Drafts, agents and contracts aside, the dreams of a neighborhood rest with Pirates' No. 1 pick
July 15, 2008 4:00 AM
Restaurant owner and friend of Pedro Alvarez's family, Miguel Montas, inside his restaurant El Nuevo Caridad, in Washington Heights, New York City.
The yellow brick apartment building where Pirates No. 1 draft pick Pedro Alvarez and his family lives on Ellwood Street in Washington Heights, New York City.
A group of men play dominoes on Ellwood Street in Washington Heights, New York City, a half block from Pedro Alvarez's apartment building.
Jae S. Lee/The Tennessean via AP
Pirates' No. 1 pick Pedro Alvarez
By Colin Dunlap Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
NEW YORK -- This is Washington Heights.
A neighborhood in the upper reaches of Manhattan, where Pedro Alvarez lives in a weathered, five-story, yellow brick apartment building on Ellwood Street with his father, mother and younger sister.
Where Spanish is almost exclusively spoken, where the back window of a parked car is smashed and the glass remnants litter the sidewalk. Nearby, a pit bull repeatedly tests the tension of the chain leash -- and the strength of its owner's tattooed right arm -- as its bark resonates through the neighborhood.
This block is precisely the place the woman pushing a baby carriage on 190th Street and Fort Washington Avenue spoke of when, as she gave directions, said: "Go across Broadway and then up the hill. But that is an entirely different part of Washington Heights, that is all Dominican. I mean, it is a whole different world."
And, according to some who are close to Alvarez, the Pirates' vaunted first-round pick and No. 2 overall selection in Major League Baseball's draft last month, it is this world that might ultimately define his decision to reach agreement on a contract by the Aug. 15 deadline.
"Pedro will sign and it doesn't matter what his agent says," said Miguel Montas, the owner of a neighborhood restaurant and a close friend of the Alvarez family, through a translator. "His family wants him to sign and they will make the decision. They are just getting everything straightened out right now. Believe me, Pedro will sign with the Pirates."
INDIANAPOLIS (45-53) was off.
ALTOONA (41-54) won at Erie, 2-1. LHP Kyle Bloom (2-4, 4.24) pitched five scoreless innings and allowed one hit. He struck out six, walked one. RHP Jeff Sues (3.50) allowed one run in two innings of relief and struck out five. 1B Jason Delaney (.302) went 0 for 4 and had his hitting streak end at 15 games.
LYNCHBURG (42-52) lost at Wilmington, 9-3. LHP Tony Watson (5-9, 3.63) allowed three runs and four hits in five innings. 3B Jim Negrych (.361) went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk. 1B Jamie Romak (.300) went 1 for 3 with a double, walk and RBI.
HICKORY (41-54) split a doubleheader at Hagerstown, winning, 8-1, and losing, 6-5. In the completion of a suspended game, RHP Matt McSwain (0-1, 2.08) pitched three scoreless, hitless innings. He struck out three. In the nightcap, RHP Rafael De Los Santos (2-7, 5.19) allowed three runs and four hits in four innings. For the day, SS Jordy Mercer (.185) went 3 for 9 with a double and RBI.
STATE COLLEGE (6-20) lost at Brooklyn, 7-6. RHP Emilis Guerrero (1-3, 7.16) allowed five runs and nine hits in 3 2/3 innings. LF Cole White (.354) went 2 for 4 with a walk, an RBI and steal.
BRADENTON (10-10) beat the Twins, 4-2. RHP Brandon Holden (0-1, 3.00) pitched four scoreless innings and allowed three hits. 3B Jarek Cunningham (.396) hit his second home run and went 2 for 4 with a double.
To the inhabitants of this deeply proud, heavily Dominican neighborhood, Alvarez is already a star.
They don't just predict he's 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."
A father's dream
A short walk from the Alvarez's apartment, signs in Spanish adorn Montas' restaurant, El Nuevo Caridad.
The fare mirrors the neighborhood -- just about everything is Dominican.
You can get oxtail.
Avocados or beans influence many dishes.
Montas insists the goat stew is great.
Maybe the only thing that perks Montas up more than a restaurant full of customers is a conversation about baseball. Especially when the conversation turns to Alvarez, who he said is like a son to him.
