In 2005, Pedro hit
"People thought his father was crazy when he passed up that money the first time," Miguel Montas, the owner of a neighborhood restaurant and a close friend of the Alvarez family said, then he looked down for the first time during the interview and his face saddened a bit before continuing. "Some people in the neighborhood ridiculed him for it. People would talk behind his back and say, 'Pedro is crazy' and 'Pedro doesn't know what he is doing with his son, he is ruining him by sending him to college.'"
Washington Heights is the neighborhood in the upper reaches of Manhattan, where Pedro Alvarez was raised in a weathered, five-story, yellow brick apartment building on Ellwood Street with his father, mother and younger sister. Spanish is almost exclusively spoken in the neighborhood.
To the inhabitants of this deeply proud, heavily Dominican neighborhood, Alvarez is already a star. They don't just predict Alvarez is going to make it big, they are counting on it, almost taking it for granted that someday he'll be a superstar, much like Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez, both born in Washington Heights.
"He's like the biggest role model to all the kids around here," said a teen, who would identify himself only as "Ramon," as he stood with his back against an apartment building on a nearby corner. "Pedro Alvarez will be the best Pittsburgh Pirates player. Ever."
Pedro Sr. is a man who moved to New York from the Dominican Republic to find a better life for his family, like so many of Washington Heights' residents. Pedro Sr. came first, alone. A few months later, he was joined by his wife, Luz, and a newborn baby, Pedro Jr. Just a year later, the other Alvarez child, Yolayna, was born.
Pedro Sr. supplied the sole paycheck for the family, finding enough money each month to pay the rent on the two-bedroom apartment where the two children shared a bedroom.
Pedro Sr. is in charge of a livery cab, a community based, non-regulated black sedan that picks up passengers only for pre-arranged rides. It is a system akin to Pittsburgh's jitneys. Unlike most parts of Manhattan, there aren't many official New York City cabs on the streets of Washington Heights. It has been said that driving a livery cab is one of New York City's most dangerous jobs. In June 2008, a livery cab driver was stabbed to death in Yonkers.
Alvarez Sr. sent his only son to Horace Mann High School in Riverdale in the Bronx so that he'd have a better chance to get prepared for college. Even though that decision meant playing baseball for a far less prestigious high school program, George Washington, the one that produced Rod Carew, and young Pedro's idol, Manny Ramirez. (Colin Dunlap/Pittsburg Post-Gazette-7/15/08)
At the very last minute before the deadline at midnight on August 15, 2008, Alvarez signed with the Pirates for the largest bonus in franchise history: $6 million plus the remainder of his college tuition.
However, on August 27, 2008, Alvarez was placed on Major League Baseball's restricted list after his agent, Scott Boras, claimed the contract Alvarez agreed to with the Pittsburgh Pirates is not valid.
"Regrettably, we are not surprised that Mr. Boras would attempt to raise a meritless legal claim in an effort to compel us to renegotiate Pedro's contract to one more of his liking," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said in a statement, "We are, however, disappointed that Pedro would allow his agent to pursue this claim on his behalf. Pedro showed tremendous fortitude and independent thinking when he agreed to his contract on Aug. 15."
And on September, 21, 2008, in a stunning reversal of the summer-long drama, the Pirates and Alvarez agreed to terms on a revised four-year, Major League contract worth a guaranteed $6,355,000. The new agreement calls for Alvarez's bonus to remain $6 million, but it will be payable over four years. From there, Alvarez would receive salaries of $400,000, $500,000, $550,000 and $700,000 for time spent on the Pirates' Major League roster. For time spent in the minors, he would receive $88,750 each year.
There also are two club options beyond the four years, and those are complicated: The Pirates retain the right to tender Alvarez a contract worth $1.63 million in the fifth year if he is in the Majors. But the player can void that if he is arbitration-eligible, which happens after three full seasons in the Majors, and pursue what surely would be a much bigger salary. If Alvarez, for whatever reason, still is floundering in the minors going into that fifth year, the club can exercise an option that pays $700,000 in the Majors, $500,000 in the minors for that year and the next.
As for the change from a minor league to Major League contract: Alvarez would have to be added to the Pirates' 40-man roster immediately as opposed to three years after his signing. Also, the team would have to begin using options to demote him from the Majors to the minors earlier.
