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Olympics

[OLYMPIC IMPRESSIONS] American Flagbearer Eddy Alvarez’s Unlikely Journey to the Tokyo Games

After competing at the 2014 Sochi Games as a speedskater, Alvarez became a pro baseball player and later earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

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Team USA's Eddy Alvarez in action against Venezuela in an Olympic qualifier on June 11. (TCPalm.com/AP/via KYODO NEWS)

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Pick an Olympic story, any Olympic story, and it might pale in comparison to Eddy Alvarez’s.

A son of Cuban immigrants who grew up in Miami Florida, Alvarez competed in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics … as a speedskater. And now he’s the first baseball player chosen to be a U.S. Olympic flagbearer, an honor he’ll share with basketball star Sue Bird, a five-time Olympian, at the Opening Ceremony on July 23 at Tokyo’s New National Stadium.

A bit of background is apropos.

Sunny South Florida hardly seems like the ideal training ground for winter sports, right? But Alvarez, known as “Eddy the Jet,” transformed his ability in roller skating and inline speed skating into the high-paced version on ice. 

He developed his skills on ice and eventually earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. He collected a silver medal in the 5,000-meter relay in short track speed skating. Alvarez skated first for Team USA’s four-man relay unit.

That same year he began his minor-league baseball career in the Chicago White Sox organization. A talented shortstop, Alvarez had earned a scholarship to St. Thomas (Florida) University, but his Olympic ambitions put his baseball career on hold. Yet he found his way back to the baseball diamond, and signed a minor-league contract with Chicago when he was 24 years old in 2014.

Eight seasons into his baseball career, Alvarez has reached the big leagues (he appeared in 12 games for his hometown Miami Marlins in 2020) and has spent considerable time at the Triple-A level (231 games) over the past few years. (MLB Network aired a compelling news feature on Alvarez in August 2020.)

Now taking a break from his baseball season with the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Miami’s Triple-A affiliate), where he’s batted .312 in 27 games, to compete for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics, the 31-year-old Alvarez is living a dream.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be named as one of the flagbearers by my fellow Team USA athletes for the Opening Ceremony,” Alvarez said in a statement. “Being a first-generation Cuban American, my story represents the American Dream. My family has sacrificed so much for me to have the opportunity to wave this flag proudly.”

What a remarkable story.

Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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Ed Odeven is a longtime sports journalist who previously worked for The Japan Times as its chief basketball reporter for nearly 14 years. He also covered a wide range of other sports for the newspaper, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Games. A graduate of Arizona State University, Odeven worked for several newspapers in the Grand Canyon State before moving to Japan. He has freelanced for dozens of media outlets around the world.