03/31/11 2:55 AM ET
Bucs' Alvarez excited for first Opening Day
Third baseman among eight Pirates ready for first season opener
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
The anticipation of another momentous first is even enough to loosen up an often reserved Alvarez.
There is nothing new about the location, as Alvarez is familiar enough with Wrigley Field -- and its tight visiting clubhouse quarters -- after making a pair of trips to Chicago last season. And there should be no trepidation about sliding into the fifth hole in the Pirates' batting order, given that Alvarez hit from that spot in the majority of his 95 Major League appearances last season.
But all that might be familiar will be trumped by what's not on Friday. After opening seasons in Class A and Triple-A, Alvarez will do so -- for the first time -- in the Majors this year.
"I don't think anything can match that call-up and that first day in the Major Leagues," Alvarez said. "Nonetheless, this is still going to be very special and I'm looking forward to it. Again, I'm just really, really eager to start the year."
Alvarez is one of eight Pirates players who have earned their way onto a big league Opening Day roster for the first time. Yet, Alvarez sharing that distinction with seven others -- including Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and James McDonald -- doesn't stop the spotlight from shining just a little bit brighter on the 24-year-old Vanderbilt product as he prepares to open his first full season in the Majors.
Chosen as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Alvarez shot up through the Pirates' Minor League system in a hurry. One hundred and ninety two games split between three Minor League levels were deemed enough for the third baseman to earn what should be the final promotion of his career. That came last summer.
There were growing pains in Year One -- the 119 strikeouts in 347 at-bats and 17 errors at third top that list. But there were glimpses of great potential, too, particularly within Alvarez's stellar final month. And no one has yet forgotten the chills from that Aug. 7 night, when Alvarez sent a sellout crowd into a frenzy with a three-run, walk-off homer against the Rockies.
Now, the question is -- how big of a step can Alvarez take in his sophomore campaign?
"I feel good," Alvarez said. "I've learned a lot and I'm going to keep learning a lot. As Spring Training closes up, I'm starting to feel more comfortable at the plate and on defense. I'm just really eager to see how the year starts. I can't wait for it to start."
Alvarez would prefer that all the attention be on the 2011 Pirates team, and not on him individually. That's not to say that the third baseman is naïve. He understands his Draft status and offensive ceiling prevent him from being just another one of the 25. And he's polished enough to handle the scrutiny.
But that won't stop him from continuing to detour discussion away from himself -- especially when the discussion turns to the topic of expectations.
"We don't really care about what the external expectations are," Alvarez said. "We care about putting our best effort forward. We know that our best effort is going to get us to where we want to be. We just focus every day on getting better and focusing on ourselves and taking care of each other. Anything outside of that doesn't pertain to us."
For any criticism that may have been thrust upon Alvarez at the start of Spring Training (and there was plenty, particularly surrounding an erroneous report of significant weight gain), he shed it immediately through his work ethic.
Consistently one of the most diligent workers this spring -- both on the offensive and defensive ends -- Alvarez refuses to rely on talent alone. He's ready to take a step forward, which begins by embracing the experience of Opening Day.
"I'm very excited," Alvarez said. "We've been working hard and working a lot. I think we're ready to go, in terms of work and just to stop getting up at six in the morning. We're very eager to start the year. We're very optimistic with how the year is going to turn out."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.