ESPN.com - Minor League Baseball - Alcantara makes quiet return after ugly incident

Greg Garber
 
Thursday, July 12
Alcantara makes quiet return after ugly incident




PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Israel Cristostomo Alcantara sits alone at a desk in the corner of the Pawtucket Red Sox clubhouse. It is four hours before Thursday night's game with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons and the 28-year-old outfielder is autographing baseball cards.

He has a surprisingly graceful touch as he deftly wields a black sharpie, blows on the card to accelerate the evaporation process, slips it neatly into the self-addressed envelope, licks the flap and secures it with a rigid forefinger.

This is the same Izzy Alcantara who made headlines last week when he karate-kicked Red Barons catcher Jeremy Salazar in the facemask and rushed the mound when pitcher Blas Cedeno buzzed him with an inside pitch. Alcantara charged the mound and after missing Cedeno with a punch was tackled by third baseman Kevin Orie.

A bench- and bullpen-clearing brawl ensued. There was a history there -- isn't there always? -- but the highlight was played and replayed ad nauseum around the country. In the process, Alcantara became the most recent symbol for the undercurrent of rage that has increasingly crept into sports and society.

That was not Izzy. The Izzy I know is happy and friendly. That's the best hitter in the league, maybe the best player in the league. This game, sometimes it has bad moments. There are times when you act and later you hate yourself.
Izzy Alcantara's teammate Jesus Pena

It's funny, because Alcantara is invariably described as low-key and easy going.

"Izzy is basically harmless," Bob Dick, the PawSox beat writer for the Providence Journal, said Thursday. "He's a quiet, fun-loving guy -- maybe too fun-loving.

"He wasn't going to take it. He wasn't going to give into them. He wasn't going to risk having the next pitch hit him. So he drop-kicked the catcher. In retrospect, that might have been a mistake."

Well, yes. Alcantara, who happens to lead the International League in batting average (.344) and home runs (26) and is second in RBI (66), was suspended for six games and barred from the Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday night in Indianapolis.

As fate would have it, Alcantara's first game after the suspension was back at McCoy Stadium against the same Scranton/Wilkes-Barre team. Not surprisingly, there were no fireworks Thursday night. Just baseball.

Hitting third in the lineup, Alcantara received a warm round of applause when he was announced in the first inning. The right fielder stood in against right-hander Vincente Padilla. Matt Walbeck, catching in place of Salazar, set up on the outside edge and Padilla delivered strike one. The second pitch missed inside, but just barely. Alcantara drove the third pitch to deep shortstop, but was retired without incident.

He poked to short in his next at-bat and struck out swinging after that, but in the fifth he robbed Scranton's Jason Michaels on a home run, leaping high over the bullpen fence in right field. Finally, he struck out looking in the ninth as Pawtucket lost 6-2.

Earlier in the day, Alcantara had predicted Thursday's game would be without incident.

"I think it will be fine," he said, sitting in front of his locker in the far corner of the PawSox clubhouse. "No problems."

Making a statement
The Alcantara incident cast has a pall over the Pawtucket organization for more than a week now. The team's reaction has, largely, been to ignore that it ever happened.

"It's behind," said PawSox manager Gary Jones in his office before the game. "It's behind."

Jones spoke in a clipped tone when asked if there would be fallout from the brawl. His eyes narrowed. "If you want to talk about baseball," he said, "I can talk about baseball. I don't want to talk about that. I don't want to talk about that."

Neither did Alcantara. He is from the Dominican Republic and his English isn't perfect, but he communicates well enough, if a 10-minute conversation Thursday was any indication. And yet, he said the possibility of being misunderstood prompted his agent, Ivan Zigler of Impact Sports, to draw up a written statement that was issued to the media before the game.

Alcantara said he had been advised by his agent and the organization not to comment on the incident. "It is in the past," he said.

The five-paragraph statement read, in part:

"I want to express my sincere apology for my actions last week to the Boston Red Sox and Pawtucket organizations, my teammates and coaches, the International League, and all the fans in Pawtucket and Boston.

