That title may look strange to those unaware, but it is fact. The White Sox have an Olympic medalist in their farm system.
Eddy Alvarez won a silver medal as part of the U.S. 5000 meter speed skating relay team in Sochi this past February, and has a gold medal from the World Championships in 2009. Less than four months after competing in this year's Winter Games, he signed a contract to play baseball in the White Sox organization.
This isn't just a publicity stunt, either - Alvarez has dreamed of playing professional baseball since childhood, and played JuCo ball in 2011. Though he's raw and likely very rusty having been out of organized baseball for years, he's acquitted himself quite well so far this season. The 24 year old looked solid in 27 games with the Rookie level AZL club, posting a .291/.400/.408 line and walking (20) nearly as often as he struck out (24) in 130 plate appearances. Since being promoted to Class A Kannapolis, he's hitting .467 with 2 HR in 11 games. Considering he didn't pick up a bat for over three years before this spring, that's no small feat.
We talked with Eddy on Friday, and discussed how speed skating does and does not help in baseball, his connection with a former White Sox pitcher, base stealing, and his very quick transition to pro ball...
FutureSox (FS): Tell us about how you made the decision to take a shot at pro baseball. Was this the plan for years, or was it a more recent decision?
Eddy Alvarez (EA): This has always been my plan since I was a kid. It has always been a dream to be a pro baseball player, so this has been a long time coming.
FS: You had some pretty significant knee issues a few years back. Do you still have to do anything in particular to protect them? Is baseball harder or easier on the knees than speed skating?
EA: Over the years, just from wear and tear, I had some knee issues. Part of it I think was, I grew really fast really late. Then my knees really took a pounding with speed skating. I had to do something at some point, and had the surgeries. Speed skating is definitely harder on the knees in, you’re in that squat position. Most of our training is like that, there’s lot of tension in the knees. Before, I had to get lots of special attention and really take care of the knees. And I still do take good care of them. But they feel 100% now, no issues anymore. I’m doing everything, all my acrobatic moves like usual with no pain. It’s fun again, not having to deal with that.
FS: You finished in Sochi in February and signed with the White Sox in June. When did you start working out for baseball again after this year’s Olympics?
EA: I picked up a bat for first time in three and a half years on about March 13th or so. I had just gotten back from Sochi, we were at the World Championships in Montreal, then back home. I picked up a bat, hit it really hard right away. I knew I didn’t have time, didn’t have the luxury of that. I worked with Carlos Castillo, my baseball Miyagi. He pitched with White Sox, I’ve known him since I was a baby, and he taught my brother [Nick Alvarez] with the Dodgers. I trust him with my career. He has guided me, sort of molded me in this quick transition. I’ve only been playing for 6 months since then, so it’s been a very fast transition. He prepared me as much as I can be prepared. I know what it takes at a high level, and I’m willing to do anything and everything, to start my development at this level. The White Sox gave me that opportunity.
FS: What do you feel your biggest strengths are right now, as a baseball player?
EA: I’m very agile, I’ve always been a very agile and quick person. But my strongest suit is the mental part, with what I’ve been through to get to this point. In speed skating you have just one chance. You can train for 4 years, but one skip or fall, and it’s over. In baseball, you have 4 or 5 [hitting] opportunities each day. Mentally, I went through a sport that is more demanding, because of the need to constantly be on my ‘A Game’. That has helped me immensely. If I do miss a pitch, or roll over one which happens in baseball, I get over it quickly.
FS: What areas do you feel you need to focus or work on right now?
EA: Definitely slowing the game down. I’m going like 100 mph now. I came from JuCo 3 years ago, now I’m facing 95 or 96 mph pitchers. So just slowing it down. I’m able to control my heart rate, from skating, so this is something I can do. Not being too anxious. I need to improve my base stealing, which has been a bit of struggle. Speed is always going to be a big part of my game, so that’s something I’m working on. I’m doing extra work all the time. I constantly ask the pitcher throwing a bullpen, if I can stand in and track pitches. Trying to slow the game down in every aspect that I can, and just working hard.
FS: Do you feel your speed skating experience has any direct effect on your baseball abilities, such as with running the bases?
EA: I actually get this question a lot. People think because of the skating that I’m fast. But that’s actually kind of false. In speed skating, you concentrate on slower and powerful pushing for momentum. That effects our muscle twitch, so we often don’t have great spring-like abilities. But, I was known for reaction time to the gun and starting abilities in the skating world, so that was a bit different for me. Just like the gun, with a pitcher, I’m taking off pretty fast. So I was able to transition that way, but I’m working on it. That said I know I can be a lot faster on the bases, I just need to work on that.
FS: You’ve been playing both shortstop and second base so far – is there a position you feel more comfortable with, or that you feel you are stronger at?
EA: Right now I don’t really have a preference. I’ll play any position they put me in. Its just a matter of comfort. I’ve been playing both. Nothing feels quite like home yet because I have not focused on one yet. I always stress to them, I’ll get the job done wherever.
FS: What are your offseason plans? Any fall or winter leagues?
EA: Right now, I’m definitely going to instructional league [in Arizona] in September. But I also definitely need a break, from life. I trained so hard for so long. In 2012 I had knee surgery, two years later I’m at the Olympics. I had to play catch up in speed skating, and I never got a break because I was so far behind. Then I started baseball straight away. I haven’t had a real vacation in 3 or 4 years or some ridiculous amount of time. I just need a mental break, don’t want to break down. I’m not sure on winter ball yet, it all depends, I’ll have to think about that later.
FS: Your brother Nick, as you mentioned earlier, played pro ball for a number of years. Has he been a guide for you in this new endeavor?
EA: Oh definitely. I have an awesome support system, I really do. My brother has been huge, lots of advice for me, having played in the pros. Carlos [Castillo] was a pitcher, so he didn’t see the 96 or 97 as a hitter. My brother is a great [source of] advice when it comes to hitting stuff, because he’s been there and done that. He had a lot of injuries and bad luck, but still made it to AAA. He has been just as much help as my Dad or Carlos.
FS: How are you adjusting to life in the Minors? Are you enjoying it?
EA: [laughter] Yeah, it’s definitely a little different. The boys down here are awesome, good group of guys. A great organization. I’ve been treated nothing but great. It’s an interesting life, great time, having fun. Will be a life story for the future.
FS: Finally, open microphone… you can say anything you want to fans of the White Sox, the Intimidators, or just your own personal fans.
EA: I definitely want to thank everyone who has always supported me in this journey. I want to encourage people to follow me on social media, as I love to interact with fans. I’m not an ‘A-List’ celebrity type, and I won’t ever be that way. I never want to disappoint people. I’m a people person and I love to interact with the fans. Also, I could not do all this without family, friends, and fans.
Thanks to Eddy for taking the time to talk with us, and to Josh Feldman of the Kannapolis Intimidators for helping us make it work.
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