Depending on one's perspective, this can be seen as a victory for either side: The Pirates might maintain that, because Alvarez's bonus is spread over twice as many years as the original, the actual guaranteed value of the deal, when weighing interest and inflation, actually is $5.67 million in total. The Alvarez side might maintain that the Major League contract will bring Alvarez more money sooner, perhaps $900,000 more than in the original. (Dean Kovacevic-Pittsburgh Post Gazette-9/22/08)
Scott Boras, Pedro's agent, said that his estimate of the total added value to his client's revised, four-year, $6,355,000 Major League contract was an additional $1 million, based on a projected career path of Alvarez reaching Pittsburgh within two years.
His estimate under the original—a $6 million bonus and minor league contract—was that it would pay $7.2 million over the same span that the new one would pay $8.2 million.
The Pirates' stance, as made clear by team president Frank Coonelly, is that, because the revised bonus is staggered over four years rather than two, the net present value of the guaranteed amount dropped to $5.67 million because of appreciation and interest. That figure is based on Alvarez spending all four years in the minors.
Pedro has natural leadership ability and is a man of character. He has a workmanlike approach on the field, and an easy-going demeanor off it.
During the winter before 2009 spring training, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Alvarez as the #1 prospect in the Pirates organization.
And he was again ranked #1 in the Pittsburgh farm system in the winter before 2010 spring camps opened.
During 2009 spring training with the Pirates, Pedro hit .444/.500/.778 in 20 plate appearances with the Major League club, including a mammoth three-run home run to dead center field off Rays reliever Joe Nelson in his final at-bat.
In 2009, Alvarez was named the Pirates organization top prospect of the year.
Alvarez consistently keeps his emotions private; also, in remarkable control.
January 16, 2009: Alvarez showed up for the Pirates' pre-spring training mini-camp overweight and out of shape. Tendinitis in both knees limited activity.
But by the time he showed up for training camp at the end of February, he had dropped the excess weight and was a his college weight of 230 pounds.
Over the winter before 2010 spring training, Pedro lost 10 pounds during a two-month boot-camp style workout regimen at the Athletes Performance Institute in Tempe, Ariz. It began in early November and extended into mid-January. He attended Major League Baseball's development camp along with righthanders Brad Lincoln and Daniel McCutchen. It was early to bed, up at 6:00 a.m., two robust workouts a day, and strict monitoring of meals.
"I'm someone who wants to play this game for a long time, someone who's really passionate about it, someone who cares enough to always try the best they can," said Alvarez.
The priority, he said, was the added muscle and improved agility, which could help him overcome lingering forecasts that he will have to move from third base to first base.
Alavrez became the first rookie in Pirates' history to hit two home runs in consecutive games, connecting twice against Milwaukee on July 21 and 22, 2010.
As Alvarez prepared for his first full Major League season in 2011, he said what he learned by playing 95 games in the big leagues in 2010 is that you have to make adjustments quickly and try to be as consistent as possible.
"It is a huge cat-and-mouse game and it is a matter of who is ahead for longer," Alvarez said. "Those are the Albert Pujols and the Ryan Howards. Those are the guys who succeed."
"Off the charts work ethic," Pirates minor league hitting coach Jeff Branson said of Pedro. "Honestly, from my heart, his willingness to learn is off the charts. This kid will do anything you ask him to do. He will do anything and everything to make this organization better."Alvarez shrugged off the notion he was doing anything that should be applauded.
"It's in the big leagues," Alvarez said. "So the adjustment needs to be the most important one and it needs to try to be the quickest. We are all still learning, you never master this game."
Alvarez wants to fit in the same as the career minor leaguer, wants to be one of the guys and scoffs at preferential treatment.
"He is not your ordinary first-round guy as a person, he just isn't," said Branson, a second-round pick himself who played nine Major League seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
"Now, Pedro wants to stand out from everyone on the baseball field as a talent, get that straight. But, as a teammate, he doesn't want to stand out from anyone. He doesn't want special treatment, he doesn't want things different. He is a guy on a team, that's all he wants.
"I know it, I've worked with him a lot. I've seen some of those first-round guys act like everyone owes them something. Pedro? No way. He's just a regular guy." (Colin Dunlap-Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-3/6/11)
Alvarez has quickly gained a fondness for Pittsburgh and the city's sports fans.
"They are great fans to play in front of," he said "I don't think there are any fans out there like the Pittsburgh fans. You can tell, obviously, with the Steelers and the Penguins and with us. I'm definitely very excited, and I feel very fortunate to be able to play in front of them this year."
