A Diamond Reality Show

There is a hugely popular televison program called "Survivor". It's a so-called "reality" show, which you can believe only if you accept the premise that putting a disparate group of people in a contrived situation surrounded by a production crew recording virtually their orchestrated every move involves the real world.

Baseball has its own version. It's about men who play only spasmodically, who seldom make headlines and who always have to heed Satchel Paige's maxim, "Don't look back. Somebody might be gaining on you." Every now and then, some fan might check the box scores, find his name, and exclaim, "Is he still here?" It is starkly real.

Nick Alvarez is such a survivor. Oh, yes, he's still around. In fact, he's in his third season at Jacksonville, playing occasionally at more than one postion (a requirement of such individuals), doing some d. h.'ing and some pinch-hitting, comtributing where he can.

Managers tend to love such individuals. Dino Ebel, who headed Jacksonville for the past several years, has said, "I wish I had 25 Nick Alvarez's on my team." Oh, he wasn't talking about somebody bulging with talent like, say, Joel Guzman but, rather, a player who'll do anything you ask and maintain a positive atitude that sets the tone for many others.

Nick does that. He plays first and the corner outfields now and again. He's even learned to catch if that's required. John Shoemaker, who has succeeded Ebel, appreciates it as much as his predecessor did.

Dino's in AAA now, managing the Angels' Salt Lake City farm but Nick, on the other hand, is in his sixth minor league season and has yet to play an inning at that level. Such is often the lot of such as he.

He wasn't drafted high, which is usually the case of such -- in the 26th round in 2000. The son of Cuban immigrants, he attended St. Thomas University in Miami where he lives and at onetime looked like he'd defy the odds, particularly in 2001 when he tied for the Florida State League home run title, hitting 21 for Vero Beach.

He injured his leg, though, in the next season and never has hit those high notes since. He's only hit 17 home runs total in the seasons since. That's not to say, he's not contributing now. He possesses a .300 batting average, a nice bounce-back because when he slumped to .249 last year with the Suns, it might have seemed that the end of his baseball career was in sight.

He didn't give up, though, playing winter ball in Venezuela to sharpen his game. Stil, he's 28 now; thus, at an age when playing in the big leagues seems more like a fantasy. In the meantime, though, he helps his team, is a leader in the clubhouse and has his moments in the field. In the often harsh world of professional sports, Nick Alvarez is a survivor -- and deservedly so.

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