Eddy Alvarez can display his medal, along with his mettle.
Alvarez told his unusual story when he met his new US baseball teammates last month in the old Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse in Vero Beach, Florida.
“This feels like a little bit of a redemption trip for me, because there’s the feeling of listening to someone else’s national anthem when you were so close to winning,” he said. “At the end of the day, standing on the Olympic podium on the top is what we’re all really searching for here.”
Seven years ago, Alvarez was part of a four-man short track speedskating team that fell 0.271 seconds short of Russia in the 5,000m relay and won a silver medal at the Sochi Olympics. Last weekend, the 31-year-old Miami Marlins minor league infielder helped the US qualify for the Olympic baseball tournament.
“I never thought it was going to be possible because baseball was taken out of the Olympics,” he said. “It just so happened that the stars aligned.”
While for most sports the Olympics is a matchup of its best players, in baseball it is merely the best of the rest — as in, those not in the major leagues.
Major leaguers are off-limits to Olympic teams, and big league general managers sometimes discourage top prospects from being available.
Alvarez made it to the major leagues last year with Miami following a COVID-19 outbreak among the Marlins. He became the first non-baseball Olympian in the major leagues since Jim Thorpe with the New York Giants and Boston Braves from 1913 to 1919, after he won gold medals in decathlon and modern pentathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Games.
A 1.75m switch-hitter, Alvarez hit .189 (7 for 37) with one double and two RBIs during a call-up from Aug. 6 to Aug. 19 last year, and a one-game return on Sept. 6. Olympic rings on the knob of his bat were visible. That brief stretch in the majors earned him US$93,238 in big league pay — a huge increase from his weekly US$5,133 salary back in the minors this season.
Alvarez was batting .222 with one homer and five RBIs this season through May 23 at the Marlins’ Triple-A team, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, before leaving for the Americas Olympic qualifying tournament. He appeared in 15 games with the Marlins during spring training.
“I think Eddy will get back to the big leagues. He’s a kid that obviously has had to fight in his life for a lot of things and work hard,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.
Alvarez used his baseball experience growing up to help him on the path to the Olympics.
“Skating is much more of an individual sport, and then there is a team event once the team is picked,” he said.
“There’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle, but thankfully I’ve grown up playing both sports, so I’ve always had that team atmosphere with me,” he added.
If he goes to the Olympics, he could become only the third American to earn medals at both the Winter and Summer Olympics, after Eddie Eagen in 1920 (gold in light heavyweight boxing) and 1932 (gold in four-man bobsled) and Lauryn Williams in 2004 (silver in 100m track), 2012 (gold in 400 relay, although she did not run in final) and 2014 (silver in two-woman bobsled).
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