PITTSBURGH -- Stephen Alemais grew up in the Bronx. He's been a shortstop since he was 3 years old. He wore the jersey No. 2 at Tulane University. Yes, he's a Derek Jeter fan.His loyalties shifted Friday afternoon, when the Pirates called his name in the third round of the
PITTSBURGH -- Stephen Alemais grew up in the Bronx. He's been a shortstop since he was 3 years old. He wore the jersey No. 2 at Tulane University. Yes, he's a Derek Jeter fan.
His loyalties shifted Friday afternoon, when the Pirates called his name in the third round of the 2016 Draft. He started getting pictures from friends and family who had gone out and bought black-and-gold gear.
"I'll tell you this much: I'm a Pirates fan now," Alemais said in a phone interview. "It's funny how quick everybody in my family became a Pirates fan."
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Knowing the Pirates were interested, the 21-year-old junior watched the Draft online with family -- including his mother, Joan Salcedo, and his father, Ernies Alemais -- and friends. His name popped up on the screen next to the Pirates' logo, and the celebration began.
"My mom, of course, started crying," Alemais said. "My dad gave me a hug. It was a really surreal moment, really overwhelming, lot of emotions."
The journey to that moment Friday afternoon was not always an easy one. Even the road to Tulane in New Orleans took a few unusual turns.
As a junior in high school, Alemais tore his labrum. So he left behind his family -- and All Hallows High -- for the Elev8 Sports Institute in Delray Beach, Fla. He could recover there and begin playing baseball earlier, in February instead of April. He stayed with a host family, the parents of a travel-ball teammate. In a way, that helped prepare him for college. He learned to be on his own and mostly took care of himself.
When David Pierce became Tulane's head baseball coach in 2015, he heard rumors that Alemais had some maturity issues as a freshman. What he found was a player who listened to his coaches, willing to learn and grow at every opportunity.
"He became the leader," Pierce said. "He did it by example, and he did it every day."
At shortstop, Alemais showed the strong arm, quick feet, strong hands and sure glove that led the Pirates to him. He's steady enough to make the routine plays and athletic enough to hit the highlight reel -- and he plays with the kind of flair that captures your attention.
"I've always been that way. I don't know if it has to do with my Dominican roots," he said, laughing. "I have my own way of playing. I try to take little things from everyone. It's just kind of how I grew up playing."
Alemais trained in the Dominican Republic during his winter break last offseason, working out with Robinson Cano, Jean Segura and Eduardo Nunez. He'd seen Cano, Jeter's former double-play partner, make a challenging game look so easy in front of so many fans. What left an impression on him in this case was what they did with nobody else around.
"They didn't have 50,000-60,000 fans watching them," Alemais said. "They were still working hard."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.