It took Alvarez, the second pick in the 2008 draft, little time to be welcomed by Pirates nation. He received a stirring standing ovation before his first big league at-bat in 2010 and continued support since. Knockoff Alvarez jerseys began appearing at PNC Park with much more regularity as the season progressed.
"It's a great sports town," Alvarez said. "I didn't expect anything less from Pirates fans, and they definitely didn't prove me wrong." (Jenifer Langosch-MLB.com-4/3/11)
One person who believes Alvarez will do just fine in the Major Leagues is former college teammate Ryan Flaherty. "I mean this when I say this: He's one of the hardest workers," Flaherty said. "I've never seen a guy hit as much as him. He hits, he hits, he hits."
Flaherty called Alvarez one of his closest friends, and the two spent some free time together during the Pirates' road trip to Baltimore.
"Good things happen to good people who stay the course," Flaherty said. "I think it's easy to get caught up in the negativity and this and that, but I'm confident and I know that he's going to have a good professional career just because of how hard he works."
Alvarez spent part of his offseason before 2013 spring camp training at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., with teammates Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker. It was his first year training at IMG, which McCutchen credited in 2012 for helping him get in great shape for an MVP-caliber season.
Pedro and his wife have a dog, a shin tzu-Maltese terrier mix.
- 2013 Home Run Derby: They first made their introductions down in South Florida back in 2004. Pedro Alvarez, then a junior in high school, had, along with Dad, Pedro Sr., had just made the 22-hour drive from their New York City home to the site of a Perfect Game showcase.
Rudy Pena, a journeyman Minor Leaguer, was nearing the end of his mostly anonymous professional career. He would throw batting practice upon request during his offseason, and after meeting the Alvarez family, he agreed to throw a round to Pedro.More than nine years later, the impression remains vivid.
"That day I threw to Pedro, I thought he had a chance to be in the big leagues," Pena recalled. "And he made it. He's there."
Pena and Alvarez remained in touch after that meeting—through Alvarez's standout career at Vanderbilt University and his selection as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 Draft and his arrival in Pittsburgh.
The two were reunited on the baseball field on July 15, 2013, with Pena throwing to Alvarez, a first-time Chevrolet Home Run Derby participant, in front of a sellout crowd and a national audience. And 15 miles away from the high school field on which Alvarez used to shine, the Pirates third baseman turned heads again.
Pena didn't hesitate in accepting the invitation.
"It's an honor for me," Pena said. "There were a lot of people he could have invited, too, from the Major Leagues. This was one of my dreams to pitch in the Home Run Derby. It's the first, not the last, I think, for us."
Alvarez tallied six home runs—the longest a 461-foot blast to the right-field upper deck—at New York's Citi Field. The total was not enough to advance to the Derby semifinals. (Jeniver Langosch - MLB.com - 7/16/13)
- 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.
- 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.
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.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.
At Vanderbilt, Pedro became the country's top freshmen, 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 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."
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 - 9/21/13)
Walk-Up Music: Alvarez, who grew up in New York City, walks up to the underrated Jay-Z song, “Brooklyn Go Hard.”
- "Pedro is probably the hardest-working guy I've ever played with," said friend and teammate Neil Walker. "His desire to win and to be the best is through the roof, the best I've ever seen in anyone. I've learned so much from him in that regard."
"He's the epitome of what you want in a teammate, one we're very fortunate to have here in this organization. He'll have your back in any situation. He's even-keeled, never out of control. I know that troubles some people, who'd like to see more emotion from him—but that's not him.
"The things that matter most to him are the ones he puts the most focus on. The media and other people outside the clubhouse. They get a misconception of who you are, or what you stand for, when you aren't outspoken with your opinions. If [Alvarez] doesn't feel like talking to the media, he's not going to talk. He's somewhat guarded in that regard. But when you get to know him, you understand he's just more focused on things higher on his priority list. That's just the way he is.
"The way things have played out with him, having to change positions, people are looking for knee-jerk reactions from him. But that's not going to happen. He's taking this process not as a demotion but as something that is going to help him and help this organization. Those are the two most important things to him.
"He's looking great and swinging well. All the injuries from the end of the year are gone. From a mental standpoint, he came in with his focus exactly where it needs to be. It's fun to watch him work, because he makes us all better. We know when he's on the field, he can change the game with one swing. I know he's going to work harder than anybody to become comfortable at first base." (Singer - mlb.com - 3/3/15)
Pedro is married the daughter of Padres coach, Pat Murphy. He and Keli were married in 2011. Murphy raves about Alvarez's character, saying he "couldn't have a finer man married to my daughter."
