Alvarez's first two weeks in the U.S. were torture. When he arrived here in
February 1988, he was a bashful 16-year-old sophomore at Tucson High. He had a
chipped front tooth and could speak only a few words of English. At 6'1",
160 pounds, he was decidedly skinny, and he could do only two push-ups. When he
joined the Tucson High baseball team, he carried a beat-up old glove, and his
teammates laughed at him.
"I hated it
here at first," says Alvarez, a native of Ciudad Obreg�n, Mexico. "I
was so homesick. During my first practices, the coach would tell us what to do
in English and afterward I asked him to say it over in Spanish. I didn't want
to talk to the other players."
however, when Tucson High's '88 baseball season began. "I felt better when
I just concentrated on playing ball," says Alvarez, who's now finishing his
Today the old
glove is gone. Alvarez's English, while still halting, has improved, and he now
carries 185 pounds on a 6'3" frame. No one laughs anymore, least of all
opposing hitters. As of May 10, Alvarez, who is called Tavo, had won 28 games,
while losing only four in his three seasons in a Tucson uniform. Scouts say he
pitches on instinct. It helps that his fastball has been clocked at 92 mph.
pitching, high school baseball in Tucson becomes an event. Fans and the media
turn out to watch, and the stands are loaded with major league scouts. Twelve
showed up for one of his starts earlier this season. "One night I got home
and there were eight messages from scouts wanting to know when Tavo was
pitching so they could fly in to see him," says Oscar Romero, Tucson's
Alvarez is no
less impressive at the plate. As a sophomore he batted .410 and helped the
Badgers win the Class AAA state championship. Last year he hit .500, with eight
homers and 32 RBIs, and was named Arizona's Player of the Year.
coaches sing his praises. "Everybody knows he's a first-round pick in the
June draft," says Hal Eustice of Sahuaro High. "But I like him better
as a hitter. He crushes the ball, really puts on a show."
A scout, on the
other hand, offers a different assessment: "He's got a pitcher's body, tall
with broad shoulders."
Still, all would
agree that at first glance, Alvarez's is a storybook tale that might remind one
of Fernando Valenzuela's—a Mexican player with amazing talent comes to this
country and makes good. But Alvarez has had to battle more than just a language
barrier and opposing batters. Since his arrival he has been dogged by rumors
that Tucson High recruited him out of Mexico solely to win ball games, that he
is too old for high school ball and that he is playing illegally because he
doesn't meet the requirements for a foreign student in the Tucson Unified
School District. "We heard just about everything, including that I was
holding tryouts in Mexico," says Tom Lundy, Tucson's acting athletic
director, who was the Badgers' baseball coach when Alvarez came to town.
about Alvarez grew louder last season. Romero, Lundy's head assistant at the
time, says that Tucson High received several phone calls from people saying
they had heard the school had an illegal player on its baseball team. Calls
questioning Alvarez's eligibility also came in to district headquarters. The
matter took a nasty turn after Alvarez was interviewed on local TV, and it was
evident that he wasn't proficient in English. The next day callers to the
school demanded to know why Tucson High spent so much money on bilingual
education and why Alvarez, with his less than perfect English, was allowed on