It was a little more than four years ago when Zach Alvord first stepped up to the plate at Turner Field.
The South Forsyth second baseman, who grew up watching his favorite players hit from this very spot, dug in and promptly knocked one over the fence. Soon thereafter he returned to the box, only to crush another home run. Then another.
At a private workout for MLB Draft hopefuls, Alvord was the only one of 36 prospects to hit a home run in each round of batting practice. On the field, he flashed the leather. Off the field, he said the right things. And the Braves liked what they saw.
Team brass approached Alvord that day and let him know he made a strong impression. They wanted him in the system, and they weren’t shy about their intentions.
What more could a young Braves fan want?
“I’m a Georgia boy,” Alvord said. “[Atlanta] is the team I always wanted a chance to play for.”
On June 8, 2010, the team gave him that chance.
General manager Frank Wren selected Alvord in the 18th round of the amateur draft, 554th overall. A power-hitting infielder was just what the Braves needed at the time, and Alvord — who hit 39 homers with South and was groomed to play second, third and shortstop — seemed like someone who could be that guy down the road.
True, the 18th round is not where future stars are usually found, but Alvord could have gone earlier. Much earlier. Several general managers considered taking him in the second round, but the offers sent his way were rejected.
Not enough money. Not the right fit. Not the right direction. So he tumbled down the boards.
That wasn’t a problem, though. Alvord had a safety net in the form of an Auburn scholarship. His uncle had played football there, and if he were to go to any school, it’d be the one with the famous oak trees.
The Braves knew Alvord was worth second round money, but they weren’t prepared to meet his representation’s demands. Chipper Jones had recently been lost for the season with an ACL injury, and Wren needed to inject some funds into the big league roster.
There were rumors swirling that Atlanta wanted to bring in veteran third baseman Aramis Ramirez, and there’s a good chance this endeavor played a role in draft negotiations.
In the end, Alvord and the Braves couldn’t come to terms. So the two sides parted ways.
Alvord, who craved the college experience, enrolled at Auburn. The Braves, who were at risk of missing the playoffs for the fifth straight season, tried to invested money elsewhere.
“The Braves did everything they were supposed to do,” Alvord said. “It was just my choice at the end of the day.
“It was a very friendly departure. I decided to go to college, and [Atlanta] had other plans at the time.”
Since walking away from a professional contract Alvord’s career has veered in several unanticipated directions. Through it all, he claims to have no regrets.
In a few days, however, that may change.
If Alvord devised a blueprint for how his career would unfold, that plan has long been shredded.
Alvord was initially excited to be a Tiger, but it didn’t take long for that enthusiasm to fade. The image he developed of Auburn in his head didn’t match reality, and it started to weigh on him.
“It never felt like the right fit,” he explained. “It didn’t have the Auburn feel. I didn’t feel like I was progressing the way I should, and I felt I would be more successful at a different university.”
So Alvord left Auburn after two years and transferred to the University of Tampa.
He’d go on to win a Division II National Championship with the Spartans, hitting well above .300 in the process. But after an injury-riddled junior campaign, Alvord transferred once more, this time to Georgia Gwinnett College, where he finally felt at home. It was a curious move for someone who still had professional aspirations, but he stands by this choice.
“It was definitely the right place for me,” Alvord said of GGC. “It was amazing. I have nothing but positive things to say about there.”
Comfort aside, Georgia Gwinnett was a far cry from Auburn, at least in terms of reputation.
A few years after playing under the bright lights of the SEC, Alvord found himself in the NAIA, where schools most people have never heard of play in front of small crowds that rarely include pro scouts.
But a lack of recognition doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of talent.
“When you talk about a Top 25 team in the NAIA, they’re right up there with the best college teams,” Alvord said. “I personally believe, after seeing all the talent in DI, DII and NAIA, my Georgia Gwinnett baseball team could compete with the top SEC teams at the DI level.”
Alvord went on to play 62 games with the Grizzlies, hitting .333 with four homers, 46 RBIs, 50 runs scored and 21 stolen bases on 24 attempts. Impressive numbers, but has anyone important noticed?
Alvord is confident all these twists and turns have put him in a good spot to succeed in the pros, but whether or not scouts feel the same way is an entirely different matter. Will teams look at Alvord for his abilities, or will they see him as a guy who gradually slid down the college ranks?
That answer may be coming soon.
Out of his hands
After going undrafted last year due to injury, this year’s draft — which will go from June 5-7 — is Alvord’s last opportunity to be selected.
Coming out of Georgia Gwinnett, Alvord knows he won’t receive the kind of attention he garnered while at South. He won’t get picked by the 18th round, and there’s a good chance he won’t get picked at all.
But he remains hopeful.
“I won’t have any regrets if I get taken,” he said, “but I will regret not signing out of high school if I don’t get presented with that opportunity.
“If I get that opportunity, I know I have to take it and run with it.”
Should a team draft him, he’ll likely sign, even if it’s far less than the Braves were willing to pay him once upon a time. If not, he’s prepared to “enter the corporate world,” and move on from the game.
“Baseball is not going to last forever,” he said.
Back in 2010, he faced a momentous decision that would forever alter his career. He had options.
Now, Alvord’s fate is out of his hands.
‘Just need that chance’
Alvord’s collegiate years were filled with peaks and valleys, but his high school days went a lot smoother.
Indeed, South Forsyth was the right place for him to develop. Jamie Corr, who just led Lambert to its first state championship, was the War Eagles’ manager back then, and Alvord credits much of his success to the veteran coach.
Corr remembers Alvord for bringing clutch hitting and a hard-working attitude to the War Eagles for three seasons—a period capped by a walk-off homer in the 2009 playoffs against Grayson.
“Zach has every tool needed to excel in pro baseball,” Corr said. “He showed tremendous power potential, and I really hope he gets the chance to get paid to play the game.”
It was Corr’s emphasis on defense that made Alvord such a good fielder. The two worked on his versatility, which now allows him to play three infield positions.
It was assistant Drew Ferrer, now Lambert’s athletic director, who helped Alvord develop the right batting stance. He used that stance to impress the Braves at Turner Field.
But Alvord hasn’t played at the Ted since working out there four years ago. Though the odds are against him, he hopes that will change at some point in the future.
Right now, all he’s asking for is a shot—a shot to join the pro ranks; a shot to be the player Atlanta once hoped he could be.
“I feel I’m still that same kid,” he said. “I know that if I get into a pro ball system, I’ll work my way up to the big leagues.
“I just need that chance again.”