Although the names of his grandfather and father were etched onto plates on the wall of the baseball clubhouse at Jasper High School, it took Sam Alvis many years to realize just how much those inscriptions really meant.
Growing up in the small town of Jasper, Texas, nearly everyone knew Sam’s grandpa — third baseman Max Alvis. He’d been a two-time major league all-star over nine seasons — most with the Cleveland Indians of the 1960s.
Around Jasper, it was also well known that Sam’s father, David Alvis, had also played professionally — spending four seasons in the Indians’ minor leagues before turning his attention to running the family farm.
But outside of the 8,500 people in Jasper, Sam Alvis had no idea how well respected his family’s name was around baseball. That is, until he was in high school and he accompanied grandpa Max on a trip to Cleveland.
Max Alvis was being honored as a member of the organization’s Top 100 players as part of the Indians’ 100-year anniversary celebration.
“We go up there and it was really something to see how many people knew his name and what he looked like, all these decades later,” Sam Alvis said. “It was nuts. In Jasper, it’s just not like that. It’s not a big deal. In Jasper, my dad and grandpa are just normal people.”
In Jasper, Max Alvis is widely known as Papa. His wife goes by the nickname Honey — even to the grand and great-grandchildren. There — about two hours northeast of Houston — there’s no rest after work until you’re done helping a neighbor reign in a stray cow. And young boys grow up learning ropin’ and ridin’ alongside baseball.
“I started rodeo as soon as I could crawl on up on the animal,” said Sam, who turned 23 on June 11. “I was competitive by the time I was 7 or 8, and rode until I was 14.”
These days, it’s Sam’s turn to carry on the Alvis baseball bloodline. Standing 6-feet and 195 pounds, Alvis was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 21st round of the 2013 draft. It wasn’t long after the draft day elation had settled down that Sam learned the Marlins wanted to convert him to a pitcher.
“I went to (the instructional league) and slowly they’ve taught me how to pitch,” Alvis said. “They’d break down throwing mechanics to the basics — here’s where you want your body, your arm. Then they taught me how to really pitch, not just throw the ball.”
During college at Louisiana Tech, Sam Alvis spent a majority of his time serving as a right-handed hitting outfielder who pitched occasionally because it ensured he’d play every day. But with his strong mental makeup and the ability to throw left-handed, the Marlins front office quickly converted him to a full-time pitcher.
“I was a little disappointed that Sam didn’t get drafted as an outfielder,” admitted Max Alvis, 77. “Sam’s a hard worker. He’s strong, He’s got some pop in his bat and he runs really well. But he’s not one to turn down a challenge. So, once we learned he’d be pitching, I just told him, ‘Well, you got a lot of work ahead of you, son.’”
Straight forward and no nonsense is simply the Alvis family way. One season when Sam Alvis was playing in a summer league in Lorain, Ohio, Grandpa and Honey flew out for a visit.
“When I got to summer league, I told the coach ‘I want to play everyday.’ Little did I know, we were playing every day,” Alvis said. “One (day) Grandpa and Honey flew in from Texas to watch me play. During the game, I was kinda sore and tired so I jogged out to left field.”
Later, Grandpa chided: “You hurt, son? It looked like you were out there jogging. If not and you’re going to get out there, you better bust your butt and get out there.”
Now in his third professional season (second full), Sam Alvis is beginning to feel that the craft of pitching is getting easier with every outing. He’s 2-3 with a 5.72 ERA in 20 relief appearances, with 28 strikeouts to 18 walks. Depending upon whether Alvis needs a pat on the back on a kick in the butt after a tough game, he’ll either call Papa or his dad.
“My grandpa is pretty relaxed and funny,” Alvis said. “The way my dad is, he’s been very hard on us (Sam Alvis has an older brother and older sister) when it comes to effort and the little things in baseball. He’d always say, ‘If you’re gonna do something, do it the right way and give 100 percent.’”
The boys respected their father for his firmness.
“I never had to wake them up in the morning to go do something,” dad said. “They were always ready to go and quickly out the door.”
“The way my dad handled us, we didn’t have a choice but to work hard,” Sam said. “Whenever my dad would take my brother and I out to hit, we’d go out for hours. Sometimes on the phone now, he gets heated and I get heated and after we go back and forth that we just have to hang up for a bit and call each other back later. I am my father’s son, and sometimes my mouth kinda gets away from me. I know myself better than anyone, and sometimes it’s hard to make that adjustment. It’s hard to listen.”
So far this year, Alvis has spent the season at Low Class-A Greensboro. Last season was a whirlwind, as he racked up major frequent flier miles traveling from one low-level minor league team to another in the Marlins’ farm system.
“Last year I went from extended spring training to High-A,” Alvis said. “Then I was back to extended spring training, on to A-ball, back to Low-A, on to High-A, back to Low-A then finished the season at High-A. I competed well at every level, but they sent me back to Greensboro this year because I need it. I need to keep trusting the process.”
When Sam was a high school sophomore, his goal was to have his name etched onto the plaque in the Jasper High clubhouse with his dad and Papa’s names. Two years later when it was time for high school graduation and the baseball banquet, Alvis was surprised to find himself caught up by a wave of emotion.
“I guess I didn’t realize (how much of an honor it would be) to have my name put up on the clubhouse wall. To hear others talk about Papa and my dad, it just gave it more meaning,” he said.
“So when I got my name on there and I had it in my hand, I looked down and I could picture where their names were in the clubhouse and I freakin lost it. Seeing Papa, my dad, my brother there, it all just caught up with me. All the hard work I’d put into baseball. And all the hours my dad and Papa spent with me — I just saw it right there in my hands. I couldn’t even begin to explain how grateful I am.”