Hey, Naty Sr., the kid’s doing all right

(From HANDBALL MAGAZINE, November 2019)

Alvarado Jr. is living the good life as husband, father ... and avid golfer

Taking on your father’s name can be a mixed blessing. Your parents named you after Dad. What could be better than that?  Right?

But as you grow older, you find that others compare you to Dad, sometimes in ways that you and Dad resolved long ago.  The comparisons come. But what if your dad was one of the greatest?  Think Bobby Hull, Archie Manning, Ken Griffey, Bobby Bonds, Cal Ripken, Mario Andretti, Bill Walton and … Naty Alvarado. 

Many sons have grown up with Dad being the expert at a variety of things.  It’s our job as dads to guide our sons toward personal growth and worthy pursuits.  It’s our job as sons to honor our parents, learn from them, and make our own way as we grow up and move on in life.

We have seen and observed the Alvarado family for over 40 years. And now we talk with Naty Alvarado Jr., a great man in his own right.  At 46, he has married, raised a fine family, and moved on from competitive handball.  He deals with life like the rest of us, one day at a time, leaving behind a solid pro handball record and great memories.

The cover of the April 1999 magazine, featuring Alvarado Jr. hitting against David Chapman. 

Where did you grow up? 
The High Desert has been home to me since 1978. I graduated from Hesperia High School in 1991 — just feels strange how many years ago that was.  I attended Victor Valley Community College for a couple of semesters but ended that when handball started to bear fruit and the opportunity arose to travel across the U.S. competing against the top players.

When did you start playing handball?
My first experience on the court was in Tucson in 1982 between games of a pro match between my dad and Dennis Hofflander.  I just stepped on the court and started swinging away.  I played baseball and soccer until my sophomore year of high school. In 1988 I was 15 and committed to playing handball full time.  That year I watched my dad surpass Joe Platak’s record of nine national singles titles.  That lit the fire for me.

What do you do as a profession? 
I am the branch manager with Mortgage Solutions Financial in Victorville.  I have been a mortgage loan officer since 1998. The lending industry is in a state of constant change, and much like a handball opponent, each application is different with a different set of challenges we need to overcome.  The challenge of going through an application and coming up with a positive outcome is much like hitting a flat rollout.

How did you meet your wife Kerrie?

Naty Jr. and wife Kerrie. The couple has been blessed with three daughters as part of the Alvarado clan.

Kerrie and I met at the Cardio Fit Sports Club.  She was a member of the club where the Alvarado family practiced.  She caught my eye instantly, but it took me awhile to approach her.  In the beginning, she would say I wasn’t her type, which I still tease her about.  We connected eventually, and life was full of days of laughter with my entire family around us.  We married on June 1, 1995, here in Victorville, Calif. What a great time Kerrie and I had that weekend — family, friends, and, of course, handball friends.  Kerrie is a key part of my handball success.  She never questioned me leaving for a tournament, and she was always there to pick me up even if the outcome ended the opposite of my dreams.

Tell us about your children. 
Our oldest, Marisa, was married in January 2018 in San Diego to Antonio Hill.  They met in Portland a few years back and had an instant connection.  They reside in Beaverton, Ore. No children planned as of yet, but we all know how life works.  Marisa has always been adventurous with a servant’s heart. She made several mission trips to far-off places — Congo, Mexico, England, Ireland — to serve her calling to help others. Our middle daughter, Jaden, graduated from Oak Hills High School last summer along with her cousin, Gabriella Bike, who is bound for San Diego State. Jaden is headed to Chaffey College to start on her nursing career. Jaden is a lot like me. She sees the world as a quiet place and wants to be surrounded by comfort. Our youngest, Erin, enters her junior year at Oak Hills High School and is a varsity cheerleader. Erin is boisterous, firm with the ground she stands on, and will stand up for what she believes in.

The Alvarados visiting Disneyland — daughters Marisa, Jaden and Erin with Kerrie and Naty Jr. 