"Pedro's a wonderful person, and I couldn't think of a better role model for my son," Murphy said before the game, referring to his 14-year-old son, Kai. "He's been great to have as a part of the family. He's more than I could ever ask to take care of Keli the way he does, and share our family."
At some point this offseason, perhaps sitting at the dinner table during the holidays, Padres interim manager Pat Murphy might think about this loss and smile.
But that grin probably won't spread quite as wide as the one that stretched across his son-in-law's face at PNC Park. That's because Pedro, Murphy's son-in-law, dealt the decisive blow in the Pirates' 2-1 walk-off win over the Padres.
"Well, I'll be able to look back and laugh if in fact things go really well in the next three months," said Murphy, whose daughter, Keli, married Alvarez in 2011. "It's one of those things, where you're in this situation, you've got family on the other side, but it's a baseball game."
Before the game, Murphy raved about Alvarez's character, saying he "couldn't have a finer man married to my daughter." "Pedro's a wonderful person, and I couldn't think of a better role model for my son," Murphy said before the game, referring to his 14-year-old son, Kai. "He's been great to have as a part of the family. He's more than I could ever ask to take care of Keli the way he does, and share our family."
But the question remains: Who was Keli cheering for Monday night? "We haven't spoken about it. She better be rooting for her husband," Murphy said before the game. "The old man is going to be OK." Added Alvarez: "You'd have to ask her, I guess." (Berry - mlb.com - 7/7/15)
Throughout the years of long home runs, the streaks and slumps, Pedro Alvarez had a complicated relationship with Pirates fans. "El Toro" returned to PNC Park for the first time on September 26, 2017, with the Orioles, but he did not play. On the 27th, Alvarez started at first base and hit cleanup, logging two singles in four at-bats with a run scored. On defense, he started a nifty 3-6-3 double play that wiped out a potentially big first inning for the Bucs.
The game was special for Alvarez. He received an unambiguously warm welcome back, including a video tribute, from fans and former teammates in the other dugout when he stepped to the plate in the second inning. Then he lashed a single through the Pirates' shift.
"I thought it was very classy on the Pirates' part," Alvarez said. "I'm not too much of an emotional guy, but that was pretty cool to get that kind of a reception from the organization and the fans. I've been receiving nothing but love ever since I got here."
Alvarez added: "It was really neat. I'm still having a hard time trying to put it into words, the good emotions that were going through me at the moment. Unexpected in the sense that, not that I didn't see it coming from them, but we're playing against each other, it's a game. The last thing you're gonna think of is, are they gonna do that for you? It definitely was an awesome experience."
Standing in the on-deck circle, Alvarez said, he heard "good stuff" while also noting "a couple of jokesters here and there." But for the most part, "It was positive messages and a lot of encouragement."
The old Alvarez surfaced when asked if it was "nice" to get a couple of hits. "Nice to get a couple of hits anywhere," he said, all business again. "It doesn't add any specialness to any of it. My job day in and day out is to help this team win. It just so happens we were playing here today."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said, "I thought he handled himself well [at first base]. I thought that was a nice moment with them remembering the good things Pete did here and may do again."
Alvarez had plenty of big moments at PNC Park, especially during that special 2013 season when he helped the Pirates snap their streak of 20 straight losing seasons and reach the playoffs. This moment was big, too. "I haven't been here in two years or so," he said. "In actuality, it didn't feel that long once I got out there." (Cohn - mlb.com - 9/27/17)
June 2008: The Pirates chose Pedro as their first round pick—and #2 overall—out of Vanderbilt University. They signed him to a four-year, $6.4 million Major League contract. It included two options, one for $700,000 for the 2013 season, and another $700,000 for the 2014 season.
October 31, 2012: The Pirates exercised Alvarez's 2013 contract option for $700,000.
January 17, 2014: Alvarez and the Pirates avoided salary arbitration, agreeing on a one-year, $4.25 million contract.
February 19, 2015: Arbitrators Robert Herzog, James Oldham, and Dan Brent awarded Pedro a raise from $4.25 million to $5.75 million, rather than the Pirates' offer of $5.25 million.
December 2, 2015: Pedro elected free agency.
March 7, 2016: Alvarez signed a one-year, $5.75 million contract with the Orioles.
Nov 3, 2016: Alvarez chose free agency.
March 13, 2017: The Orioles signed free agent Alvarez.
Nov 2, 2017: Pedro chose free agency.
- Feb. 25, 2018: The Orioles signed Pedro to a minor league contract.