Alvarez no fish out of water in debut spring with A’s

R.J. Alvarez brings explosive fastball and dreams of being in A's bullpen in 2015.

R.J. Alvarez brings explosive fastball and dreams of being in A’s bullpen in 2015.

When you hear that a baseball player was just born to play the game, metaphor is in play.

In the case of A’s relief pitcher R.J. Alvarez, it’s true.

Roy and Susie Alvarez both are baseball fanatics. When their son R.J. (Roy Jr., of course) was born on June 8, 1991 in West Palm Beach, Fla., Roy Sr. met him for the first time with a gift – a baseball glove.

“I think Susie kind of expected it,’’ he said. “We dated in high school, and it was always about baseball.’’

Roy played through college at North Florida, then played in traveling teams around the Southeast for the better part of two decades. He didn’t stop playing until he was 38, and then it was to become a high school baseball coach.

“My dad taught me baseball and fishing, and those are the two things I love doing the most,’’ R.J. said. “I had a glove from the time I was born. And I was always out on the water.’’

Susie Alvarez keeps mementos of R.J.’s baseball history at home. One of those is a “What do you want to be when you grow up?’’ questionnaire he got as a first grader. He wrote “I want to be a professional baseball player.’’

And that he is, although not the kind that mom and dad had envisioned. Seeing the young R.J. as a hitter, Roy worked on him to be a middle infielder. He wasn’t bad, but something was missing.

“He can hit, he can put on a show in batting practice,’’ Roy said. “That’s as long as you throw him fastballs. He can’t hit a curve. He was a pretty good player defensively, but he was lucky to hit .280 in high school. The curve got him every time.’’

Father and son visited Roy’s college coach, Dusty Rhodes at North Florida, for a clinic after R.J.’s sophomore year in high school. R.J. opted to go with the pitchers rather than the infielders mostly on a lark. When he threw 91 mph, Rhodes offered him a scholarship on the spot, even though he had two years left of high school ball.

R.J. went from so-so infielder to impact pitcher in the next two years, wound up going to Florida Atlantic and was a third-round pick of the Angels in 2012. He was traded to the Padres in the middle of the 2014 season, made his big league debut with San Diego on Sept. 3 and had a 1.13 ERA in 10 games the final month of the season.

He touched 98 and 99 mph last year on the radar gun, and the A’s picked him up in the Derek Norris trade of Dec. 18.

Alvarez, who grew up fishing when he wasn’t playing baseball, wanted to get out in deep water to fish at least once in September, but the Padres didn’t have a day off at home the time he was with them. So he’s hoping his Pacific Ocean debut will come in Northern California this year.

“It would be terrific to be in Oakland with this group of guys,’’ the 23-year-old said. “And, I’d like to have a chance to give the Pacific a try. In Florida I grew up fishing from the coast all the way out to Bermuda.’’

Deep water fishing – he doesn’t do river or lake fishing much – is not just something to pass the time for R.J. He works from time to time for a manufacturer of fishing rods, and in a corner of the small apartment he has behind his family home, he makes his own fishing rods.

Roy Alvarez said “he got his first rod not long after he got that first glove. When he was four months old he was out in the boat when we were fishing. He was too young to do anything but watch, but he grew into it. He was always around fishing like he was always around baseball.’’

There are five spots in the bullpen that seem to be open to start the season with Sean Doolittle on the disabled list – Tyler Clippard, Eric O’Flaherty, Ryan Cook, Fernando Abad and Dan Otero. Alvarez will be competing with Evan Scribner, Taylor Thompson and Fernando Rodriguez, along with whichever right-handers don’t wind up in the rotation. So the road to Oakland will be difficult.

“I’m aggressive and I’ll pitch that way all spring,’’ he said. “But this is a good group competing here. It’s going to be a good bullpen, no matter who makes it. Just to have a chance is a great thing.’’

John Hickey

A longtime baseball writer three years into in his second go-round covering to the Oakland A's beat after a dozen years covering the Seattle Mariners. Covered the A's through the late 1980s and 1990s.