"The history of how Scranton was pitching me after being successful against them in the past triggered a series of questionable pitches I began to see from their staff that appeared to be thrown with the intent of hurting me.

"My reaction last week to the situation was not committed arbitrarily, but out of fear to protect myself."

The statement also rehashed Alcantara's compelling history vs. Scranton: He homered twice in a May 1 game against Scranton, prompting a subsequent Red Barons pitcher, Pete Zamora, to hit him. Zamora was ejected from that game. Last Monday, Alcantara homered off Zamora and his tour of the bases, even by his less-than-swift standards, was a little on the slow side.

This is all typical baseball protocol. So was the inside pitch from Cedeno that followed. According to Alacantara's teammate Jesus Pena, a close friend, Alcantara voiced concern that Scranton would throw at him, even before the at-bat in question.

If he knew it was coming, why did Alcantara react so adversely? Why did he unleash what one dispatch called a mule-kick? No one really seems to know.

"That was not Izzy," said Pena, a 26-year-old pitcher. "The Izzy I know is happy and friendly. That's the best hitter in the league, maybe the best player in the league. This game, sometimes it has bad moments. There are times when you act and later you hate yourself.

"Izzy told me he felt bad, very bad. He said he would apologize to the pitcher. Listen, this is a good guy."

An U-G-L-Y display
The impromptu martial arts demonstration was Alcantara's second visit to the spotlight. The first came on July 1, 2000.

He was called up by the Boston Red Sox on June 25 and had an immediate impact, getting his first major-league hit in his debut off Toronto's Paul Quantrill. His first major-league home run came five days later at Chicago and on the next day he started at Comiskey Park in right field -- an unfamiliar venue for a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder who has spent the majority of his career as a designated hitter.

At least two balls dropped in for hits that might have been caught by a more attentive fielder. Later, Alcantara was caught in a run-down between second and third and just stopped in his tracks.

Boston manager Jimy Williams called a team meeting after the game and the curses could be heard through the clubhouse walls. Later, he said the game was "Ugly, with a capital U, capital G, capital L, capital Y."

Said one Red Sox beat writer who was there, "He didn't mention Izzy by name, but he might as well have said capital I, capital Z, capital Z, capital Y. I remember Jeff Frye saying they played like the Bad News Bears, which was appropriate because that was the same day Walter Matthau died."

Alcantara never got off Williams' bench after that. Insiders say that Alcantara is caught in the power struggle between Williams and general manager Dan Duquette. Alcantara, as it turns out, was originally signed by the Montreal Expos when Duquette was in power in 1992. Word is, Duquette would like to see Alcantara in the majors, but Williams won't capitulate.

Truth be told, Alcantara's bottom-line numbers weren't bad; he hit four home runs in 45 major-league at-bats and batted .289. Scouts will tell you, however, that Alcantara still has trouble with the curveball. With six healthy and reasonably productive outfielders in Boston, Alcantara's only hope to extend his major-league experience beyond 99 days would seem to be an injury.

In the absence of meaningful comment from Alcantara, the Red Sox offered up Kent Qualls, the organization's director of player development.

"He's apologized and he's been punished twice for his actions," Qualls said. "The organization and the PawSox just want to move on."

Qualls, in part, blamed the media for overplaying the episode.

"Anytime you have video of an incident like that, it's going to get a lot of play. If there hadn't been any video, you wouldn't have heard so much about it."

So Alcantara is now 0-for-2 in his brushes with fame. Baseball, the most egalitarian of sports, traditionally allows batters three strikes. Will Alcantara get another chance to play in the majors, an opportunity to redeem himself?

"I hope so," Pena said. "The way this guy has been playing, he needs a chance to play in the major leagues. I don't know about Jimy (Williams) or whatever, but this guy can play. Now, they just have to let him."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

 




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 Pawtucket's Izzy Alcantara kicks catcher Jeremy Salazar, which starts a bench-clearing brawl and ends with Alcantara's suspension (WJAR-Providence).
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