Faith, family help Alcántara’s major league ascent
By Andy Martinez
There was a lot on Marlins pitcher Sandy Alcántara’s plate as he worked his way to the majors. Like any other minor leaguer, he had training sessions, games and bus rides for road trips.
Unlike other minor leaguers, though, he also had another commitment.
Alcántara and his fellow Latino players with the Class AA Springfield Cardinals had regular English lessons. The hard-throwing righthander and his teammates would take a bus to their classes. One day, though, Alcántara and his teammates got in a bit of trouble.
“I had to get to my English class and I couldn’t get there early because we lived far,” Alcántara said. “The class was at 1 p.m. and we got out late and the bus left us. We had to take an Uber and it was tough.”
He had a talking to from manager Johnny Rodríguez: don’t do it again.
Later in the season, Alcántara was called into Rodríguez’s office. Worry crept into Alcántara’s mind.
“He tells me ‘We have two bits of news, good news and bad news,’” Alcántara said.
“Which would you like to hear first?” Rodriguez asked Alcántara.
“I said, ‘Tell me the good news,’” Alcántara said.
The good news wasn’t anything Alcántara was expecting.
“The good news is, they called you up to the big leagues,” Rodríguez said.
Alcántara’s eyes swelled up. He fought back tears. He thanked Rodríguez, his coaches and his teammates before heading off to the big leagues.
After that moment had settled, Rodríguez broke the bad news.
“I have to quit missing classes,” Alcántara said with a laugh.
His road to the majors, like most other Latino players, wasn’t simple.
At the age of 11, Alcántara’s parents decided to have him move in with his sister, Aridia, who lived in Santo Domingo, nearly three hours away from his hometown of Azua.
“It was something difficult,” Alcántara said. “My dad took the decision to send me with her so that I could practice baseball and study as well because in my house, there’s a lot of us. (I have) 10 brothers and sisters.”
Even after the move, though, it wasn’t a clear path.
His first time on a diamond near his sister’s house, he played a game and was placed in the outfield. A grounder got through the infield and found its way to him.
“I had no idea how to throw,” Alcántara admitted. “So, I grabbed the ball and I threw it to where the catcher was.”
He laughs about it now, but it was just the start of his path to the big leagues that would be littered with speed bumps.
When he finally signed with the Cardinals as a 16-year-old international free agent, there were doubters. The biggest one was Alcántara himself.
“I began to have a lot of doubt in myself,” Alcántara said. “I thought I wasn’t going to reach the majors because I was too skinny. I weighed around 145 pounds.”
He turned to the one outlet that has always been with him: his faith.
“I started praying to God and those doubts left me,” Alcántara said.
That led him to change his workout regimen and diet.
“I did everything differently,” Alcántara said. “I started going to the gym constantly. I started lifting more weights. I started eating more plantains, more mangú, lots of rice and things like that.”
It paid off. Today he weighs 210 pounds.
“I feel super happy about my weight and I thank God every moment for letting me be here in this moment,” Alcántara said.
His struggles didn’t stop there.
When he first came to America, he felt a bit helpless.
“It was a bit tough because I didn’t know any English,” Alcántara said. “I didn’t know how to defend myself, how to order food.”
Luckily when he came to the United States, he was with his best friend, Junior Fernández, who signed with the Cardinals out of the Dominican Republic a year after Alcántara did.
“He speaks English, so we would go to Chipotle,” Alcántara said. “I would listen when he would order so I would try and say it, but it wouldn’t come out. So, since I couldn’t, he said he would order my food.”
He did learn some English, well, at least his Chipotle order.
“Rice, beans and ‘el Chicken,’” Alcántara said with a smile.
Alcántara, who is 2-5 with a 4.50 ERA over 10 starts this season, was traded to the Marlins as part of a package for Marcell Ozuna in the winter after his brief cameo as a September callup with the Cardinals in 2017.
Alcántara threw his first shutout on May 19, striking out eight and walking one. He hopes to keep repaying the Marlins’ faith in him.
“I missed my old team a little, but I know that a decision to trade me was their decision,” he said. “I have to be where God gives me the opportunity to be. The Marlins gave that to me, so I had to go with them. I feel happy and I hope they keep giving me the opportunity to be with them always.”
Featured Image: Mark Brown / Getty Images Sport