridad owner Miguel Montas; Pedro Sr., his father; Luz, his mother; Yolayna, his sister; and friends Franly Burgos and Cesar Garrido all gather at the local Dominican restaurant.
Now, as one of the top players in the country -- despite missing six weeks this season after breaking the hamate bone in his right wrist -- and with Scott Boras advising him, the pay day should be big; some scouts say they've heard rumors of an asking price in the double-digit millions. And the Pittsburgh Pirates, with the No. 2 pick, have sent close to every member of their front office to personally see Alvarez play.

"He's definitely a fast-track kid," said an American League scouting director. "Looks a little bit like Adrian Beltre, and probably profiles like that as well. He's a very polished hitter; he hits and hits with power. He just looks like a big leaguer."


Pedro Alvarez Sr.'s eyes are round and filled with intensity. He speaks passionately and seriously about his first-born and only son, Pedrito. When Pedro Sr. and his wife, Luz, decided to quit college in the Dominican Republic and try to make it in the United States, they promised themselves that education would always be a priority for their children.

When Pedro was 1, he and his mother moved to the United States and joined Pedro Sr., who was living with a cousin and working at a mattress store. Soon thereafter, sister Yolayna was born. Pedro Sr. quit his 9-to-5 job and became a taxi driver, allowing him the freedom of his own shifts and more time with his children.

The family moved to a two-bedroom apartment near Inwood Park, home to Manhattan's oldest Little League. Alex Martinez, the president of Inwood Little League, says Pedro's power was already developing at a young age when he hit a homer, as an 11-year-old, estimated at 300 feet.

"The greatest thing you see from Pedro," Martinez says, "is his discipline. He's one of our rising stars and we're so happy for him. He's one of the success stories."

Pedro Sr. saw his son's determination when Pedro, just 18 months old, struggled to reach a light switch in their apartment. Instead of falling down or crawling away, little Pedro surveyed the room and spotted a stick within reach. He grabbed it and flipped the switch with it.

When Pedro's focus turned to baseball, Pedro Sr. made it clear to his son that if he truly wanted to become a baseball player, he'd have to set goals for himself and make sacrifices. There was very little rollerblading, biking or playing in the street. Pedro Jr.'s life became baseball.

By age 8, Pedro was playing with the 9-12-year-olds in Little League. A year later, his father was driving him an hour each way to Stamford, Conn., for after-school hitting lessons. He'd come back and do homework for three hours, and then start the routine again. Weekends were spent playing Little League games.

"He matured at a young age," says Pedro Sr., whose interview was translated by Pedro's longtime friends Franly Burgos and Cesar Garrido. "He already knew what he wanted, and he tried to reach his goal."

When Pedro was in seventh grade, he impressed the owner of the Giants -- a traveling summer league team in New York City -- in a tryout and made the team. The owner, Barbara Tischler, also happened to be the dean at Horace Mann, an expensive, ultra-private school in the Bronx known for its academics.

[+] EnlargePedro Alvarez
Amy NelsonOne of the six baseball fields at Inwood Park, where Pedro would run with a tire attached to his back to work out.
The Alvarezes knew that Pedro playing at a public school like George Washington -- where Manny Ramirez went -- would garner the attention of scouts. But since education was a priority, they decided on Horace Mann, not exactly a baseball powerhouse.

"I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb," Pedro says. "We've always been big on education. We're firm believers in faith. If something's meant to happen, it's meant to happen."

By the summer of his junior year, Alvarez was playing for the Bayside Yankees, a powerhouse traveling team. That's when Vandy head coach Tim Corbin spotted him at a tournament in Nashville, Tenn., and kept tabs on him until Alvarez signed a letter of intent in November 2004.

Then the real recruiting process began. Just a few weeks before the 2005 draft, Corbin got a call that Pedro was going to be working out at Yankee Stadium for major league scouts. He flew up to New York and watched Alvarez hit balls into the upper deck and Monument Park, while friends and family went crazy.

"My mind at that time was set on professional baseball," Pedro says.

After the workout, Corbin, Pedro Sr., Yolayna and Pedro Jr. went to a small restaurant in the Bronx for lunch. It was the first meeting between Corbin and the Alvarez family, and it was there where Corbin promised Pedro Sr. he would treat Pedro like a son.

