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Home Cooking

Guerrero's mother, Altagracia Alvino, keeps Angels slugger well-fed

July 19, 2009|Solange Reyner | Reyner writes for the Associated Press.

Before he heads off to work, Vladimir Guerrero fills the Tupperware bowls with some Dominican favorites -- fluffy rice, seasoned chicken and habichuelas.

Some hungry teammates are waiting at Angel Stadium. Soon after the chow is unloaded, John Lackey serves himself some rice and beans, while Ervin Santana loads his dish until there's no room left.

In the Angels clubhouse, and around many others in the league, Altagracia Alvino's talents are no secret: Guerrero's mother can cook.

"The best there is," said New York Yankees' second baseman Robinson Cano, who also is of Dominican descent. Cano gets a portion of Alvino's food every time the Yankees visit, with his name inscribed on the enclosed plate.

"Since I signed in 2005 I've been getting her meals. Delicioso," he said.

Guerrero, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained muscle in his right knee, started bringing leftovers into the clubhouse for his teammates when he broke into the majors in 1997 with Montreal.

He and his mother carried on the tradition when he signed with the Angels as a free agent in 2005.

Soon, it morphed into more than leftovers.

While the rifle-armed slugger snoozes until noon on most game days, his mother wakes up at 7 a.m. to get started.

He eats before leaving, then packs the rest to take with him.

She stirs habichuelas (soupy beans) in a deep pot, and preps to cook the rice and meat in separate iron-cast caldrons.

"It's not like I love to do it," she said in Spanish during a recent homestand. "(But) we're a lot of people and I would rather be feeding them then have someone else do it."

There are a lot of mouths to feed. Guerrero has six children and often gets visits from his nieces and nephews. This time, his brother Wilton's children were in town with their mother.

Alvino boils water in one pot, adding 16 cups of white rice once the temperature is just right -- and you'll know when the team is in town because the family goes through a 50-pound bag in one week. She adds two spoonfuls of salt, and covers the mound of rice with plastic to make it cook faster.

Sofrito, a seasoned, tomato-based sauce used as a foundation for many of Alvino's dishes, simmers in another pot with oil and a mixture of cilantro, garlic and ground Dominican oregano -- Alvino won't use any other kind, and even has some from the Dominican Republic stocked in her son's pantry.

She adds whatever seasoned meat she chooses, her freezer filled with bags of steak, pork and chicken ready to be cooked.

"Chicken is Vladi's favorite," said Alvino, who doesn't have written recipes for any of her meals.

"He loves chicken, rice and beans -- and he likes to cook, but he doesn't need to. I'm already finished when he wakes up in the morning," Alvino said.

In a city known for attracting tourists, Guerrero doesn't leave his home often, opting instead to play stickball in his front yard with his family or dominoes in his living room that is adorned with his pictures and awards.

A taste of home cooking is an added bonus.

Alvino adds brown sugar to the pot awaiting the meat, "for a little bit of color."

The beans roast in a deep pot for nearly an hour, with a sweet aroma emanating every time Alvino opens the lid to stir.

She adds sofrito and sugar at the end of the cooking cycle to the beans, which are a staple in most Caribbean cuisines.

Alvino started cooking for her son because he didn't enjoy the pre-game meals that were offered in the clubhouse.

She didn't want him to play on an empty stomach and often worried about how he was adapting to life in Montreal. So she moved in with him in 1997 and has been with him ever since.

"When I was little I ate a lot, but not so much now," Guerrero said.

Alvino lives with her son until her visa expires, going back to the Dominican Republic to live in the house that her son bought her. That's usually sometime after the season ends.

She likes Los Angeles, but doesn't know whether her son will stay with the Angels after this season.

"Six years here, but we don't know what's going to happen," Alvino said. "But it's nice here, we really like it."

And Guerrero likes having her.

"It's so nice to have her here. I feel more comfortable with her around," Guerrero said. "It's nice to come home to her after a long road trip. Makes me feel more at home."

Alvino never tries the food, asking her daughter-in-law or one of her grandchildren to give it a taste. Before he takes a ride to the stadium, Guerrero eats with his family.

Then he packs up the car.

In his back seat are three big Tupperware containers filled with food, waiting for a clubhouse worker to come out and pick up.

Inside, plates are set aside for some players in the opposing clubhouse.

"I look forward to it every time we have a night game," Angels shortstop Erick Aybar said. "It's something we're used to eating back home and it brings back great memories."

Typically, the Latino players are the ones who ask for Alvino's delicacies.

In the Angels clubhouse, it's the American players who eat most of it.

"Vladi came back and told me I had to make more because they are the first ones to pick at it," Alvino said. "That kind of surprised me, but I just added more food to his containers. It makes me feel good about my cooking."

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