Pedro Alvarez, El Toro, Knows When To Charge
By Tom Smith
Pedro Alvarez is the Pittsburgh Pirates biggest thing since Barry Bonds. The timeline of Alvarez’s rise through the Pirates system has been filled with a flair for the dramatic, long bombs, and
heart wrenching strikeouts. The third baseman known as ‘El Toro’ does one thing baseball stars always do, he makes you watch.
For me, it’s from the edge of my seat, or while pacing in front of the tv with a hand over my forehead, both of which I do while screaming like a banshee. But I watch. Every second. I listen too. Listen for that magical crack of the ball off Pedro’s bat.
The anxiety around the signing of Alvarez was hard on Pirates fans. 30 days before Pedro autographed his major league contract Collin Dunlap gave us a background in this excellent article. Dunlap went to Alvarez’s hometown of Washington Heights, New York, where Pedro’s father was a livery driver. The neighborhood knows baseball players well. They watched Manny Ramirez and A-Rod grow up in the heavily Dominican community. It also knew Alvarez well too.
"“Pedro will sign and it doesn’t matter what his agent says,” said Miguel Montas, the owner of a neighborhood restaurant and a close friend of the Alvarez family, through a translator. “His family wants him to sign and they will make the decision. They are just getting everything straightened out right now. Believe me, Pedro will sign with the Pirates.”"
It was awfully quiet until August 15 approached. The news surrounding the contract negotiations was not good. Let’s just say it got done. Exactly when is best left for the tell-all book, but it did get done on August 15, before, or after midnight. Then it got done again about a month later. It was a four year major league deal with a $6,355,000.00.
It was confusing. Bitter. Full of finger pointing.
But then it was gone. Neal Huntington and John Russell sat down Pedro and told him so. He was a Pirate. The deal making was over with, it’s a business.
The Buzz Arrives
The Pedro Alvarez Show came to Bradenton and the spring training Babe Ruthian homeruns were well documented. RumBunter couldn’t get enough pictures, and we couldn’t write enough about the Vanderbilt star. ESPN liked what they saw of Pedro’s awe inspiring power:
"Well, not only could we go look ourselves. We can even show you ourselves. Click on over to the Google Satellite shot of Pirate City.Now zoom in on Field No. 1 and the pond beyond the fence. Then check out the half-field near the pond. It sure looks like those distances are all accurate. And if they are, that would mean that Pedro Alvarez somehow hit a baseball that carried (gulp) 550 feet or so … on the fly.Alvarez, for his part, refuses to confirm he actually launched that rocket. (“You’re never supposed to look at balls you hit,” he said, laughing.) But he isn’t denying it, either. If people want to make the tale of that 550-foot homer the first chapter in the Legend of Pedro Alvarez, apparently he isn’t going to stop them.“I don’t really have anything else to claim,” he said. “So I’ll take it right now, ’til I can top it.”"
The comparisions started to flow from Pirate City. Veteran Eric Hinske compared him to a left-handed Albert Pujols. Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen, when asked his opinion, said the legendary name Willie Stargell.
Alvarez had an impressive spring training. He was sent to Lynchburg and his debut was magical as he went 3-for-4, but an 0-for-18 would follow. In fact, his second game line at Lynchburg would show Alvarez went 0-for-5 and had a few fielding errors. When would he start raking? It would take a while.
Alvarez was off to a putrid start to his professional career with the Hillcats. In the early going, Alvarez hit .219 with a .738 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 73 at-bats. He got smoking hot and when he was promoted to the AA Altoona Curve, El Toro was hitting .247/.342/.486 with fourteen homers and a Carolina League leading 55 RBI.
In his first game with the AA Altoona Curve, Alvarez went 0-for-4 with three punchouts. A strikeout in his first plate appearance, a flyout, and two more whiffs capped his AA debut.
"“When I am patient, I get my walks and I hit mistakes and everything works out well,” Alvarez said. “I’ve just got to make sure I stay within myself and not try to do too much.”"
That sounds familiar to me. The early struggles continued and Alvarez went 3-for-25 before he suffered a minor knee injury. It didnt hold back the evaluators who knew a great talent when they saw it. But he was surprised to learn some more good news. He was an AllStar, but a fan had to tell Alvarez he was named to play in the 11th Annual Futures Game at Busch Stadium prior to the All-Star Game.
Alvarez would turn it on to close out his AA season. He would finish his time in Altoona with a ridiculous .333/.419/.590 line.
One important thing we kept looking back at was the impact Pedro had on Lynchburg and Altoona. It could be totally unrelated, but a fact nonetheless. Lynchburg had a winning record (45-24) before he left and a losing record without Pedro (28-43.) Still, the Hillcats won the Carolina League title. The Curve was six games over .500 with El Toro, 26 games under without him.
Like his solid Class A ball debut at Lynchburg, Alvarez started quickly at AAA, with three homeruns in his first two games. However, there wasn’t an 0-for-18 slide like he had at Lynchburg. With AAA Indianapolis, Alvarez remained consistent and greatly improved his hitting off left handers until the time he pulled his bags off the bus in Scranton last week. And asked these great words to Collin Dunlap:
"“Did you know?” Pedro asked. Dunlap quickly responded. “No, I didn’t. I promise.”"
I guess when you stare into the driven eyes of Pedro Alvarez, one might feel a little fear. A little twing when he asks such a personal question. Especially evident when you must reply with, “I promise” for fear of something dreadful happening to your body. It must be the feeling that some pitchers have described that have faced Alvarez.
Dunlap did an excellent job in the interview. No other paper had the Alvarez story.
El Toro Arrives in the Arena
It was an exciting, sun soaked evening at PNC Park when we set our eyes on Pedro Alvarez. We stood in ovation as he walked confidently to the plate. We stood as he stepped out of the box to take a swing between pitches. Then it happened. Pedro failed to catch up with an inside fastball and struck out.
We stood back up. It was weird. Pedro has that effect on me as, I think, he does on other Pirates fans too. Because many of them were clapping too. What the hell, he just struck out?
Watching and listening to Pedro Alvarez is almost like listening to a movie. A really good sermon. Like your trying to remember it, like directions. Or a favorite website address. It’s something I haven’t felt in a long time. The experience is riveting. Like a good movie at a theater.
I liken it to a movie in which we are in the arena in our seats. We see this huge bull. We know it’s going to charge. We know with 100% confidence it will happen. And we don’t want to blink to miss even a second of it.
We have waited a long time to see a bull at PNC Park. A damn long time. Enjoy it.