HOUSTON – It has been three years since Yordan Álvarez last saw his parents, so it would be wrong to say the Astros’ young, Cuban slugger accomplished his true goal in his major league debut Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.
The powerful, 6-foot-5 rookie’s parents are back in Cuba, so his ultimate dream is to have his parents Agustin and Mailin in the stands at Minute Maid Park watching and cheering for him.
Álvarez’s parents were not among the crowd of 35,621 for his debut, so naturally he was eager to get on the phone with them soon after he drilled a two-run home run Sunday to help the Astros beat the Orioles 4-0.
“My parents are in Cuba,” he said, “but I have a wife and a daughter here. … One of the goals that I have right now is to bring them here to see me in the big leagues.”
Fortunately for Álvarez, he has plenty of support inside the Astros’ clubhouse already. Fellow Cubans Aledmys Díaz and Yuli Gurriel were among the ones who kept close contact with him as he torched Class AAA pitchers this season with the Round Rock Express.
Díaz was one of the first Astros to reach out to Álvarez on Saturday after he was informed that he would be called up to the majors.
“I was very happy because it wasn’t the first message he’d sent me,” Álvarez said of Díaz’s text. “He had sent me several uplifting messages telling me to be ready because the time could be at any moment. Yesterday when I saw his message I got very happy to know they’re thinking of you and showing confidence in you.”
Big leaguers show affection through slight teasing. They even show confidence through faux threats, which is how the Astros welcomed Álvarez into the clubhouse on Sunday morning when he arrived.
The 2017 World Series champions have been tracking Álvarez’s home run prowess all season, watching in awe from afar as he sent souvenirs into the Dell Diamond bleachers with impunity.
They all knew it was only a matter of time until Álvarez, 21, was rewarded for dominating the Pacific Coast League. He was hitting .343 with 16 doubles and 23 home runs at Round Rock when the native of Las Tunas, Cuba, finally got the call to the majors.
“He’s outperformed Triple-A,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “It’s time to challenge him in the big leagues. … There’s not a ballpark that can hold him. So he’s got power to any part of the field. I think the thing that impresses me the most or has impressed me the most has been his discipline.”
Álvarez showed off that discipline and power in his debut, going 1-for-3 with a two-run homer in his second at-bat in the majors and a five-pitch walk in his final plate appearance of his debut.
On the most memorable day of Álvarez’s professional career, it’s interesting to note that the pregame reception is what the Cuban slugger thinks he’ll remember most from his debut.
For the record, though, he flew out to left field on a 1-0 pitch in his first at-bat in the second inning against Orioles righthander Dylan Bundy.
He strolled to the plate for his second at-bat against Bundy in the fourth inning after Gurriel singled to center. He took a 92-mph fastball. Then he drilled a 1-0 changeup the other way, seemingly effortlessly, for a two-run blast over the left-center field wall.
As the crowd roared to its feet, Álvarez crossed home plate and then flashed a wide smile as he gave fellow Cuban Gurriel a high-five with both hands.
Then as he neared the dugout steps he gave Alex Bregman a high-five as 2017 American League MVP Jose Altuve rushed out of the dugout and gave him a high-five.
“It’s what we expected,” Altuve said. “Obviously we were checking his numbers at Triple-A. We all spoke highly of him. We saw how well he played in spring training.
“But in my case the thing I like the most about him is that he’s a very good person. Sometimes it’s not all about talent. You always want somebody on the same page as you. You can see he is committed to help the team and that he’s a team player.”
The home run eased some pressure off Álvarez’s broad shoulders.
It also rewarded the fans and teammates who showed up expecting him to hit a home run.
“Don’t confuse his size for his age,” Hinch said. “He’s a young guy. This is all brand new for him. From his experience in the spring with us I think our guys opened up with him, so he should feel comfortable in our clubhouse.
“This is a big deal. It’s nice that he delivers. I don’t know how many people were in the stadium today, but they all can take credit for probably saying, ‘Hey, he’s going to homer.’ Then he delivers. That’s an incredible performance for him when that’s all everybody wanted from him. That’s what everybody expected, and he did it.”
The fans weren’t the only ones expecting a home run from Álvarez, who will celebrate his 22nd birthday on June 27. A great majority of his teammates playfully greeted him by saying he would be fined if he didn’t hit a home run.
Twenty years from now, those playful threats are what he vows to remember the most from his debut.
“I think what I’ll never forget is that everybody told me that I needed to hit a home run or else they’d have to fine me,” he said with a smile. “Everybody, (Carlos) Correa, the pitchers, they told me if I didn’t hit a home run they’d fine me. I hit a home run. I don’t have to pay a fine.”
He delivered, as expected.
Now, he’ll continue to dream for a day when he can bring his parents from Cuba so they can see him at Minute Maid Park too. He last saw them when he was in the Dominican Republic three years ago after defecting from Cuba.
Until then, he’ll settle for the joy he heard in their voices on Saturday when he told them he was heading to the majors. He broke the news only after disguising his mood by telling his parents that he had been pulled out of a game prematurely.
“Why? What happened?” his parents wondered with worry clearly in his voice.
Their concern was eased when he told them he was likely headed to the majors.
The big slugger was greeted with silence on the other end for a few seconds.
“They were quiet for a moment, and then they were able to talk,” he said. “And they were very happy.
“They were super happy. It’s something we’ve been waiting for. We left our country for this objective. To give them the news that we’ve accomplished it is something very important.”
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