Miami Marlins: Eddy Alvarez’s journey to the Tokyo 2021 Olympics

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The mere fact that Eddy Alvarez is returning to the Olympics, that he can again represent the United States at the international level, is a fact that he does not take lightly.

The Miami native, first-generation Cuban-American, member of the Miami Marlins organization and father of one is fortunate enough to join a select group of athletes to win a medal at the Summer and Olympic Games. ‘winter. He has already has a silver medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics as a short track speed skater in Sochi, Russia. He could win another with the United States over the next two weeks, this time at the baseball field in Tokyo.

But Alvarez has an important job to do in Tokyo before he takes the field on July 30, when the United States opens group play in the six-team baseball tournament against Israel.

On Friday, Alvarez and women’s basketball star Sue Bird will lead the US contingent of 621 athletes to Tokyo National Stadium as the country’s flag bearer for the opening ceremony of the 2021 Olympics.

“It means everything to me,” said Alvarez, 31, choking back tears when he was told the news on Tuesday. “Being able to lead Team USA is an absolute honor. I made a lot of sacrifices in this life, in my sports career. Just absolutely honored.

Three days earlier, Alvarez had said that the mere fact of having his name considered the standard bearer of the American team – “to hold Old Glory, a symbol of freedom and liberty for many in the world, not just for the United States “- was” a victory of its own. “

Alvarez is also hoping this is just the first victory in Tokyo. He relishes the chance to step onto an Olympic podium again – and a chance to win the gold medal that eluded him the first time.

“It’s starting to be real now,” Alvarez said. “For a while it was surreal. It’s just great putting that uniform back on. It feels like home.”

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The Olympic rings can be seen on the button of the bat of Eddy Alvarez of the Miami Marlins as he swings over a Baltimore Orioles field in the seventh inning of game one of a baseball doubles program on Wednesday August 5, 2020, in Baltimore. Among the Marlins’ replacements following their coronavirus outbreak was infielder Alvarez, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist in speed skating. (AP Photo / Julio Cortez) Julio Cortez PA

You don’t have to look far to see what this opportunity means for Alvarez.

The five symbolic intertwined rings of the Olympics are tattooed on his left bicep and engraved on the button of his baseball bats.

They recall the opportunity offered to her thanks to the sacrifices of her parents, Walter and Mabel, who immigrated from Cuba.

“They came out for a chance to have an opportunity and a freedom,” Alvarez said. “Thanks to them, I can put on this uniform and represent this country. Thanks to them, I am able to have essentially a freedom of expression.

They also recall the first round he had to represent his country seven years ago, the opportunity for him to start over and the legacy he can leave in the process.

There were 136 athletes who competed in at least one summer and one winter at the Olympics. Only five of all time have won at least one medal in both.

University of Miami alumnus Lauryn Williams, whom Alvarez calls a dear friend, was the most recent to accomplish the feat after winning silver in two-man bobsleigh at the 2014 Olympics to accompany her two medals in athletics (400 gold meter relay in 2012 and 100 silver meter in 2004). The Canadian Clara Hughes (cycling and speed skating), the German Christa Luding-Rothenburger (cycling and speed skating), the Norwegian Jacob Tullin Thams (sailing and ski jumping) and the American Eddie Eagan (boxing and bobsleigh) are the others.

“I consider this group of elite athletes to be one of the greatest athletes to ever walk on this planet,” said Alvarez. “I didn’t know I was going to go this far one day. I was always willing to do the work and sacrifice to make it happen, but potentially being a part of this exclusive club would be a dream come true.

His opportunity to do so comes with baseball making its return to the Olympics for the first time since the 2008 Games in China.

But America’s roster isn’t necessarily littered with All-Stars and Gold Glove winners. Active players who were on the 40-player rosters for any of the 30 MLB teams were not eligible for the Olympics.

With that, the United States squad consists of a mix of top free agents (like infielder Todd Frazier, former Marlins pitcher Edwin Jackson and pitcher David Robertson), former MLB players who play internationally (like Miami native pitcher Nick Martinez, outfielder Tyler Austin and Marlins pitcher Scott McGough, all of whom play in Japanese Professional Baseball League Nippon this year), Top 100 Prospects (like Triston Casas of the Boston Red Sox and Shane Baz of the Tampa Bay Rays) and other MLB prospects identified by Team USA to complete the 24-man roster.

