For the Madera Tribune
Former Madera South Stallions pitcher Garrett Alvarez delivers a pitch for the Western Oregon Timberwolves last season. Alvarez will continue pitching this year for the Independent League Bakersfield Train Robbers.
Former Madera South baseball player Garrett Alvarez plays professional baseball, but unlike the superstars in the big leagues, he pays to play.
Alvarez will play his first full season of independent ball this year, after playing a month last year for the White Sands PupFish of the Pecos League in Alamogordo, New Mexico. After the season ended last year, he was traded to the Bakersfield Train Robbers, which works out nicely for him because it is the closest team geographically to Madera in the same league.
The league pays only $65 a week, and Alvarez is unable to hold a job during the season because the teams play nearly every day. He goes in the hole financially every week he plays.
“You’ve got to love the game to be able to live off of that,” Alvarez said. “The money doesn’t matter to me. To me, the money never mattered.”
The small paycheck is just one of many hurdles Alvarez, 25, has faced throughout his baseball career, from high school to where he is now.
Alvarez attended Madera South, graduating in 2010. He was one of the first students to ever attend the school when it opened in 2006, which posed some challenges for athletics. Only freshman and sophomores were available to play against other schools’ juniors and seniors at the varsity level.
Although he was often playing against older competition, Alvarez got the opportunity to play varsity baseball for four years as well as run cross country. He was mostly a pitcher for the Stallions, but he also played outfield, first and third base. In his junior year, Alvarez and the team made it to the Valley Championship but lost. However, Alvarez was part of two championship winning cross country teams his junior and senior year.
After high school Alvarez wanted to play baseball for a four-year university, but instead attended West Hills Community College in Coalinga.
“It was the only school I went to because I didn’t get any colleges to come talk to me about playing at the next level,” Alvarez said. “They were the only school that showed up at our senior day.”Alvarez served as a starting pitcher his first year at West Hills and came out of the bullpen a few times. He pitched well, but had to face one of the hardest challenges in his life. On April Fool’s Day the athletic director, assistant coach and athletic trainer called the team together and told them that their coach, Paul “Archie” Hodsdon, passed away. Unfortunately, it was not an April Fool’s joke, and it made the rest of the season very rough, Alvarez said.
His second season at West Hills was tough for Alvarez; the new coach only gave him one start.
“It was pretty rough, and it hurt me trying to get looks to play somewhere else at the next level for a four-year,” Alvarez said.
No four-year university contacted him after West Hills, so he ended up playing in the Fresno Men’s Baseball League for two years while trying to find a college to attend. He played every Sunday during the summer in the league, playing with men who were a few years older than him.
While playing in the men’s league, Alvarez managed a Babe Ruth team in Madera and also coached at Madera South.
Alvarez got his first big break when he attended a tryout for Japanese league scouts at Chukchansi Park in Fresno. There he met Scott David, a catcher who originally attended Fresno State, but transferred to Western Oregon. David said he would tell his former coaches at Western Oregon about Alvarez.
A week later a coach called Alvarez, so he drove up to Oregon, worked out with the team and received an offer to join. He walked on, beat out a senior for a starting job and played two years.
After college play, Alvarez returned to Madera without any looks for pro ball. Another person he met at the Chukchansi Park tryout set him up with the independent league team in New Mexico, so he drove 17 hours, only stopping at a gas station to sleep in his car for a few minutes. That led to the one-month stay with the PupFish to finish out the season, and then to the trade to the Bakersfield Train Robbers.
Alvarez recently left his dispatching job in Fresno working for his former Babe Ruth and Madera South coach Jeff Cox to fully prepare to leave for Bakersfield. Alvarez said that Cox has been a mentor and is like an older brother.
“One of the main reasons I targeted Garrett to come work for me here was his attitude and his work ethic,” Cox said. “That was very apparent as soon as we hired him. He immediately got promoted and just did very well in every facet of the business we threw him in.”
Cox said that Alvarez was born a leader, has always been a great teammate and has a great attitude. Alvarez’s perseverance through his career does not surprise Cox, and he expects Alvarez to follow his dreams.
Along with Cox, Mark Lohuis mentored Alvarez at Madera South, serving as his pitching coach. Lohuis said that Alvarez was highly coachable and applied what he learned to his play on the field.
“He became more mentally focused and had a desire and a goal to succeed, and he wanted to go to the next level and was successful at that level also,” Lohuis said.
Lohuis said that Alvarez talked to him about his future in baseball, unsure of what to do.
“He said, ‘Well what do I do?’ And I said, ‘Well, in my experience and everything else, what you need to do is play until they tell you you can’t play,’” Lohuis said. “So that’s what he’s done. He’s shot after that goal to keep on playing until he can’t anymore.”
Alvarez indeed plans on playing as long as he can. He’s had people tell him that they regret not playing longer, and others told him to give it up and find a real job. He said he doesn’t talk to the naysayers anymore.
“People can tell me no, but that’s not going to stop me,” Alvarez said. “I know what I’ve been through. I don’t need to brag about what I’ve done. I don’t like to, but I like to be proud of what I’ve done so far.”