Bucs' Alvarez makes New York homecoming

Bucs' Alvarez makes New York homecoming

NEW YORK -- His hometown is well known for treating outsiders brusquely and indifferently, so you can pardon Pedro Alvarez if he wasn't sure how he'd be received at Citi Field on Monday night. Alvarez, playing in New York for the first time as an adult, was greeted by a sizable section of friends and family that welcomed his arrival.

Pittsburgh's third baseman recounted that experience Tuesday, hours before he took the field for a repeat engagement. Alvarez, the second overall selection in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, hadn't played in New York since his days starring at Horace Mann School in the Bronx, where he set virtually every offensive record.

Alvarez went from Horace Mann -- where he was named Gatorade and Louisville Slugger High School Player of the Year for New York -- to Vanderbilt University, where he became a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award and a first-team All-American. Now, he's learning the ropes in Pittsburgh, where he sometimes gets lost in the crowd.

For three days, at least, Alvarez is back where it all began and giving a sense of the player he might become.

"It's definitely a very cool experience," he said. "I hadn't been able to play here since I left for college, and I had a bunch of family and friends come out and support me. It was a good feeling. I was glad to have their support. Obviously, it's nice to be on the road and see people cheering for you. It was definitely very special and a lot of fun."

The Alvarez supporters made sure to clad themselves in yellow Monday night, and the rookie said the experience was something he'd never forget. Alvarez, who grew up in nearby Washington Heights -- which is also where noted slugger Manny Ramirez was raised -- said he didn't root for either the Mets or the Yankees growing up.

He rooted for the Red Sox, he said, because that was his father's favorite team. Alvarez had a chance to sign with Boston in 2004, when he was selected as a 14th-round draftee, but he elected to go to college instead. Alvarez said that he saw some games at Shea Stadium but was just happy to be close to home.

Pittsburgh manager John Russell said that he wasn't concerned about the trip home becoming a distraction for Alvarez, and he said that the timing may have worked well in that regard. The Pirates are trying to figure out who fits where in the season's final month, and Russell just wants Alvarez to continue being himself.

"Pedro's handled everything well since he's been called up," said Russell of Alvarez. "I guess you could say that it could've been a distraction, because it's been talked about for a long time. But he's got some young guys around him that have been through it. Andrew McCutchen went through it, and Neil Walker kind of went through it being a hometown kid. He's had guys to talk to, but it's always fun to go home and play in front of your family and a lot of your friends. I know he's very excited to be here."

Alvarez, a three-year captain and four-year starter at Horace Mann, has enjoyed a relatively quick rise through the organization. Regarded as a polished hitter out of college, Alvarez needed just 66 games at Class A Lynchburg before he was promoted, and he batted .333 with 13 home runs in 60 games for Double-A Altoona.

Alvarez began this year with Triple-A Indianapolis, where he batted .277 with 13 homers and 53 RBIs in 60 games before making the big-league leap. And after struggling initially -- batting just .152 through his first 14 games -- Alvarez has established some consistency, batting in between .244 and .255 in July, August and September.

And while he may have expected a quicker start than that, Alvarez understands the lay of the land.

"I expected a learning period," he said. "I'm still making adjustments, but I think I'm learning a lot and feeling a lot more comfortable than I did when I first got here. Guys have stuff that's a little better here, and guys are a little smarter. But for the most part, I wouldn't call it a major difference. It's more [subtle], more refined."

Alvarez, who batted fifth on Tuesday, is playing alongside fellow youngsters McCutchen, Walker and Jose Tabata, and the Pirates also have a potential impact player in Lastings Milledge. Throw in second-year infielder Garrett Jones and it's clear that Pittsburgh has several players who are still trying to figure out how to play at this level.

Alvarez has a fairly thick support system, but he still maintains a rigidly insular focus.

"Everyone's different," he said. "I didn't know what to expect, and I'm just glad I've made the progress I've made. You've just got to stay positive every day. I think we can all relate to each other, and this is all I know right now. I have nothing else to compare it to, so I'm just glad I'm getting this opportunity and that we're all in the same situation."

Russell, meanwhile, has the hardest job of all: Staying patient and getting the most out of his talented cast of players. Alvarez has batted .273 with 10 home runs at home and .189 with one homer on the road, but Russell believes that he'll find his best form as long as he keeps up his intensity and his mental discipline.

"He's continuing to get better each week with his approach and the way he goes about things," said Russell. "He's a guy that's still developing as well, and he's going to go through some bumps in the road. He comes out of them pretty well, and that's what we're hoping as we continue to push for gradual improvement. ... He's going to have some nights where he doesn't look great, but he's a young player that's still trying to do some things. He's a power hitter and you have to make some adjustments, and we're starting to see some of those adjustments being made."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.