"Sometimes you feel guilty," Corbin says. "This kid's got a chance to maybe make a lot of money, and I'm trying to get him to look past that money to get an education. But then I said, 'Why am I mentally beating myself up? We're selling an education here. I have great belief that he'll come here and better himself.'"

Pedro Sr. told Corbin they preferred college, but not if the money could be life-changing. A few weeks later, while outside his high school coach's office barbecuing with a crowd of friends and teammates, Alvarez got a call from Ray Fagnant, a scout for the Red Sox, the team Alvarez grew up adoring and the one for which Ramirez, his favorite player, played.

[+] EnlargePedro Alvarez
AP Photo/Butch DillPedro Alvarez (24) was the No. 2 overall pick in this past June's amateur draft.
Boston wanted to know if Alvarez would sign for $700,000 if they took him with the 47th pick. He had five minutes to decide. Pacing back and forth, feeling as if his "head was going to explode," Alvarez decided he wanted to be an investment for the team that was drafting him. The more money they put into you, the better the odds you'll make it, he correctly surmised.

He said no. Boston called back in the 14th round, and said they'd draft him and follow his play that summer and if he did well, they'd revisit the number. Alvarez went out and played the best he ever had, and as the August deadline loomed, Corbin's sweat glands went into overdrive.

Even when Pedro showed up in Nashville, Corbin was still stressed. Alvarez wasn't an official student until he went to class and raised his hand, confirming attendance. That morning, Corbin -- who went sleepless the night before -- and assistant coach Erik Bakich met Alvarez at his dorm and walked Alvarez to class. Just 30 minutes before, Alvarez had received a call from Fagnant, reminding him of what he was leaving behind, and how it'd be three years before he could be draft eligible again.

"I'll see you in three years," Alvarez told him.

He stepped into class, and raised his arm. Corbin finally exhaled, and then watched his young prodigy go on to become the country's top freshman that year, leading Team USA in batting average both summers he played, and develop into one of the best amateur prospects in the country. Along with pitcher David Price, Alvarez helped build Vanderbilt back into a top program.

"He's somebody you want to buy a ticket to go watch play," says Indians relief pitcher Jensen Lewis, a Vandy alum. "His talent -- he's humble, accountable. It's a rare combination at such a young age."

Each summer, Alvarez returns home to the Heights, back where he shares his bedroom with Yolayna (who attends St. John's University). His dad still drives a cab. He has no regrets.


When Alvarez chose Boras as his agent, he heard it from all corners, some supportive, others not so much. He says that in the end, he was impressed with how well Boras knew all of the rules, and that Boras' track record of success is far better than his setbacks.

"When I was choosing [whether] to go play baseball or come to college, I just had this gut instinct I needed to come to college," Alvarez says. "It's one of those instincts you can't point out what it is. When I choose Boras as my adviser, it just felt right and I went with my instinct again. Hopefully it won't backfire on me. I've had pretty good judgment on people in my life, so we'll see."

[+] EnlargePedro Alvarez
Amy NelsonPedro Sr. drives a taxi like this one shown above; Caridad restaurant sits on the corner on West 191st Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in Manhattan.
That judgment is a credit to Pedro Sr. and Luz, whose quiet demeanor was passed on to her son. The family, like many Hispanic families, is extremely close.

That's why it was so difficult when they had to say goodbye to him three years ago. They packed up the car and drove 14 hours to Nashville, and stayed in a local hotel. When Pedro hugged his family goodbye, he slowly walked down an endless hotel hallway. As his silhouette grew smaller, and the tears beaded down all of their cheeks, his father wanted to know what his son was thinking. Was he in pain? Scared? Regretful?

"He later told me," Pedro Sr. says, his large eyes now soft and glassy. "That it was time for him to become a man."

Miguel Montas will always see Pedro as the 4-year-old boy he first met in the neighborhood, as another son. When patrons visit his restaurant, they usually see why.

"I point out Pedro's poster," Montas says, "for them to observe the next Dominican star in the major leagues."

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached via e-mail at amy.k.nelson@espn3.com.