Although Yordan Álvarez‘s close relatives, friends and even teammates told him he would be the American League Rookie of the Year, the Astros’ Cuban slugger refused to take anything for granted.
Álvarez said often throughout the season that he wasn’t surprised by his impressive exploits. He wasn’t surprised when he homered in his big league debut after teammates jokingly told him he needed to avoid a fine.
The 22-year-old from La Tunas, Cuba, finally admitted that he was surprised Monday night when he was named as only the 11th unanimous selection for the Jackie Robinson AL Rookie of the Year Award by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“Everybody, including my family and everybody, said I would be the winner, but until it was official I wasn’t sure,” he said. “I was surprised when they said it was unanimous, but I was super happy about it.”
The Astros’ designated hitter celebrated the news with his wife and young child in his offseason home in Tampa, Fla., soon after he was informed of the unanimous selection during a live telecast on MLB Network.
He spent the next hour handling media obligations while eagerly waiting for the opportunity to call his father Agustin back in Las Tunas.
Agustin Álvarez has yet to see his son play in person in the majors. He and Yordan speak almost daily via phone. They are extremely close, so the separation has been difficult on the family.
They knew the unfair bargain the younger Álvarez made when he defected in 2016 from Cuba, where most ballplayers leave knowing they may never return.
Ever since the late Fidel Castro overthrew the Fulgencio Batista’s government in 1959, as a whole Cuban baseball players have sacrificed more than any other Latin American major leaguers.
The island was closed for many years for those who decided to chase their baseball dreams in the majors, including Hall of Famer Tony Pérez, the legendary Minnie Miñoso, 1964 AL Rookie of the Year Tony Oliva all the way down to 2014 AL Rookie of the Year José Abreu and Álvarez.
“I have part of my family here in the house,” Álvarez said. “When they gave us the news, we all got very happy. We celebrated together. I haven’t been able to speak to my parents because I haven’t finished my interviews.
“I’m waiting to finish these interviews so that I can reach them.”
Álvarez became the third Astros player to win the Rookie of the Year Award, following Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell, the 1991 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner, and 2015 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner Carlos Correa.
Álvarez earned his unanimous selection after hitting a franchise rookie record 27 home runs with 78 RBI and a 1.067 OPS over 88 games.
The late Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, who won the 1959 NL Rookie of the Year Award, is the only Rookie of the Year Award winner to have played in fewer games than Álvarez in their rookie seasons.
McCovey played in 52 games for the San Francisco Giants in 1959. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Álvarez has actually drawn comparisons to McCovey.
To appreciate some of the sacrifices that Álvarez made, one can compare the different ways the Astros’ last two Rookies of the Year celebrated their awards.
In 2015, Correa was honored with a celebration in the town square of his hometown in Puerto Rico. He was in the center of it all with his parents and siblings while his entire hometown celebrated.
Four years later, Álvarez had a modest celebration in Tampa with a few loved ones while his parents were on the other side of the Straits of Florida in Cuba.
They both celebrated because ultimately this was the goal.
“Ever since you get here to an organization, you have your mind set on getting to the big leagues,” Álvarez said. “I think that when I got the opportunity I took advantage of it really well. I’m super happy. I think I’ve always dreamed of this, and thank God I’m living that dream.”
If you’ve ever had a child, you probably appreciate how difficult the sacrifice and the separation has been for Álvarez and his parents.
Yet, there’s nothing parents love more than seeing their children accomplish their goals and live out their dreams.
Yordan Álvarez is definitely living out his dream. The sacrifice has been worth it even if the pain endures.
Featured Image: Jean Fruth