By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
On a scalding Miami afternoon, Juan Alvarez arrives home from work to find his son, known as Christopher Alvy, sitting in the kitchen talking to a stranger. So Alvarez fixes some cafe cubano and breaks out the scrapbooks.
The father, a former baseball player and musician, flips the pages and taps the photos with a finger. "There's Chris with Dave Winfield," he says in a cheerful blend of English and Spanish. "Here he is in Mexico, very good baseball. He hits .375 and he's from Miami and the Marlins don't want him? He hits better than anyone playing for Florida right now. And this one, this is from 1986 when he was named the Yankees minor league player of the year." The son smiles, indulging his dad even as he secretly hopes the conversation will soon return to rock and roll.
That's where Alvy is at now. He's laid down his bat and glove -- he doesn't even play pickup games for fun -- and strapped on a guitar. "No more baseball," he says. "All this time, music was my love." Alvy's hard-hitting debut CD, Beyond Salvation, has received raves in the local music press, for which he says he's appreciative. But he also regrets to a degree that his baseball past often receives more attention than his music.
Born Jesus Alvarez in Cuba, Alvy and his family moved to Spain when he was four. A few years later when they arrived in Miami, Juan Alvarez opened a baseball academy. Alvy played little league, eventually becoming a three-year starter at Miami Senior High School. Scholarship offers poured in, and the teenager, wanting to stay in South Florida, opted for Miami-Dade over UM. "My goal was to sign [a pro contract]," he says, "not to be a scholar. I love studying music, but not math and all that." Playing at a two-year school allowed Alvy to go pro at any time, which he did in 1985, when the Chicago White Sox drafted him in the fifth round. They sent him to the Sarasota White Sox to play in the rookie league.
After that season, he was traded to the New York Yankees, who placed him with the Single-A Fort Lauderdale Yankees for a year. He moved up a notch to Double-A with Albany, then Triple-A with the Columbus (Ohio) Clippers. After two years, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers organization, which sent him to Toledo to play Triple-A for the Mud Hens. He consistently made minor-league all-star, and spent spring trainings during the Yankee years playing with New York, which brought him up to the bigs during the 1988 regular season but never gave him an at-bat. Later he played with the Houston Astros organization, and, near the end, the Mets. "After I signed with the Mets," he recalls, "they wanted to send me back down to Double-A, and I wasn't going for that. I declined to stay with them." Instead he took an offer to play pro with the Mexico City Tigres, then the Monterrey Industriales.
It was baseball that led to his name change. He was called Crispy back then, but people constantly wanted him to explain that strange moniker. He grew weary of the inquiries, and began telling everyone his name was Chris. He expanded that to Christopher and shortened his surname when he changed vocations.
Throughout his baseball career, Alvy played music, just like most of his family. He recalls banging on a drum set at age three, and how as a youngster he was allowed to sit in with a band that included his father, uncle, and cousin. The group was considered radical and subversive in Cuba; they played Hendrix, Cream, Iron Butterfly. Juan Alvarez maintains a sizable collection of Sixties and Seventies hard-rock albums. And somewhere in the back room amid the vinyl and the musical instruments set up for Alvy's band's rehearsal sessions, the son finds a color snapshot of his father wearing a long blond wig. Revenge for the scrapbook display.
Alvy picked up the guitar during his early teens, and played in a few rock cover bands before beginning his baseball career. He continued to teach himself guitar and write songs: "It was a release, a way to relax. But I kept it to myself."
About five years ago Alvy bought a four-track recorder and began taping his original songs. Today he has about 100 tunes down. After committing to rock and roll, he also checked out the local music scene. "To be honest," he says, "I found it to be kind of dead. People go out to dance, not to see bands."
He also picked up a copy of Rag and saw an ad about a guy with a four-track. He invited the player over to jam, and, through him, met Peter Paul. "I told this guy to bring Peter by," recalls Alvy. "I was hoping he could show me how to do some things on the four-track I didn't know. It turns out his house was destroyed by the hurricane, and he was staying nearby, so he came over to hear a couple of songs. The next day he came back to hear more. Then he told me he had incorporated a label and he offered to do a record. Right off the bat. I said, 'Great. You got a studio, I got the music.'"