Eddy Alvarez is close to achieving his second dream. The first became part of history when he medaled in the Winter Olympics even though he was born in subtropical Miami to a Cuban family.
But if winning silver in the 5,000-meter speed skating event in the Sochi Olympics four years ago required a lot of effort and pain, his dream of playing baseball for the Chicago White Sox is just as challenging. Flying over the ice can be as difficult as hitting a 95 mph pitch.
“I already achieved an important dream, and I will never stop considering myself as an Olympic athlete,” said Alvarez, 28. “But I knew that I couldn’t lose any more time if I wanted to get to the Majors. It’s now or never. I love skating. Baseball is my passion.”
Alvarez is getting attacks of nostalgia these days. The PyeongChang Winter Games start in a week, and many of the athletes on the U.S. speed skating team are old friends from four seasons ago.
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Alvarez had been expected to join the team and perhaps even return to the podium because his experience and optimum age could have allowed him to shine again.
“I am going to be supporting the Team USA minute by minute. They are my friends, and I wish them the best,” Alvarez said. “But I cannot neglect my training for baseball because a big time is coming. In my heart, I feel I will finally get to the majors in 2018.”
Alvarez’ history has been two facets with the same intensity and talent. A boy who used both his glove and skates with tremendous skill for his age, in a Miami that has lots of baseball fields but few ice rinks.
His father Walter, brother Nick — he played minor-league ball with the Dodgers — and his uncles all played baseball, a sport that runs in the blood of the family and the island. But he was so good on skates, first on wheels and then on ice, that he earned the nickname of Eddy The J and became an oddball legend.
“My father used to take me skating in South Beach from the time I was a boy, and that emotion, feeling the speed at such an early age is something that sticks with you forever,” said Alvarez, who now plays shortstop in White Sox farm teams. “I know that it’s a different story. One time, during a skating competition, the loudspeakers announced, ‘from Miami, Eddy Alvarez.’ And the people looked at each other, like they had heard something that was impossible.”
But despite all his national and international skating trophies, baseball was always a love and during some of his high school years he put aside his skates to hit and catch balls with such skill that some Major League talent spotters started talking about him.
Later, at Salt Lake Community College, he alternated between the two sports, skating in the mornings and playing baseball in the afternoons until the ice won out when Alvarez qualified for the Sochi Olympics.
After achieving his first dream at Sochi, Alvarez set his mind on the second. Soon the scouts saw him in action again and he signed with the White Sox. The time had come for baseball.
Starting in Single A in 2014, Alvarez moved up and last season he split his time between Double A and Triple A. Now he’s heading into spring training.
“I don’t regret anything, even though I am sacrificing the possibility of an Olympic medal for a risky bet,” said Alvarez, who will join the White Sox spring training camp in Arizona in a few weeks.
“If I achieve my two dreams, it will be something unforgettable, beyond words,” he said. “To win in the cold and the heat … it’s easy to say, but not easy to do.”