Osbaldo Paredes -- having lunch with his wife and baby -- is summoned by Montas to translate. At times Paredes urges Montas to slow down, as Montas quickly spins from one tale of Alvarez into another.
Montas says he has known Pedro since the 21-year-old third baseman with the thunderous bat was 4.
Montas is good friends with Pedro's father, also named Pedro, and speaks to the elder Alvarez "at least" a few times each week. That's why Montas is so passionate when he speaks of Pedro Sr.'s sacrifices.
Pedro Sr., as Montas tells it, 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. He drives a cab, but he isn't the prototypical New York City cab driver.
Pedro Sr. doesn't make his living behind the wheel of one of the yellow ones that navigate the crowded streets of lower Manhattan. He is in charge of a livery cab, a community based, non-regulated black sedan that picks up passengers only for prearranged 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. Just last month, a livery cab driver was stabbed to death in Yonkers.
It is a sacrifice Alvarez makes. And that doesn't surprise Montas.
"What his father has done is amazing, he's done everything for his family," Montas said. "If it was 17, 18 hours a day, whatever, he would drive that taxi so that they had money."
Montas then pauses, points to his eyes and says: "I have seen his hard work through these eyes. I have seen what Pedro has done myself to sacrifice for his family."
Montas then tells of Pedro Sr. taking a young Pedro -- who was about 14 -- to work with baseball trainer Danilo Gonzalez at a nearby park.
Montas also tells of how Alvarez 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 -- and competitive -- high school program than the public high school Pedro would have attended, George Washington, the one that produced Rod Carew, and young Pedro Alvarez's idol, Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez.
But Montas becomes most passionate when he talks of something Pedro Sr. did not do in 2005.
His son was selected in the 14th round by the Red Sox just as his senior season at Horace Mann ended.
The Red Sox offered a $775,000 signing bonus, but at the urging of his parents, and a monumental recruiting effort by Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin, Pedro Jr. spurned a six-digit paycheck for a Nashville, Tenn., campus that was far different from his Washington Heights neighborhood.
"People thought his father was crazy when he passed up that money the first time," Montas 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.' "
Montas perked up again, a smile on his face, and he made a prediction.
"But Pedro knew what he was doing, look now where his son is," Montas exclaimed, his hands raised triumphantly. "[The younger] Pedro went to college. He is an educated man, but he is also a better ballplayer now and he will sign with the Pirates very soon. Just watch, he is going to be the next Dominican star in the major leagues. I know it, this whole neighborhood knows it."
While Montas is convinced Alvarez will sign before the Aug. 15 deadline, there has been virtually no word on the progress of the negotiations between Alvarez's adviser, Scott Boras, and the Pirates.
Both sides have been remarkably quiet.
When Alvarez was drafted by the Pirates, the organization was optimistic a deal would get done. At the time, team president Frank Coonelly said: "Yes, we're confident. We believe Pedro will be a Pittsburgh Pirate."
But general manager Neal Huntington has consistently reiterated that he will not comment on the status of the negotiations.
Alvarez also has not spoken publicly since just after he was drafted. No one answered the door at the Alvarez family apartment, and a note left under the door with contact information at the Post-Gazette elicited no response.
Boras, who has a history with taking such negotiations to the last minute, also has not returned calls seeking comment.
If Aug. 15 comes and goes without Alvarez signing a contract he still can return to Vanderbilt for his senior year, but it would seem a highly unlikely circumstance for a few reasons:
• The Alvarez family already has passed up a substantial payday, and their humble living situation would benefit greatly from the monetary rewards of a deal with the Pirates.
• Should Alvarez return to college, he likely wouldn't be the No. 2 overall selection in the 2009 draft. This past draft was pitching weak, with just three going in the top 15 picks. Next year's class, though, is ripe with pitchers. College pitchers Kyle Gibson, Stephen Strasburg, and Alex White and high school pitchers Chris Jenkins, Matt Purke and Jacob Turner are all expected to go early.
• Perhaps the biggest factor pointing to Alvarez signing soon is family.
"For Dominicans like us, family is the most important thing we have," Montas said, emphatically tapping his index finger against the table to drive home his point. "The agent was rich before and he will still be rich whatever happens with Pedro. If it comes down to it, Pedro and his family will make this decision without his agent if they have to. Pedro's family knows he should sign, and he will sign with the Pirates."