It is often said that the goal of any athlete is to represent his or her country on the national stage in the Olympic Games. Eddy Alvarez reached that plateau once as a speed skater in 2014 and he’s about to do it again as a baseball player in 2021. However, that future wasn’t always promised to him.
Eddy is the second son of Walter and Mabel Alvarez whom he says have been catalytic and paramount in his success as an athlete. Walter and Mabel’s first contribution to Eddy’s way of life came years before he was born when the couple escaped political turmoil in Cuba and made their way to America.
“This is something that’s a little bit of an emotional time in my life just because of the fact that my family left for a reason. My family was under a certain control and they didn’t like where the country was going so they got out for a chance at opportunity and freedom. Because of them I’m able to put on this uniform and represent this country. Because of them I’m able to have a freedom of speech of saying what I feel and what these people are being oppressed about.”
Similar political unrest still shakes the island just 90 miles south of Floridas’s southern peninsula. As baseball returns to the Olympics for the first time in seven years, Alvarez hopes and prays for an end to the ongoing crisis that has shaken Cuba for decades so that others from his background and cultural origins have the same opportunities he has had.
“For things that are coming into light now, they’ve been going on for decades. This is not anything new. This regime that’s in power, the government that’s in power, its not okay. I see a lot of athletes disrespect the flag and say things abut their country that’s not prideful, it really hurts me because of the situation I’ve had to see my family go through,” Alvarez said. “We feel for the people of Cuba right now. We are so proud of them because they are going out to protest with stones, forks and broomsticks because they have no form of protection. I just want them to know that they have our support through and through.”
The city that welcomed Walter and Mabel was none other than Miami. There, the couple settled down and began building a family starting with Eddy’s older brother Nick and eventually in 1990, Eddy himself. Alvarez grew up with the game in his blood and all around him. His father played the game at a younger age and his brother was drafted by the Dodgers where made it as high as the AAA ranks when Eddy was a teenager. Eddy himself began playing baseball when he was four years old. At the same time he was handed his first baseball glove, he was handed a pair of ice skates. Much of Alvarez’s childhood was spent shuttling back and forth between his home, schools and baseball fields in Brickell to a the nearest ice rink in Kendall. Along with his parents who were steadfast in their support and encouragement for his athletic dreams, Alvarez would not be the man he is today had it not been for the Magic City.
“This is the city that sculpted me and this is the city that gave my family an opportunity at a great life in this country. To be able to say that I’m from Miami, Florida in the Winter Olympics was an honor and now to be able to say that I’m playing on the US national team from Miami as a Cuban-American, it feels like a full circle. I owe the city a lot.”
For his collegiate years, Alvarez shipped up to Utah to pursue his dream of winning an Olympic medal in speed skating but he also kept baseball close, competing at the JuCo ranks when he was off the track. Trials and tribulations including chronic knee pain which eventually turned into patellar surgery, Alvarez’s grind paid off. In 2014, he took the podium as a silver medalist in the 5000 meter relay and he also garnered attention as an All-Conference shortstop. According to Alvarez, his most memorable moment in Sochi in 2014 wasn’t taking the podium but rather the feelings he got when he was introduced as part of Team USA.
“We work so hard for so many years sacrificing, absolutely demolishing our bodies for hours on end, for 11 months of the year every year,” Alvarez said. “It wasn’t so much the actual medal; it was more of stepping out on the ramp during opening ceremonies, and realizing I made it.”
After Sochi, Alvarez stepped away from speed skating to pursue a career in his passion for baseball, the sport he began along with speed skating and which he didn’t let go of despite all of the work he put into his career on the ice. Seven years later, after the event was excluded from the Olympics for his entire playing career which has included stops with three different organizations including his current and home town team, the Marlins, baseball is back on the national stage. With it, so is Eddy Alvarez. According to Eddy, the topic of him possibly competing in the Summer Olympics as a baseball player, has been a light-hearted jest between he and his friends. Now that it has become reality, Alvarez is humbled.
“Its been a running joke in our family: what if I make it to the Olympics in baseball? Ha ha!,” Alvarez quipped to Bally Sports Florida. “Well, its happening. I’m just excited to put the colors back on again and wear the USA across my chest. It’s an honor.”
On Friday, Alvarez will step back into an Olympic stadium again to be introduced as part of the US National Team. While many of the same feelings he felt when he first walked the ramp back in 2014 will once again be present, there will likely be some added emotion: Alvarez will be front and center leading the US into Olympic Stadium in Tokyo as one of two team flag bearers.
“I didn’t think this was ever going to be an opportunity to me so the fact that I’m sitting here alone this is a huge honor. But this is super big for me and my culture to be able to represent my background and my people,” Alvarez said prior to Tuesday’s official announcement. “To be able to be the flag bearer, to potentially hold Old Glory, a symbol of freedom and liberty to many around the world, not just the United States, this one means a lot. This is very special.”
If the United States medals in the event, the 31-year-old will become just the sixth athlete ever to win a medal in both the Winter and Summer Olympics. Coincidentally, it was last accomplished by Alvarez’s fellow Miami native, Lauryn Williams at Sochi in 2014, the same Games Alvarez first medaled in.
“I consider this group, this elite group of athletes, some of the best athletes to ever walk this planet. I didn’t know that I was ever gonna make it this far. I was always willing to put in the work and the sacrifice to do so but to be potentially part of that exclusive club would be a dream come true of mine. I would love to go down in the history books as as great as some of these other athletes.”
Eddy Alvarez is a special athlete whose drive, determination and tenacity have spurred a unique and equally special career in sports, a career that, after much hardship, is producing very well earned rewards. On Friday, the Cuban-American will lead Team USA in to Olympic Stadium for the second time, Stars and Stripes in hand, as the perfect model of the American dream and proof that anything is possible in the Land of the Free.