With Cy in hand, Alcantara drawing on Pedro's legacy

November 21st, 2022

This story was excerpted from Christina De Nicola’s Marlins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

"If God willing, we will be celebrating another Cy Young for the Dominican Republic soon." -- Sandy Alcantara, in October

There was added buzz in the air at last month's grand opening of the Marlins' Dominican Republic Academy in Boca Chica, where ace Sandy Alcantara addressed what everyone was hoping would happen in a few weeks' time.

Alcantara's words became a reality on Wednesday, when he was named the first Marlin to capture the National League Cy Young Award. The 27-year-old right-hander also is the third Dominican-born pitcher to win a Cy Young Award overall, joining Bartolo Colon in 2005 and Pedro Martinez in 1997, '99 and 2000.

The middle child in a family of 11 siblings, Alcantara never could have imagined this type of accolade, even in his wildest dreams. Not at age 3, when he began playing baseball, a rite of passage for children of the Caribbean nation. Not at age 8, when he moved in with his oldest sister, Aredei, and split time appearing in the outfield and on the mound at La Luisa Blanca in Monte Plata, Dominican Republic.

"We just start playing baseball -- try to grow as a professional, try to look for a better life," Alcantara said. "When God gives you an opportunity, you have to take advantage, and I think that's why I feel so special."

Making Wednesday's moment even more special was Alcantara's childhood hero, Martinez, being the one to deliver the news. Alcantara grew up watching Martinez, who remains the standard for Dominican pitching excellence. The pair first met about 11 years ago, when Alcantara had already signed a professional contract with the Cardinals. Alcantara admitted feeling nervous when Martinez said his name on Wednesday, then credited the legend as a mentor. The admiration was mutual.

Martinez compared Alcantara's 2022 season -- which earned Alcantara the Juan Marichal Award, an honor given to the most outstanding Dominican player in Major League Baseball -- with his own 1997 campaign with the Expos. Neither received much support from a younger and inexperienced ballclub. Still, Martinez called it the most satisfying of his three Cy Young Awards.

"I thank God for him, I thank God for his career," Martinez said on the MLB Network broadcast. "I'm extremely proud and thankful to have the opportunity to announce my colleague and countryman, Sandy Alcantara."

That Dominican pride carries across generations. Edward Cabrera, Jerar Encarnacion, Bryan De La Cruz and Eury Pérez were also present at the academy's ribbon-cutting ceremony. Pérez, Miami's top prospect, is living in South Florida this offseason and plans to train with Alcantara.

Last month, Cabrera reflected on what it would mean if Alcantara made history. The 24-year-old, who considers Alcantara a mentor, is still in the earlier stages of his MLB career, with a 3.77 ERA in 21 starts.

"It will feel amazing," said Cabrera, who was 7 years old the last time a Dominican player won the Cy Young Award. "This is a guy that I hang out with a lot. He is a friend. We enjoy each other's company. We come from the same island, so it's just something that would be even more joyful and proud for me. We love Sandy, just simple as that. We just love that guy."

Like Martinez, Alcantara is now seen as a role model. His words and actions hold merit. People recognize Alcantara when he comes home to the Dominican Republic and eagerly ask for autographs and photos. At the academy opening, local youth from Liga Ozoria wore arm sleeves that read "lifetime Marlin" and Alcantara T-shirts. He can become the Pedro for future generations.

"Seeing those kids over there, it made me feel happy, because like I said over there, they are the future," Alcantara said. "I saw them over there. But I saw myself in there, too, because I was there, I was a kid. I was fighting for something in my life to take care of my family. And that's why I say, 'Don't give up, put everything in God's hands, keep working hard and follow your goals, because if I made it, you guys can make it.'"