MIDLAND, Mich. - Playing baseball while growing up is a rite of passage in Cuba. Many young kid's dreams include travelling to the United States and playing for a Major League Baseball team. From Liván Hernández, to Orlando "El Duque" Hernández, then José Contreras, and now players like Yoenis Céspedes and Aroldis Chapman, there's examples that those dreams can become a reality.
For Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Yadier Alvarez, he didn't have much time to watch baseball, or even have the ability to watch growing up in Matanzas.
"It's difficult, but there are some places that have cable," Alvarez said. "I didn't really like watching baseball, I was just concentrating on my game."
Matanzas is on the northern edge of the Cuban island, just 65 miles east of the capitol city Havana. It sits on the Bay of Matanzas. It's there where the hard-throwing 20-year-old's passion for the game began.
"I started playing when I was five years old, just playing outside with kids," Alvarez said. "It was when I was 10 when I got really into it and started representing my city. I played shortstop before I became a pitcher. They told me that it would be better for me to be a pitcher."
Dodgers blog True Blue LA called Alvarez "a high quality ball of clay," after he was signed during the international signing period on July 2, 2015. Fangraphs says his delivery "loose and effortless." But his ability wasn't the only thing that made headlines when he signed, it was the $16 million price tag.
Like many professional athletes who receive hefty signing bonuses, they generally tend to treat themselves to some new toys. Alvarez is no different.
"The house I have in the Dominican is really nice," he said. "But I've purchased a couple luxury cars. It's been my dream since I was young. I have a Porsche, Lamborghini, Audi and a Tahoe for the family. The Lambo is my favorite."
Throughout the process, it wasn't just the Dodgers who expressed interest in him. Multiple teams expressed a desire to sign the raw, right-handed pitching prospect.
"I was honored that all of those teams were interested in me," Alvarez said. "I was privileged to sign with the Dodgers. It was the right way to go. There's a lot of Latin players in the organization which is good. I'm just trying to take it step by step."
After pitching in five games for the Dodgers' Arizona League affiliate in which he struck out 26 batters in 20 innings pitched, the 6-foot-3 hurler was promoted and placed on the Loons roster.
In his four starts so far for Great Lakes, Alvarez is 1-1 with a 2.00 ERA. He's amassed 31 strikeouts in just 18 innings, which equates to a 15.5 K/9 ratio. In the MLB last season, Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox led all pitchers averaging 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
He's held opposing hitters to a measly .182 batting average at the Single-A level and his sub-1.00 WHIP (0.89) second behind only Mitchell White (0.60) on the Loons roster this season.
It's not every day a talent like Alvarez makes their way through Midland and he's set to kick off the homestand on the mound Thursday night at Dow Diamond against the Lake County Captains. Gates open at 6 p.m. with first pitch set for 7:05 p.m.
The game will feature a $1 Family Feast Night presented by Chemical Bank with hot dogs, chips, ice cream sandwiches and 16 oz drinks available all for $1. Fans will also be entertained throughout the night with a Dueling Pianos performance. Spanky and his partner in crime will be taking requests from the crowd all night long and will performer after the game in The Cove.
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