Driven to succeed (cont.)
STOP TWO: AN UNLIKELY TRIP IN THE NORTHBOUND LANE
Manhattan College Parkway and Broadway, Horace Mann School
The Horace Mann School is a 15-minute drive from the Alvarez home but a lot further away when talking tax brackets. Barbara Tischler, an administrator at Horace Mann and founder of another youth baseball team, had seen Pedrito's performance on the diamond and heard about his performance in the classroom. Tischler thought Pedrito was an ideal student for her school and suggested that he attend Horace Mann. After he passed the entrance exam and received a scholarship to attend the posh prep school, his neighbors still thought he should stay close to home and attend baseball dynasty George Washington High, the same school that produced Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez. After all, who could Horace Mann claim? Pulitzer Prize winners and former U.S. Attorneys? Like that would make opposing pitchers flinch. "A lot of people couldn't understand why he went to that school," says Luis Garcia, who coached Alvarez ages 12 through 15. Pedro would hear it all the time from people in the street: "Do you know that their baseball program is like?"
"Yes. And do you know about its academic program?" Pedro responded.
"Yeah, but he's not going to need it," they'd say.
Judging by his play, they might have been right. He easily set the school records for batting average, home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, walks and OBP in front of an ever-increasing cadre of scouts. He did everything from playing shortstop to closing games, demonstrating a talent that was never tested by his peers. "He was so far ahead [of his competition] and his swing, his hands are so fast he sometimes couldn't hold back against a kid pitching 50-mph," says Matt Russo, his high school coach. And that, of course, is when he'd actually get a pitch to hit. Most teams didn't even bother with him and intentionally walked him, even with bases loaded. Russo resorted to lugging around the team's L-screen on road games so that he could throw batting practice for the scouts to see Alvarez's swing.
His fluid, powerful stroke earned him the chance to take BP in front of scouts at places like Fenway and Yankee Stadium, while his combination of athletic prowess and academic aptitude earned him offers from collegiate baseball programs across the country, including Vanderbilt. Tim Corbin, Vanderbilt's coach, knew that he'd face a fight with Major League powers for Alvarez's services. While he couldn't offer him a signing bonus, he could present something the Alvarez family coveted even more: A college education. But just in case, Corbin collaborated with a financial advisor to compile a portfolio for the family to show him just how much -- or in this case how little -- would be left after taxes and expenses of the $775,000 signing bonus the Red Sox offered. The remainder still would have been more than the Alvarezes had ever had, but in the end, the cab driver's son knew the way and signing with a big-league team he says, "wasn't the proper route to take."
STOP 3: THE LONG DRIVE SOUTH
21ST Ave. N and West End Avenue, Nashville, Tenn.
The 900-mile drive to Vanderbilt University was too far for Pedro to take SI by car, and too far, for many in his neighborhood, for Pedrito to go in the first place. Neighbors who wanted Pedrito to take the signing bonus warned he would be risking injury or the possibility of a drop in performance. But Pedrito's parents had drilled education into his head. "That," he says, "is the only sure thing you have." He was named Freshman of the Year by virtually every college baseball group that has the title to bestow and by his sophomore year earned All-America honors while majoring in economics. He equaled Vanderbilt's career home-run record with 49 blasts and hit a PlayStationesque .348 average over his college career between classes ranging from the rigors of finance to the mysteries of country music, something Pedrito says he still doesn't understand after three years in the Music City. His numbers have catapulted him into the upper echelons of this week's draft. He'll most likely be a top three pick and with the help of super agent Scott Boras, command a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $7 million dollars. He did miss 23 games with a broken bone in his right hand this season, but that injury appears to be more of a temporary inconvenience than a permanent impediment to a big-league career.
Pedrito says that with the college post-season in full swing, he's hardly had time to think about the draft. "It's one of those things you can't block out-- we have way too much to think about," he says. But he does have hopes of providing a new home for his family and earning enough money so that his parents no longer have to work. And, of course, finishing his nearly complete degree. Luz, for her part, says she wants for nothing, except maybe, a new, more comfortable bed. And Pedro Sr., who will no longer have to take those rides in the future because of all those miles he drove his superstar son to games, practices and training? For this to be just the first, but far from the last, stop on his son's long and storied major-league career.