by Rowan Kavner
EEight years ago, months after returning from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi with a silver medal in speed skating, a chance meeting on the other side of the Dodgers spring training complex launched the professional baseball career of two-time Olympian Eddy Alvarez.
Alvarez, who grew up traveling between skating competitions and baseball tournaments, turned to the latter sport when he returned from Russia. Former Major League pitcher Carlos Castillo, a mentor and high school teammate to Alvarez’s older brother, helped him practice.
While Alvarez was working in Arizona for Major League scouts, Castillo thought he would say hello to his former White Sox coaches. The duo visited Camelback Ranch three hours before Alvarez’s flight back to Miami.
Castillo convinced Mike Gellinger, a coach with the White Sox organization, to put Alvarez through drills. The 5-foot-9 Olympic skater only had a year of junior varsity baseball experience at Salt Lake Community College, but Gellinger made it happen. Informal training included ground balls, base running and cage hitting. It wasn’t enough to get drafted, but the White Sox were intrigued.
Alvarez received a phone call the next morning. The free agent was on a flight back to Arizona the next day to begin his minor league career. In just two years, Alvarez has arrived at Triple-A. When his career stalled, he continued to fight and made his Major League debut with the Miami Marlins in 2020.
“Step onto a Major League pitch, it’s like ‘man, I’ve dreamed about this since I can remember,'” Alvarez said. “So walking on a Major League pitch for my hometown team was crazy. But something about playing in the Olympics while wearing your country’s colors, that’s different.
Alvarez has a rare perspective in this regard.
He is one of three American Olympians to win medals at the Summer and Winter Games and the first Cuban-American speed skater to make the U.S. Olympic team. Alvarez won his last silver medal at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo as an infielder for Team USA. The achievements on the ice rink and the baseball field had one main similarity.
“In the sense that I felt like I lost,” said Alvarez, who keeps his medals in his sock drawer and his competitiveness on his sleeve. “You have to lose to get the money, which is crazy to think, but it’s very similar feelings.”
Standing on deck as Japan beat the United States, Alvarez’s spirit was remembered at the 2014 Winter Olympics when Russia crossed the finish line first. But he also felt immense pride in competing for his country.
It’s not unlike the feel he has now on a minor league contract battling for a coveted spot on a Dodgers deep roster.
“I honestly believe right now that if I get the opportunity to play in the big leagues for the Dodgers, I’m going to get that feeling a little bit,” Alvarez said. ” It’s history. Putting on a Dodger uniform and walking around this room, as I was told with all the trophies as you head towards the shelter, it hits different.
JTwo years before winning a medal at the Winter Olympics, Alvarez couldn’t even sit in a chair. He was bedridden for over a month.
Years of wear and tear forced the multi-sport athlete to undergo patellar tendon surgery on both knees in March 2012. He wouldn’t have been able to train for the Olympics without the surgery. At the same time, the doctors couldn’t promise that he would bounce back.
“Those were dark days,” Alvarez said. “I’ve always heard that athletes die twice in their life. I understood it then.
Seven months passed before he could navigate the ice, but he still made his first World Cup team in December 2012. Fourteen months later, Alvarez was on Olympic ice winning the 5 000 meters.
“Just that comeback alone to be one of the best skaters in the United States at the Olympics and a medal contender in such a short time, I almost had a cheat sheet when I came to baseball because I understood the process to get there,” Alvarez said.
All his life, Alvarez has juggled both sports. He played for his college baseball team, practiced skating for a few hours, ended his day practicing with his travel ball team, and did his homework in the car or before school.
He had also quit both sports on several occasions. Alvarez gave up skating for three years in high school after winning a world championship. He had planned to play college baseball at St. Thomas University in Miami, but a voice in the back of his head told him to get back on the ice. He didn’t want to live with regrets.
After missing the 2010 Olympics, playing junior varsity ball in 2011 and having knee surgery in 2012, Alvarez figured whatever happened in 2014 would officially mark the end of his skating career. He kept his word after winning a medal.
“I truly believe 100 percent that the only reason I can say I’m a Major League Baseball player is because of this path,” Alvarez said.
His baseball journey took him back to Camelback Ranch, now on the Dodgers side of the facility, where memories of the past come flooding back. Alvarez’s free agency this offseason came with picks, but he appreciated the Dodgers’ attention to detail in developing his swing.
“Seriously, they knew me more than I knew myself,” Alvarez said. “It opened my eyes, and I just felt wanted for the first time, it was an obvious decision for me to come here.”
Alvarez appeared in 12 games for the Marlins in 2020 and 24 last year, notching a total of 19 hits, including seven extra hits.
Dodgers director of player development Will Rhymes saw a fit with Alvarez’s athleticism, versatility and defense. Alvarez, who plays both spots in the middle of the field, had a .949 OPS in Triple-A last year and a .967 OPS two years prior.
“It hadn’t quite translated to the Major League level yet, but we saw levers to pull in his swing and we thought we could get something out of him,” Rhymes said. “What we didn’t know is that he’s an 80-year-old makeup artist, and the way he learns and practices is also a total difference maker. We really like the player, but he’s the kind of player who can max out here with resources. It’s an amazing fit.
Despite Alvarez’s success in the minor leagues, he said he considered himself a bit of a ‘lost puppy’ at home plate when he arrived at the Dodgers in that he relied mostly on his natural abilities. and its self-learning. He believes he is gaining a better understanding of his swing mechanics and how to deal damage properly now.
“I think I kinda surprised them with how observant or analytical I am when it comes to seeing people and how the body moves,” Alvarez said. “Working with Will Rhymes and many hitting coaches, something clicked. It’s been a lot of fun getting into the box so far.
Alvarez has a .994 OPS through 10 Cactus League games. As Spring Training’s roster dwindles, he’s survived the first round of cuts on one of baseball’s top rosters.
Whatever happens next, the 32-year-old former Olympic speed skater doesn’t hesitate. Being a long shot has never stopped him before.
“We go back to the regret that I learned at the start,” Alvarez said. “I would have regretted not taking that chance.”