Here’s a trivia question for you: What do Jim Thorpe and Eddy Alvarez have in common?
According to ESPN, they are the last two non-baseball Olympians to participate in the Olympic Games and also play Major League Baseball.
Thorpe participated in the 1912 Olympics and played in the National League from 1913 to 1919. We’re talking 107 years, which is a pretty sizeable block of time. And it’s quite a feat to be paired with the great Thorpe in any athletic category.
So, just who is Eddy Alvarez?
If you watched the Braves’ weekend series with the Marlins, Alvarez played second base on Friday, and third base on Saturday. It was his walk leading off the bottom of the fourth inning Friday night that signaled the end of the evening for Braves starter Kyle Wright.
Alvarez would score from third on a bunt by Magneuris Sierra. Alvarez waited until relief pitcher Grant Dayton fielded the bunt and turned to throw to first before breaking for home with the Marlins third run of the game.
His quick start and dash down the line might have evoked memories of his days as a short track speedskater. But Alvarez doesn’t believe the two sports share any common ground.
“Besides turning left, I don’t think there’s much similarity,” Alvarez told Sachin Dave Chandan of ESPN.com.
Almost as amazing as being a world-class athlete in two different sports is how the son of Cuban immigrants who grew up in Miami became an Olympic silver medalist in speed skating.
Baseball has a rich history in Cuba, and young Eddy learned to swing a bat before he began to walk. But on Christmas Day 1994, the 4-year-old received a gift he would never forget: in-line skates.
“I remember my mom putting them on me and lacing them up,” Alvarez told Chandan. “Without hesitating, I took off around the living room, dodging furniture.”
From that point on, Alvarez was either skating or playing T-ball.
Four years later, he caught the eye of speed skater Jennifer “Miami Ice” Rodriguez. She began as an in-line skater and in 1998 became the first Cuban-American to compete in the Winter Olympics, at Nagano.
“She paved the way for me in a sense, when she stated on wheels,” Alvarez told Chandan. “She knew that if I wanted to be an Olympian, I had to make a transition to the ice.”
By age 11, Eddy was a national champion. But he realized he only had time for one sport in high school, and that sport was baseball. He became a four-year starter at shortstop for Christopher Columbus High in Miami, a national powerhouse.
“I love baseball so much,” he told Chandan, “but when I graduated high school, there was something missing in my life, and I knew exactly what it was.”
Alvarez took off for Utah to train for the 2010 Winter Games. After failing to make the team, he decided to try out for the Salt Lake City Community College baseball team. It took about 15 ground balls for him to convince coach D.G. Nelson that he should be the starting shortstop. He earned all-conference honors while continuing to skate in the mornings.
By 2012, Alvarez’ knees had had enough. He underwent surgery on both patellar tendons, and doctors found 12 distinct tears. “They couldn’t promise that I would ever skate again,” he told Chandan.
Incredibly, less than two years later, he became the first Cuban American male skater to make the US team for the winter Games. His medal came in the relay.
Three months later, he was back on the diamond. The White Sox signed him, beginning a six-year sojourn through the minor leagues. “As an Olympic athlete,” he told Chandan, “I was at the top of my sport. It was difficult to go from being at the peak, the pinnacle, to starting all over again.”
“He’s been so determined,” his girlfriend, Gaby Pearson, told Manny Navarro of The Athletic. Pearson is expecting their first child on Friday.
“There have been hard times, obviously, heartbreaks, the ups and downs. But he’s always stayed so strong. He really has.”
Alvarez caught the eye of manager Don Mattingly during spring training, and he made the Marlins’ 60-man roster this summer. But when the season began, he was at the Marlins workout complex.
His father, Walter, a prominent Miami businessman, had an encounter that lifted Eddy’s spirits. “I was at a social function and I met (Marlins CEO Derek) Jeter,” Walter told Navarro. “I said, ‘Jeter, my son plays for you!’ and he said, ‘Oh yeah? What’s his name?’ And I said, ‘Eddy Alvarez.’ He said, ‘Oh, my God, you know, we love him!’”
On Aug. 5, Alvarez got the call he’d waited six years to receive. He began his major league career hitless in nine at bats, but then got a hit off Mets ace Jacob deGrom. Since then, through Sunday, he’s 5 of 16 with five runs scored and two stolen bases.
And that Friday night game was the first big-league game he got to play in his hometown. He told Navarro how it felt: “An absolute dream come true.”