The latter group includes prospects such as Alvarez, a 5-9, 185-pound infielder who once delayed his chance to pursue a professional baseball career in order to live a side-by-side athletic dream.

The crampons, poles and gloves have been replaced with a pair of skates. Instead of dirt and grass under his feet, it was an oval of ice.

“What he’s accomplished so far is extraordinary,” said Team USA baseball manager Mike Scioscia. “I know he is very excited to hopefully help us reach our goal and if he does or if we do or if we don’t, that doesn’t take away from him. has done or what he has accomplished. He is an Olympian at the Winter Games and the Summer Games.

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SOCHI, RUSSIA – FEBRUARY 21: Eduardo Alvarez of the United States competes in the Men’s 5000m Short Track Relay on Day Fourteenth of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at the Iceberg Skating Palace on February 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Matthew Stockman / Getty Images) Matthew Stockman Getty Images

Alvarez has been playing baseball since he was 5, around the same time he received his first pair of skates as a Christmas present.

He moved to the ice at the age of 9 and tried to balance the two sports.

As he neared the end of his career at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, Alvarez found himself at a crossroads.

A scholarship offer to play baseball at St. Thomas University … or try to qualify for the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics.

The kid nicknamed “Eddy the Jet” (who now has an 11 month old son named Jett) has chosen the Olympics.

He won gold at the World Junior Short Track Speed ​​Skating Championships in 2009, but failed to qualify for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

He ventured into baseball in 2011, playing at Salt Lake Community College in Utah, before undergoing surgery on both knees in early 2012 and ultimately wanted to run one more run at the Olympics.

When Alvarez qualified for the Sochi Games, he became the first Cuban-American speed skater to be part of the United States Olympic team.

He had three chances to stand out in the individual short track.

The 1500 meters? Disqualified in the semi-final.

The 1000 meters? A skater fell in front of him in the quarterfinals and he crashed into the wall in the process.

The 500 meters? He fell on the first turn of his first run and couldn’t recover.

On the final day of the events, after eliminating three individual events, Alvarez earned his medal in the US team’s 5,000-meter relay. The United States settled for the silver in a round-trip race, losing to hosts Russia by less than three-tenths of a second.

Getting on the podium was awesome although second place brought back mixed emotions years later as he prepared to compete on the international stage again.

“When you’re so close to winning and you have to get on the podium and listen to someone else’s anthem, it just leaves a little bit of that bittersweet feeling,” Alvarez said. “This trip is like a second chance. I’m going with that to absolutely leave it on the ground.

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WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA – JUNE 04: Eddy Alvarez # 2 of the United States leads the bases after hitting a triple RBI in the sixth inning against Canada in the WBSC Baseball Americas Super Qualifying Round at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on 04 June 2021 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown / Getty Images) Mark Brown Getty Images

Which brings Alvarez to Tokyo and returns to the Olympics – this time, however, on the baseball field.

The Olympic baseball tournament begins with the six teams divided into two groups of three teams. Team USA’s group stage matches are July 30 against Israel and July 31 against South Korea. Tokyo, Mexico and the Dominican Republic complete the pack.

After the group stage, it is four days of the round of 16 that will reduce the field to four teams for the semi-finals. The medal games on August 7, two days after Alvarez’s first birthday making his MLB debut for his hometown of the Marlins.

Alvarez played 12 games that season, going 7 for 37 at plate with a brace, two goals stolen and six runs scored. He spent the whole of 2021 with Miami’s Triple A affiliate, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, and among the Marlins’ 40 players in order to maintain his eligibility to compete in the Olympics.

“He’s a guy who, like a lot of kids last year, has gained some experience,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly. “I think this guy is a big league player. … Happy for Eddy for what he’s gonna get the chance to do [at the Olympics], but I also consider Eddy to be a guy who is going to play in the big leagues.

Alvarez is hoping for another shot at playing in the big leagues. He admits to having faced “a lot of noise” during his first stint with the Marlins, which came after the club faced a coronavirus outbreak at the start of the season, and that he is still working to slow down the Game.

“I know,” Alvarez said, “that if that moment comes – when it does – I’ll be ready.”

Before that, he’s ready for another chance at a gold medal.

“My personal goal is to leave,” Alvarez said. “I’m going to do whatever I can to win games and I know all the other guys around me are in the same boat. Whatever the cost.

Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators Athletic Program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.


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