The back yard of Albert Almora's
suburban Miami home looks like a personal trainer's nirvana.
A rope dangles precariously from a tree limb 50 feet in the air. A few steps away on the ground, a lattice-work of cable outlines an agility course to speed through. Next to a pull-up bar lies a 100-pound weight connected to a belt-like apparatus that swings the added burden from the waist. Adjacent to a cardio machine, a worn-out batting tee waits for more abuse.
For Almora, his backyard playground is also his office.
"I'm one of those guys that enjoys working," he said. "Whatever I have to do to get better, that's what I'm trying to do."
The 18-year-old centerfielder for Mater Academy Charter (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.)
is already one of the best baseball players around. Almora signed with the University of Miami and is a likely first-round Major League Baseball draft pick in June. He's No. 11 in the MaxPreps Top 100 Baseball Players rankings for 2012
In November of 2011, Almora won tournament MVP honors and was named the best centerfielder at the Pan American Championships in Cartagena, Colombia, after leading the Team USA 18-under squad to a perfect 9-0 record and a gold medal.
The accolades are a result of a work ethic that never takes a day off, his coach said.
"He's been working hard his whole life," Mater head coach Eddie Gorriz said. "He's been going at it – having a strength workout, a speed workout along with the baseball workouts – from a very young age."
Almora started playing baseball before he was 4 years old. By age 6, he had started a training regimen implemented by his Cuban-born father of the same name: quick, 2 minute exercises, performed continuously, for more than an hour.
One morning, Almora might start by climbing the 50-foot rope to the top and back down, then move over to the cardio machine for a full-tilt, 120-second burst and follow that by pushing an oversized tire end-over-end until his legs and shoulders burn mercilessly.
Nearly exhausted after a full hour of repeating these exercises nonstop, Almora would then start his baseball training workout, hitting baseballs in a cage and fielding fly balls in the outfield.
"A lot of people when they start playing baseball, they just focus on the game," Almora said. "My dad concentrated on my ability to get stronger, to stretch well, to be able to have stamina to withhold throughout my baseball game. He wanted me to be a complete baseball player."
The results show on the field. In his senior season at Mater Academy, Almora is batting .600 with five home runs, 27 RBIs, 29 runs scored, 17 extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases through April 2 (the most recent stats available). He's been clocked pitching off a mound at 93 mph but has never thrown in a game because, defensively, he's such a natural centerfielder with arguably more range than any other high school player in the nation.
And when baserunners reach base, Almora uses that strong throwing arm to make them pay for trying to take an extra base.
"Pitchers love him. Hit the ball anywhere in the outfield, and the kid can track it down," Gorriz said. "He takes away little hits that are the norm in high school baseball. At the same time, he can spring back and catch a ball 400 feet away and catch it over his shoulder with ease."
Almora takes it as a personal challenge to catch any ball hit even remotely near him.
"I like to play shallow because I feel like I can take away a lot of hits," he said. "I try to take away that little 'Bermuda Triangle' area in the outfield. I think that's my duty to try to get to as many of those as possible. I prefer going back better than going forward. I love diving. I love getting dirty."
Behind Almora's leadership, Mater Academy is currently 18-5 and has already wrapped up the top seed for the district tournament starting April 24. If Mater advances to the regional tournament, it could make history by winning the school's first playoff game (Mater is 0-2 all-time in the playoffs). And given its season to date, Mater certainly has to be considered one of a handful of favorites for the Florida Class 6A state title.
"I give a lot of credit on the season to the way the kids worked in the offseason," Gorriz said. "It's one of those things, Albert travels so much, the few times he's around, it rubs off on everyone. Guys want to be the best, and then they see him put 100 pounds around his waist and do a pullup with that weight, guys want to challenge him and push to get to that point."
For Almora, though, he doesn't view the daily workouts combined with the constant playing schedule as work. He considers it an honor to be able to play a game he loves passionately.
"I have a lot of fun playing," he said. "I think it's almost like a relaxation, once I step on that field and see the dirt, I get happy. I forget about all the problems that I may have."
And at the same time, his presence on the field adds exponentially to the problems of the opposition.