Ever the underdog, Alcantar pivoted in his junior year to a sport that he hadn’t played in competition since eighth grade.
“No one thought that I would go play college baseball,” he said. “So I thought, I’m going to take a shot at that and see what happens.”
At 5 feet 5 inches, he wasn’t tall and lanky, like many college outfielders. The southpaw knew that some of his skills needed to be strengthened. But he wasn’t afraid of working hard to realize his baseball dreams.
The effort paid off. He was recruited to College of the Desert in Palm Desert, California, following his 2012 graduation from Hudson’s Bay. After a year, he returned to Vancouver, then landed at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany, Oregon. Later, a season playing summer baseball yielded a call from the baseball coach of the top-ranked team at Lewis-Clark State College. By fall 2015, he was in Lewiston, Idaho, ready to join the Warriors for the 2016 season.
Then came the pitch at a game just two weeks into the season. It shattered his fifth metacarpal bone on his throwing hand. The injury required surgery, a pin and seven months of recovery. No baseball.
He was ecstatic for the Warriors when they won their 18th national title that year. It hurt though, watching his teammates dogpile on the field as they celebrated victory.
Alcantar could have wallowed in that feeling. But through a friend, he learned of Gavin. The then-11-year-old some 1,300 miles away had been diagnosed with leukemia. Chemo was unsuccessful.
The best moment
Gavin’s story brought perspective to Alcantar’s struggles. The boy’s father had passed away from cancer a few years earlier, leaving Gavin, his brother and their mother. Gavin awaited a bone marrow transplant at the Diamond Children’s Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona. He longed to play sports again.
“As athletes, when we’re given scholarships or opportunities, you take it for granted sometimes. You don’t realize that there’s other people who would love to be in your shoes,” said Alcantar.
“It was a growing moment for me. That could be you. That could be someone you know personally. You need to suck it up. This is the kid that you need to be playing for. These are the people that you need to be playing for, people that are fighting for their life every day.”
In August 2016, he sent Gavin a postcard from Idaho to supplement Gavin’s collection from every U.S. state. A care package followed, with Warrior apparel, team baseball cards and a written letter. This thoughtful gesture triggered an ongoing correspondence. Said Alcantar, “He reminded me of me when I was a little kid.”
Alcantar shared Gavin’s story with his teammates. “He’s a true warrior,” he told them. They agreed—and their response was unequivocally positive.
Around the time of Gavin’s bone marrow transplant in November 2016, the team sent him memorabilia to lift his spirits. “He is amazed that an entire college baseball team is inspired by him. He thinks it’s pretty cool that your team name is the Warriors! Gavin likes that you all see him as one tough warrior,” wrote the family on a Facebook page dedicated to the boy’s progress.
Then, good news: Gavin was declared cancer-free in February 2017.
But the following month, his kidneys began to fail.