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Yordan Alvarez wins ALCS MVP for Astros
Yordan Alvarez wins ALCS MVP for Astros

Yordan Alvarez wins ALCS MVP for Astros

HOUSTON – Growing up in Cuba, Yordan Alvarez was taught that the United States was a bad country. The thought was so ingrained in him that when he was 12 or 13, he said, he skipped English lessons at school.

“Why would I take an English course if I’m never going to the United States?” Alvarez said he said it to himself then.

Look at him now.

He was this year’s rookie in the American League in 2019, a level he never thought he would reach. He blows the baseballs harder than anyone but a few other major leaguers, and even sent one over the Fenway Parks Green Monster in Boston in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series on Wednesday. He was named the most valuable player at ALCS for a Houston Astros team that is World Series-tied after a win in game 6 powered mostly by Alvarez bats.

He spends the off-season in Tampa, Fla., And his two children were born in the country he was told to dislike.

Alvarez, 24, laughs at it now. Maybe he should have taken advantage of that lead with the language in his adopted home.

“When I came to the United States, that was when I started learning,” he said in Spanish, standing on the field before a recent ALCS game against the Red Sox. “I can tell you I regret it, but now I can tell you I’m not sure if they taught English correctly.”

Alvarez’s story is known to many of his other Cuban-born players in Major League Baseball, including two Astros teammates, first baseman Yuli Gurriel and backup infielder Aledmys Díaz. Many fled the communist country and often put their lives in the hands of smugglers or took harrowing boat trips, or both, to pursue their dreams. To play in the big leagues, Alvarez had to leave.

16 and 17, he played two seasons with the professional Cuban baseball team in his home province, Leñadores de Las Tunas. In 74 games in the top Cuban league, he hit .279 and had a meager home run. “And there was one inside the park,” he said.

At the time, Alvarez was known as an agile outfielder with a good eye on the plate instead of an impressive powerhitter. Still, there was potential: Although he was thin, 6-foot-5 Alvarez said he was always the tallest player on his teams. The size, he said, came from his 6-4 father, who also used to play baseball in Cuba.

When Alvarez and his family decided to pursue baseball opportunities in the United States, he said he asked permission to leave Cuba, but was denied. So in 2015 he went to the Dominican Republic, where he joined his parents and younger brother, who had all come first.

In the Dominican Republic, where all 30 MLB teams run baseball academies, Alvarez began working with a private trainer. He said he lifted weights, beat daily from morning to night and revised his left-handed turn because it “will never hit home runs.” The power slowly began to emerge.

But to sign with an MLB team, Alvarez needed to establish a residence in a country, so he went to nearby Haiti. There he ran into Gurriel and his younger brother, Lourdes Jr. – the sons of a Cuban baseball legend – who had just jumped from his home country and also secured his papers in the hope of reaching the big leagues. They kept the secret of the incident.

“I had seen him play in Cuba,” Gurriel, 37, said of Alvarez in Spanish. “He was very young. He was big then, but not as big as he is now.”

After arriving in the United States, Alvarez went to West Palm Beach, Fla., To continue training and train for potential teams. He grew up near an Astros scout, Charlie gonzalez, who told Alvarez that he could imagine him in a uniform in Houston, and who drove him past the Astros spring training complex when it was under construction.

Gonzalez was one of the Astros officials who wanted the front office to sign Alvarez, but the organization faced significant penalties for exceeding the bonus limit on international signings. One of the players they had committed to: Gurriel, who had agreed to a five-year, $ 47.5 million contract.

Instead, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Alvarez in June 2016 to a $ 2 million deal. Six weeks later, the Dodgers needed a relief pitcher, so they switched Alvarez, who had not yet played a game in the minors, to the Astros for Josh Fields.

Alvarez shot through the Astros’ farm system. He hit .343 with 23 home runs for the Class AAA team in 2019 despite pain in his left knee that began last season and flared up eventually.

“My goal was to reach the big leagues,” he said. “But I also thought to myself that I would never reach it if I got messed up. I needed to keep playing.”

Despite the weak knee, Alvarez achieved his dream on June 9, 2019, at 9 pm, after Astro’s illegal character theft had ended in MLB’s eyes. Adrenaline, he said, masked the pain, and he continued to push himself. He struck. 313 with 27 home runs in 87 games as the Astros’ primary designated hitter, and he helped them reach the World Series, where they dropped a victory under a title to the Washington Nationals.

Playing on a compromised leg for so long, Alvarez said, led to overcompensation with his right knee, and it caused injury there. Finally, after playing in two games in the pandemic-shorted 2020 season, he failed and was operated on both knees (repair of the kneecap for one and a clean-up of the other). He missed the rest of the year.

With stronger, healthier legs this season, he has felt a difference. Only seven major league players consistently hit the ball harder than Alvarez, including Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr. and Shohei Ohtani.

A common thread among them? They are great people. In addition to being 6-5, Alvarez is 227 pounds.

“A lot of big boys can’t beat,” manager Dusty Baker said recently, referring to Alvarez. – He has good eyesight. He has a good balance, especially now with his legs that they are good. Balance is the key and he can run. Big joker can run and he thinks he can hit. “

In 144 games this season, Alvarez beat. 277 and led the Astros with 33 home runs and 104 runs scored. He hits a good deal, but when he connects, he hits it hard, long and in the air. Case in point: Against Red Sox starter Chris Sale on Wednesday, Alvarez’s Green Monster shot came as he hit a 94 kilometers per hour outside fastball to the opposite field and hit the seats over the famous wall.

Astros shortstop Carlos Correa called Alvarez “a natural hitter.” Gurriel said that Alvarez had a maturity at the plate that believed in his age. “It makes him very special,” he said.

Inside the clubhouse, teammates said that Alvarez also defied expectations. Perhaps because of his impressive growth, facial expressions or language barrier, people often think he is a very serious person, Alvarez said. His wife, Monica, sometimes says he should smile, he said; otherwise it seems that he is in a bad mood.

“I like to joke,” Alvarez said. Correa added: “The guy does not shut up in the clubhouse. He looks quiet, but do not let him fool you. ”

It helps, however, that Correa, a Puerto Rican, is bilingual. Then there is Alvarez’s wife, who was born in Cuba but came to the United States at 5 o’clock. Alvarez said she has helped him a lot with his English. If it’s baseball-related, he said he understands most of a conversation, but one of his goals is to do a better job of learning the language away from the field.

Another of Alvarez’s dreams – one he had never imagined would be possible as a child growing up in Cuba and skipping English lessons – is also underway. He said he was securing the paperwork to get his parents, who are in the Dominican Republic, to the United States so they can see him play in person for the first time here.

“My mother would definitely love it,” he said. “But my dad, who played baseball, would love it the most.”

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