My previous two articles have focused on the struggles and challenges that emanate from dreams of one day putting on a big league uniform and making it to “The Show”. These stories about people like Dylan Bundy, who despite possessing far reaching baseball talent has only seen his body thwart his efforts to pitch in the majors…….. And Chase Lambin, who toiled in the minors for thirteen years (but doesn’t regret it) while never getting an at bat in the majors.
In doing the research on these men, it occurred to me that baseball indeed teaches us life lessons that can’t be learned elsewhere. And further, that success in any venture is almost always tied to skill, determination, and a splash of luck. The balance of which I have yet to figure out……
Today, we’ll take a look at another baseball story and one that is still yet a different one that has its own built in intrigue. It’s the story of another name from anonymity – Jorge Alvarez……….
The road to the Major Leagues is not smoothly paved for most, nor is it wide and straight. It has twists and turns and bumps along the way that often require decisions to be made by the men who play the game. As we have learned, some of these decisions are (for the most part) beyond their control. Still, they require either a recommitment or maybe a acknowledgement that it’s time to move on. They’re called career decisions and we all make them.
But for a ballplayer though, or any athlete really, it’s different. Because there are only so many years and seasons in a baseball life. And suddenly, that 95mph fastball that looked like a basketball coming in at you now looks like a golf ball. Or, the 100 reps of sit-ups you used to do every day in December during the offseason now becomes a intrusive chore that conflicts with taking your daughter to soccer practice.
Other variables in the equation persist as well. Are you, as an example, Mickey Mantle from “Hicksville “, Oklahoma who is “spotted ” by Tom Greenwade, a wayward independent scout who lobbies successfully and passionately for his prize find. Or, maybe you’re Wally Pipp who just happened to be in the right place at the right time when Lou Gehrig was stuck down with a life threatening disease………..
And you can go on down the line listing reasons and variables that play into why some make it and some don’t. But the real story here is that some simply just don’t care. They are doing what they have chosen to do. And it’s only a matter of degree that separates a ballplayer from Single A, Double AA, and Triple AAA. Because no matter what venue you enter as a fan, you’ll always see the adulation gifted to the men on the field. The autograph lines and the media will be there to spawn attention on these men who play. For many, that is simply enough. And whether you are refining your skills on a warm summer day or a chilly September evening, it’s all the same…….you are a professional ballplayer.
Which brings us to Jorge Alvarez (Baseball Reference Stats). His career in baseball began in 1988 and did not end until 23 years later in 2012. It was a career that spanned seasons with teams in the minors, independent, and foreign leagues. Over that time, he played for fifteen different teams and none of those were a team from the Major Leagues. He went to the plate 7,000 times, hit nearly 200 home runs as an infielder, and compiled more than 2,000 hits.
At the time of his retirement as a player, his name was all over the record book of the reborn American Association. He led the league in career hits with 602, runs scored with 393, doubles with 134 and RBIs with 333. (Hardball Times )
But here’s where I take a turn from the same article in Hardball Times when they write, “But one could justifiably say he made it big in the small leagues. But his career, distinctive as it is, is kind of a downer. In fact, the frustrations and discouragements he encountered sound like the travails of a real job: You pay your dues, you work hard, you’re good at what you do, you keep your nose clean, but… you never get that invitation to join the club, meaning you don’t get the promotion, the raise, or whatever. No, you don’t get the brass ring, and the more you think about it, the more you wonder if the brass ring was ever there in the first place. Maybe it was just a dream.”
It’s not a “downer” and it’s not necessarily about a dream. It’s about a man from the Dominican Republic doing what HE wants to do and choosing a career that will pay him no more than a short order cook in a diner………but maybe he doesn’t care……. And he is grateful for what he has here AND he gets to play the game he loves.
Baseball has been and hopefully will continue to be an avenue for immigrants to climb the social ladder. And with recent openings to Cuba especially, those opportunities will hopefully increase. Because in the end, it’s not about your Hall Of Fame credentials………it’s about how you played the game………regardless of the level you were playing at. For Dylan Bundy, Chase Lambin, and Jorge Alvarez……..they carved out their niche in life and stuck to it……… And the game of baseball is better for it.