Eddy Alvarez’s career plans may seem chaotic, but it’s all part of a grand design that he continues to draw with precision.
In an era of specialization that sees children focus on one sport, sometimes as soon as they first pick it up, multi-sport athletes who carry that torch into their 20s are becoming increasingly rare. Alvarez takes it to even greater heights by through a pairing of two sports that seems almost unimaginable.
He has excelled on ice at a worldwide level. Now, he’s fighting to do the same on dirt.
“I know with hard work and determination anything is possible,” Alvarez said. “I just have to stick with it and take it a day at the time.”
Alvarez, born and raised in Miami, picked up baseball as a small child and fell in love with the sport. Not long after, he “fell into” another sport, and the juggling session began.
His parents took him to South Beach to do recreational skating on wheels. When he was around six years old, two women stopped his father and asked if Alvarez would try inline speed skating on wheels. Alvarez said he “fell in love with it.”
Around the time of his ninth birthday, he made the transition to ice by practicing at a local facility. Alvarez’s growth in skating occurred simultaneously with his development in baseball. As he reached the age of decision making that would impact his immediate and long-term plans, the juggling of skating and baseball never changed.
“I always wanted to be an Olympian,” he said. “My parents were that initial push. I stuck with baseball and skating at the same time. My whole life I juggled [them].”
Alvarez signed a scholarship to play baseball at a Division II school in Miami, but he dropped the bat to focus on skating and never played for the program. After falling short of making the 2010 Olympics as a speed skater, he dropped the skates and played for Salt Lake Community College in 2011, where he hit .311 and was an all-conference shortstop. When the Olympic urge struck again, he went back to training on ice, and this time he made the 2014 U.S. Olympic team.
Sticking to his love of skating paid off when he won a silver medal in the 5,000-meter relay in Sochi.
With one goal accomplished, he transitioned from the flashing lights and pageantry of the Olympics to the small-time backfields of baseball’s instructional leagues and cramped clubhouses of its low minor league levels. Sweat dripped from his nose and elbows after a late-summer batting practice session, but as he talked of being a professional baseball player, he flashed the same smile that he showed in Sochi.
“It’s always been a juggle in my life, but I’m so thankful for the opportunity it gave me,” he said. “The White Sox are a great organization to be a part of, and they’ve been extremely understanding of the situation, very patient. I’m just thankful for them.”
Alvarez signed with the White Sox in June 2014 and was immediately assigned to the Arizona League, where he hit .291 with a .400 on-base percentage, showing a feel for the strike zone and overall game, despite not playing competitively in three years. He played 18 games for Low-A Kannapolis before the end of the year and was sent to instructs.
The White Sox opened his 2015 season at Kannapolis as the starting shortstop, and he hit .285 with 31 extra-base hits, 42 stolen bases and 69 walks to 68 strikeouts in 89 games. He combined plate discipline with a short, compact stroke that put the ball in play and sprayed it to all fields. He was rewarded with a late-season promotion to Class-A Advanced Winston-Salem, where he took off in 34 games by hitting .325.
“I surprised myself,” he said. “That first day I picked up the bat, I was like, ‘Wow, this is really heavy.’ I put in a lot of work and I’ve been seeing it pay off. There are definitely days when I make mental mistakes at the plate, but with time I should be limiting those.”
Alvarez said he’s still working to slow the game down, but repetition and experience can help alleviate that issue. The biggest surprises for him were the quick development of the bat and his stolen-base numbers. He said he relies on getting on base and making an impact on the base paths, so it was a pleasant surprise when he did so in a big way in his first full season. Another surprise for him, albeit in a negative way, was his initial defensive struggle at shortstop. He racked up a high error count at Kannapolis and seemed to struggle with finding his comfort at the position, but he said he expects to regain that comfort with time. He said defense was one of his bigger strengths as a younger player.
The 25-year-old didn’t have to worry about being in top physical shape for baseball after training for the Olympics, but he said the difference between the two sports still affected how his body felt, and the mental aspect of playing baseball through the grind of a full season was a constant battle for him.
“Training for the Olympics was six hours a day, six days a week,” he said. “It was more of a motor thing. I just did it.
“Baseball is such a mental game. It takes a toll on you with this heat, playing every day, worrying about defense, offense, your swing, throwing, doing the fundamental things. That takes a toll on your body, which I did not expect. I didn’t realize what the grind really means. The transition was tough. My body had to get used to playing baseball again.”
Alvarez has obviously been old for each league after starting his pro career so late, but he’s succeeding quickly after the long lay-off, and that’s a positive as he tries to catch up. It’s not a flashy profile, but he shows a knack for finding the barrel, grinding at the plate and having plus speed. It’s a profile that can certainly work in the upper levels.
The little switch-hitter, who always has a smile on his face, even through mid-90s heat, said he’s happy to be living out his other dream of playing pro baseball. He also quickly pointed out that the ultimate goal is not just being a pro, but making the major leagues. Alvarez has followed his grand design so far, and there’s no reason to think it’ll stop now.
“It’s going to be tough, but that’s why I’m here, to grind and struggle and have fun at the same time,” he said.
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