Tell us what it has been like playing handball as the son of Naty Alvarado. 
I knew going into this what would be expected. In the beginning, it had its perks at times, but the constant reminders of my dad were always there.  I remember playing in the national open final in Baltimore against David Chapman.  We were in a tiebreaker.  A man came up to me and asked me how my dad was doing while I was changing gloves.  Geez!  That was common. I pretty much gave his fans a pass, realizing that this was the impact my dad had left on people across the handball community.  I’m not the only Alvarado to play.  My sister Lupita (Alvarado Bike) and I auditioned for a Gatorade commercial after the late Doug Glatt recommended us.  Turns out the director was the same director who shot the Budweiser commercial featuring Doug and Naty Sr.  There were some funny moments, and none of the other actors had any handball experience.  That summer Pita and I hit it around enough to expose the other actors and let her show them her ability.  She is still one of my favorite female handball players.

So you started playing handball at 15.  Who did you work out with? 
Chris Watkins, a great man and a true friend.  In the summer of 1988, handball found us both at a time when we needed it most.  Like clockwork, we started our sparring sessions Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 3:30 p.m. for four years straight.  It was because of Chris’ dedication to the game and our sparring sessions that included my dad, the great El Gato, and Greg Maurice that I was catapulted onto the pro tour in 1992.  What we accomplished in those 48 months was unbelievable.

Do you still play nowadays? 
From time to time I play big ball at my dad’s house, but that seems to be less and less as the days pass. I took a break from indoor handball at the end of 2016, and the break kept growing with time.

What other sports do you enjoy now? 
My competitive outlet now is golf. This is one of the hardest games I have ever played, and the mental demands require my full attention. I am starting to reach new levels on the course, and it’s fun and exciting every time I tee it up. Handball has provided the foundation for the power, flexibility, and body control required in my golf swing.

Name some of your favorite wins over the years. 
I truly don’t have any that stand out. The doubles wins seemed more rewarding because I had teammates in a sport that we are judged mostly by individual performances.  I had great partners.  All the wins with Chapman, in the beginning, have a super special meaning now, and each of those wins helped instill a much-needed confidence in me that I could compete at the highest level of our sport.  The year John Bike and I won is a special memory.  That was an all-out family win and still the only USHA brother-in-law pro doubles champions.  The big Simple Green win with Tati Silveyra was a sweet win. We both were past our best playing days but figured out how to win against two very fine players in Michael Gregan and Ger Coonan.

Naty Jr. and Kerrie get together with John Bike and wife Lupita Alvarado Bike, Vili and Adriana Morton, and Lupe and Naty Sr. (hey, Lupe, peek out from under that jacket!). 

You were ranked in the top four pro handball players for many years. How did you stay competitive for so long? 
My career was blessed.  I was able to stay healthy, aware and productive.  My conditioning seemed to carry me in the later rounds and kept me injury-free.  I had small injuries, but never the one that caused a long rehab.  It was in the back of my mind as I aged.  I would see other handball veterans and watch them tape up, strap up, brace up, you name it.  Handballers are pretty hard core with their preventive gear!  I told myself that I would stop playing before I got to that point.

Who were your biggest rivals? 
I thought of everyone as a rival.  So I played everyone with the same attention and will to win as I did against David Chapman or Danny Armijo.

How did you feel about your fellow players while touring? 
Everyone on the tour got along.  I spent a lot of time with Tati in the beginning.  John Bike and I traveled a lot.  Along with Tati and John, Danny Bell and Tyler Hamel were my favorite dinner mates and golf course mates.  They are all exceptional men.

Handball is a personal endeavor. How did you deal with your wins and losses? 
I have never kept track of how many handball titles I won.  In the beginning, it was about getting to the top of the sport and adding to the Alvarado story.  I ignored wins and titles, just going about the process.

But there was one title I wanted to hold just once, the USHA national singles championship.  After four visits to the finals, I came up short.  Because of that, I felt that Operation Handball was a bit of a personal failure.
In hindsight, I realize that I gained more from handball than I ever imagined.  But not winning the singles title will always leave me with some regret.

