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February 12, 2008

Alvarez leaving legacy at Vandy

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The United States is considered by many to be the land of opportunity. As with many immigrants, Pedro and Luz Alvarez left the Dominican Republic for New York with hopes of a better life for their family.

Before arriving in the States, Luz gave birth to the couple's youngest son. They named the boy Pedro, after his father. That boy, Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez, has grown up to become the best player in college baseball.

ALL EYES ON ALVAREZ
Vanderbilt junior third baseman Pedro Alvarez is the nation's best player.

Alvarez' career numbers
Year AB H 2B HR RBI AVG
2007 272 105 21 18 68 .386
2006 240 79 15 22 64 .329
What once was a move filled with uncertainty has since become a positive. The Alvarez family doesn't have a lot of money, but job stability isn't a problem. Alvarez's father works as a cab driver in New York City, while Luz is a part-time babysitter.

Despite the many obstacles the Alvarezes have faced, the youngest son has found success through athletics and academics.

The Vanderbilt standout became familiar with baseball by playing in a local little league when he was 8. In the process, he established a connection with the sport that likely never will wane.

Alvarez caught everyone's attention with a successful high school career. He had heard about Vanderbilt as a student at the prestigious Horace Mann School in The Bronx. During his junior season, Alvarez's travel team — the Bayside Yankees — made a trip to Nashville to compete in a tournament. Alvarez saw the Vanderbilt campus and soon decided to sign with the Commodores.

Even after Alvarez signed with the Commodores, coach Tim Corbin and his staff had another obstacle to overcome — the possibility of their star recruit turning pro.

As the 2005 MLB Draft approached, the Vandy coaching staff wasn't sure if their gem from New York would play college ball.

Alvarez was drafted by his favorite team — Boston — in the 14th round, and Corbin wasn't sure what to expect.

"I didn't know if we'd win this battle because Pedro's favorite team had just drafted him and he was offered a decent amount of money," Corbin said. "He was also surrounded by some people who weren't exactly pushing him to go to college."

Despite the possibility of a significant signing bonus, his parents stressed the idea of education.

"I still remember Pedro's dad told me that he was going to get a degree no matter what," Corbin said. "I credit his parents for putting him in a private school to begin with."

When it came time to make a decision, Alvarez chose Vanderbilt over the Red Sox. He hasn't regretted his decision.

"My parents were going to support my decision, no matter what, but in the end we didn't think the professional route was the best for several reasons," Alvarez said. "I'd say the decision has worked out for the best."

Alvarez meeting expectations

Since deciding to attend college three years ago, much has changed for Alvarez.

Alvarez only sees his parents a few times during the baseball season. Despite the separation from his family, Alvarez feels as if his time in Nashville has been well-spent.

"Off the field, I've enjoyed the experience of living on my own and learning to manage my time," he said. "It can be tough for some, but it's been good for me."

As a freshman in 2006, Alvarez batted .329 with 22 homers and 64 RBIs. He continued to have success last season by hitting .386 with 18 homers and 68 RBIs.

For that and more, Alvarez is the Rivals.com Preseason Player of the Year.

"I respect the way Pedro has progressed as a player," Corbin said. "He has great work habits and has improved a great deal. He's a rare commodity."

As was the case when he recruited Alvarez, Corbin still credits Pedro and Luz for what their son has become as a player and person.

"He listens to his parents and knows good information when he gets it," he said. "He makes smart decisions, and it shows each day of his life."

Not thinking ahead

With Alvarez entering his junior season, much will change in the coming months. Phone calls likely will increase and accolades will continue to pile up for him.

Alvarez is the top prospect in college baseball, and likely will be the first pick of the 2008 MLB draft.

Alvarez still is trying to comprehend that possibility.

"Growing up, I knew baseball was going to be an important part of my life, but I certainly didn't think it would take me this far," he said. "Hopefully I can play baseball for the rest of my life."

While the draft is something Alvarez may focus on later this season, his focus currently is on helping Vanderbilt reach the College World Series.

"In terms of external stuff like awards, accolades and prospect rankings, I don't really pay attention to it," he said. "It might sound clich้, but my first and only focus is trying to help this team go the distance."

Corbin believes in Alvarez's ability to stay focused.

"It's not about any individual player in this program. We don't get lost in the individual aspect," he said. "You reach all your goals in this program if you join the team effort. He likes to win, and it's important for him to win. He immerses himself in the idea of team."

Even when trying to deflect attention from himself, Alvarez couldn't help but smile when he was asked which professional organization he hopes drafts him in June. Despite his love for the Red Sox, Alvarez answered smartly: "I'll be happy with whatever team gives me a chance."

The Alvarezes moved to the United States years ago looking for more opportunities for their family. To that end, Pedro and his family are living the American Dream.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.