A birthday, a softball tournament and Sandy Alcantara giving back to the Dominican Republic

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A report by Jordan McPherson for  The Miami Herald.

Sandy Alcantara spent his 24th birthday using the sport he loves to give back to the country that raised him.

The Miami Marlins’ All-Star pitcher held a charity softball tournament Saturday at Hialeah’s Bucky Dent Park. In addition to a $200 entry fee for each of the 16 teams, each player participating in the “Softball with the Sandman” tournament had to donate at least one piece of baseball-related equipment. Most of the teams — who play in recreational leagues weekly across Miami-Dade and Broward counties — gave more.

More than 100 bats and dozens of gloves, helmets and cleats were sprawled underneath a tent near the center of the park, nestled between four of the fields used for the tournament. Alcantara’s camp estimated they had received about $15,000 worth of equipment.

All of it will be donated to Alcantara’s former little league – La Liga Luisa Blanca – in Monte Plata, Dominican Republic. The league usually has more than 100 kids each year.

The plan is to ship the equipment to Monte Plata at the end of the month, with Alcantara personally delivering it when he returns home after the season ends.

Alcantara feels fortunate to be in a position to give back as his major league career takes off.

“It’s amazing,” said Alcantara, who will make his 28th start of the season on Sunday as the Marlins close out a three-game home series with the Kansas City Royals. “I’m just trying to make something happen. They need bats, cleats, gloves. I’m just trying to do it for those kids.”

The tournament was a collaboration between Alcantara and the GMM Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Miami focused on providing for underprivileged individuals or groups through athletic competition. The group started in 2011 and is known primarily for its Hoop4Hope charity basketball tournament.

The group, looking to expand beyond basketball, connected with Alcantara through a mutual friend.

“The timing was just beyond perfect,” GMM co-founder Julio De La Mata said.

Alcantara, obtained by the Marlins in the December 2017 trade with the St. Louis Cardinals for Marcell Ozuna, has flashed his top-end potential while going through growing pains in his first full season in the majors.

He threw eight shutout innings against the Colorado Rockies in his season debut, scattering just four hits, striking out six and allowing just one runner to reach scoring position.

He threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout against the Mets on May 19 to cap the Marlins’ first sweep of the season. He struck out eight that day and needed just 89 pitches from start to finish. Alcantara followed that game up with quality starts in four of his next six outings.

And Alcantara has put together one of his best stretches as of late.

The lanky 6-4, 170-pound pitcher with a fastball that tops out at 98 mph has gone at least seven innings in four of his last five starts. Alcantara has struck out 30 batters over 34 2/3 innings in that span while holding opponents to a .165 batting average.

“It’s really almost like he’s turned the spigot and was like, ‘I’m going to be aggressive,’” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s been attacking the zone. This guy’s stuff is as good as anybody’s. When he’s like that, it doesn’t matter the lineup. … When he’s aggressive, the stuff plays. It’s good to see him start to find himself.”

Overall, he has a 4.26 ERA with 123 strikeouts over 162 2/3 innings — the most he has thrown in a given season since starting his professional baseball career in 2014.

Alcantara, with three or four more starts left in the 2019 season, wants to continue that run of success.

“I just want to finish strong,” Alcantara said. “Day by day, I’m just working hard to get better every time. … I think I’ve got to keep working hard, even more than I do.

“That’s what I want — to do my best.”

And to give back to the country that made him who he is today.

“I hope,” Alcantara said, “God keeps giving me the opportunity to keep doing this every year.”

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