Pirates Spring Training: Alvarez in baseball shape
Pedro Alvarez takes a lead off the bag during baserunning drills at the Pirates' training complex on Sept. 30.
The Pirates' Steve Pearce takes batting practice during the first day of spring training yesterday in Bradenton Fla.
Right hander Dinesh Patel from India was offered a contract by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Patel, a cricket player who had not picked up a baseball until April, became the first athlete from India to sign a professional baseball contract.
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BRADENTON, Fla.-- First, there was the wait, a 3 1/2-month dispute over a contract for this second-overall draft pick. Then came the weight.
Befitting the inauguration of this annual baseball rite, a slightly trimmer, slimmer Pedro Alvarez yesterday exuded sunshine and warmth as he stood inside Pirate City, where he already has begun toiling toward a spring training that officially opens today for pitchers and catchers.
"I'm always trying to work as much as I can to keep my body in as good a shape as possible," the Pirates' top selection said yesterday after more batting and fielding practice at the Pirates' spring base. He added that he's not in "shape shape, but baseball shape ... catching balls, being light on my feet, hitting. It's working out right now."
Alvarez, a former Vanderbilt third baseman listed at 6 foot 3 and 234 pounds, didn't specify how much weight he has gained or shed while spending parts of December, January and February at the complex off 27th Street East. But he admitted that his conditioning was hampered greatly when diagnosed with tendinitis in both knees after the contract-haggling period spent away from competitive baseball.
"It was tough," said Alvarez.
He was drafted June 5, signed after hours Aug. 16 apparently, signed anew Sept. 24 after a grievance and sent to Bradenton for Instructional League for three weeks before the door was closed on his season.
"The entire offseason, I was shut down. ... It's widely known that when you shut down the running game, you do gain a few pounds. That's why I'm doing everything I can.
"I'm feeling really good, and we're taking good care of it."
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said: "Pedro has made progress and will continue to work hard to get into quality condition. He is ready to take the field in his first major league spring training, and we are committed to helping him fulfill his vast potential."
In mid-January, after Alvarez in minicamp appeared overweight and at less than his usual strength, Pirates president Frank Coonelly talked about how the draftee caught a glimpse of "what it takes to get into really first-class physical condition for a professional athlete."
It was part of a trying calendar year for Alvarez, who turned 22 Feb. 6. He began 2008 with a broken hamate bone in February and ended with nine home runs and 30 RBIs in 40 Vanderbilt games, the most recent competition he faced. After signing a four-year contract that included a $6 million bonus, he reported to Bradenton last fall, as Coonelly put it, "not in good condition."
Yesterday, Alvarez was effusive about immersing himself in the Pirates' environment.
"It's always a privilege and an honor to be here," he said. "It's nice to be here a little bit early and get acclimated, even though it was a little cold two weeks ago. Getting to hit with some guys, getting to learn a lot from them.
"My goal in camp ... is to learn as much as I can from those guys. There are some experienced guys, major league guys. Just to be with these guys is amazing. I'm like a sponge off them. I'm just trying to learn as much as I can and take it with me the rest of my career."
NOTES -- Most of the position players on the 40-man roster also have been hitting, fielding and working at the complex, in advance of the official reporting date Monday. ... Pitchers and catchers, who officially start workouts at noon today, had until midnight last night to report -- and none was expected to arrive late because of traveling or visa difficulties. ... What's new at Pirate City? Some areas are blocked off to Pirates personnel, and the fields and walkways are alive with foreign languages: World Baseball Classic teams from Korea and the Netherlands are training here before they open play the first weekend of March in Japan and Puerto Rico.
First Published February 14, 2009 12:00 am