Anyone who plays tournament handball experiences losses, right?  Mine were all tough losses.  Not one loss was worse than the other.  There was always a feeling of emptiness and pain. It’s a hollow feeling that no one enjoys.

Are the current pros different from those in previous eras? 
I can say that the fitness levels are higher now for most of the consistent winners.  The Irish show up fit … and they are not attending events to just hang out.  It’s about completing their path and commitment to their craft.  This is why Paul Brady, Killian Caroll, Robbie McCarthy, Tony Healy, Eoin Kennedy, and the late Ducksy Walsh all have proven that the extra road work can and does pay the biggest of dividends.

Alvarado, competing against Luis Moreno, enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a pro.

You have decided to retire from competitive handball, yes? 
The end of the road.  Our little handball stable here in the Victor Valley kept aging, and the injuries would shorten training.  At one point when I felt like I was playing my best at 40, I was able to get excellent two-on-one matches against John Bike, John Robles, and Chris Watkins.  Then we would mix in some great doubles matches with the up-and-coming Josh Robles.  Handball was ample and fun.  Our super talented local handball group began dealing with age and injuries.  I would need to drive to the Los Angeles Athletic Club to get the needed games to play at the top level.  Work and family commitments became a priority.  I accepted that the days of top-level handball were ending and it was time to focus more on family and career.  Still, even today, I feel I can play at a very high level if I really wanted to make the time. 

Who was the most skilled Irish player you faced in your career? 
Paul Brady, no question.  Paul possesses all the tools on and off the court.  He continues to play as a professional and respects the players of the past and present.

What are your thoughts on Brady equaling your dad’s record of 11 national four-wall championships?
I believe my dad can accept Paul’s accomplishments and respects the sportsman that Paul is.  He treated the game with professionalism and respect.  I know my dad is proud of Paul Brady.

Can you give the readers your advice on improving their games? 
Don’t just play handball three or four days a week.  Cross-train, cross-fit, ride bikes, run, do sprints, swim, lift weights, do yoga, do more yoga, brush your teeth with your off-hand.  Too many players allow handball to be their only form of fitness. This doesn’t strengthen the other areas that need to recover or that need to gain strength.  And honestly, my biggest piece of advice … walk laterally and backward as often as you can.  I have studied people aging who struggle to make movements sideways or backward.  I firmly believe the small muscles, tendons and ligaments weaken over time, and that process speeds up with the lack of repetitious movements training or reminding the body that these small movements are needed.

What are your thoughts on the USHA, the WPH, and the survival of the sport?
Handball needs both, period!  The more these two organizations combine their efforts, the better the sport will maintain itself.  Our sport lacks the need of equipment compared to other sports.  The more equipment you can market, the bigger the interest the game will have.  It is also critical to continue to promote youth development, with the pros playing near them at every event.

You play some one-wall at home.  What do you think of one-wall and wallball? 
I enjoyed every minute of one-wall handball!  There is so much energy, and the characters on those courts in New York are entertaining.  The skill level and tenacity of the one-wallers is quite a challenge.  I know if I lived near Coney Island, I would be walking around playing with a bad knee and bad hips.  It’s easy to find games there with players coming up to challenge the top dogs.

One last personal question: What is your full name? 
Both Dad and I were born with the name Jose Natividad Alvarado, or Naty for short. 

Gabby Bike, John Bike, Lupe Alvarado Bike, John Bike “JAB”, Adriana Morton, Vili Morton, Naty Sr., Matai Morton, Lupe Alvarado, Malia Morton, Marisa Alvarado, Antonio Hill, Kerrie Alvarado, Naty Jr., Jaden Alvarado and Erin Alvarado at the wedding of Marisa and Antonio Hill.


And so we hear from another Naty Alvarado, one who is truly a star in his own right.  He is now a professional in a different capacity, with a large family that loves him for who he is today. Naty recently attended the Southern California Handball Association Hall of Fame dinner and spoke for his friend, SoCal HOF inductee Chris Watkins.  One of handball’s strongest assets is the family nature of our sport, and Southern Cal handball has always looked up to the Alvarado (and Bike) families and appreciated their leadership.

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