The Olympic Diaries, from Eddy Alvarez

Follow the action in Tokyo through the eyes of the only two-time Olympian, for speed skating and baseball

August 2nd, 2021
Art by Tom Forget

, an infielder for the Marlins' Triple-A Jacksonville affiliate, is ready to make history -- and take us along for the ride.

Alvarez is the 11th American to participate in both the Winter and Summer Olympics. The 31-year-old won a silver medal in the 5000-meter relay as a member of the United States Olympic speed skating team in Sochi in 2014, and he is the second baseman for USA Baseball's 24-man roster. Less than a year ago, the Miami native debuted for his hometown Marlins on Aug. 5, 2020.

Only five athletes -- regardless of country -- have medaled in both a winter and summer event. Alvarez hopes to be the sixth, and he is here to provide an inside look at the Tokyo Games to readers. Follow along for entries throughout the Olympics, as told to reporter Christina De Nicola.

Aug. 1: Let the games begin

So I had reached out to Marcus Rivero (Soles by Sir), who does a lot of the pro guys' cleats from NFL to MLB. We both graduated from Columbus High School. He wanted to do some cleats for me. I gave him the freedom, and we were talking about ideas. He just asked me who are some of the most influential people that have gotten me to this point in my life? I told him, 'It's going to be a ridiculous list, because there's a lot of people that have impacted my life in so many different ways -- from family, support system, coaches, organizations, from skating to baseball.' 

I sent him a list of 40-plus people, and they basically made their debut at the Olympics on my cleats. There are two meanings: One is, all these people had an impact at some point in my career to get me to where I am. And the other one is no one can come and see and watch, so it's like I'm bringing a little piece of my history and my past with me at the Olympics, as a reminder of everything that I've gone through.

As for why I'm wearing No. 2? They had given me the option to pick a number, and I had put 1, 2 or 12. Those are just numbers growing up I always wore, and No. 2 was because it has a lot of meaning in my life. The whole two sports and two Olympics and all that, so it feels right to wear that number. I've always stuck to single digits for the most part. I would have worn No. 12, because it's my mother's favorite number, and it was one of my very first baseball numbers when I started playing.

 The atmosphere is nothing like what I experienced last year in the big leagues without the fans, like the white noise or the fake crowd that they had. It's a little duller. There are no walk-up songs, but we've heard some songs that were made in the U.S. throughout the stadium that are being played. But for the most part, they have a slight background noise.

Batting second in the order is a very comfortable spot for me. I love hitting second. I love hitting in front of Tyler Austin, because really it's my job just to get on. I put the first run for the USA on the board. It's been fun. It's a little anxiety. You want to show the world that you belong there. I kind of know that everyone's watching, and you want to perform for them and for yourself. The anxiety is there, of course, but that lineup is so good right now that it takes some of the pressure off of me to have to do everything at once. (Editor’s Note: Alvarez recorded a pair of RBI doubles in Team USA’s 8-1 win over Israel.)

In Saturday's game, Nick Martinez took the mound for us. We've been playing each other since we were 10 years old. We started off at the same baseball academy when we were kids, and then he moved academies, so I always played against him growing up, and then in high school with Columbus and Belen Jesuit. This is the first time we've ever been teammates after all the years of knowing him. (Editor’s Note: Martinez struck out nine batters in USA’s 4-2 win over Korea. Alvarez reached base twice.)

It's still baseball when you look at it at the end of the day, but everyone kind of plays in a little different style of baseball. When we played the South Koreans, they were just all tough at-bats it seemed like, so I can only imagine that Japan's going to be the exact same [Monday]. They're just kind of relentless where I feel like other countries put 'all-their-chips-in-one-basket' type of swings. Japan and Korea are more like, 'We're going to run up your pitch count.' But the level is crazy. These are the best guys in South Korea, the best guys in Japan we're going to face, and Israel has a very sneaky good team. Their lineup's pretty freaking deep. It's been a lot of fun. It feels like it's still the same game -- just the stakes are a little higher now.

Since most of these guys aren't Major or Minor Leaguers, scouting reports have been the best we can do. Sometimes we YouTube, sometimes we have players that play here in Japan that know the guys that are going to be playing in Japan. So that helps a lot. They know the pitchers a little bit. They have friends that kind of send scouting reports. Really, it's just show up and information within the team. Once our leadoff guy goes through an at-bat, he just relays the information to us – ‘if this guy has a certain pitch, it's moving this way.' We kind of rely and lean on each other as much as possible, so we're constantly talking at all times.

July 28: Life at Olympic Village

So regularly I am going to bed around 11 to 11:30 p.m., and I've been waking up around 7:30 to 8 a.m. It was hard to get into a routine. I'm finally into a routine where I'm catching some good sleep, but before I was (no joke) going to sleep around 10 p.m. and waking up at 2 a.m. wide awake. My roommate is lefty reliever Anthony Gose. The way that they roomed us is a position player with a pitcher because of protocol stuff, in case one of us gets COVID or if we go down, we don't take another position player down with us. That's where we're at right now, but it's been great. It doesn't really matter who we room with because this group of guys is such a great group of human beings. It's funny how quickly we have come together.

I've been going to the gym and lifting in the mornings, and then I go and get treatment on my body and recover. I usually go up to my room and shower, change. I kind of chill out for a second. I go and eat lunch for about an hour, come back, rest up.

My experience in this cafeteria is a more pleasant experience than it was in Sochi, even though Sochi did really good with variety. Here, it's not as much variety I would say, but there are still really good quality things that are similar to Latin food, surprisingly. The way they cook the meat and sauces, the way it's placed over a bed of rice, it kind of reminds me of ropa vieja or rabo encendido, which is oxtail, that kind of red sauce with either lamb or beef. That's been nice. We have pasta, we have pizza, mashed potatoes, steaks, burgers. Desserts have taken a little getting used to. Just some pastries and stuff with beans. I didn't know that beans could be put in a sweet! I've had sushi once. There is a sushi section, and it's right next to the noodles and stir-fry section, which I've had a lot of.

A photo from outside the cafeteria.

We've been trying to explore, but for the most part, we've been in the village: cafeteria, our rooms, our lounges, and then there is an Olympic rec area on the second floor where they have these full-body massage chairs that are disinfected after every use, pingpong tables and darts. The third floor is where the weight room is. Right outside our village -- still part of the bubble, but right outside -- they built an Olympic team store, a nail salon, a hair salon, a convenience store. It's funny, because it's all made out of wood -- you're walking on wood. It's like a little miniature town that has different areas and hallways, and you're outside, but you're covered in shade because of all the wood above you.

The only high-tech gadget I've come across so far are the no-driving miniature shuttle buses. The captain, I guess you would call him, just presses a button and it stays in a lane and it slows down and stops when there are pedestrians and at its points of stop. Those are moving around at all times. There are probably about 15 or so constantly moving that can take you from one side of the village to the other. They're like those Skyline trains in the airport in a sense, but maybe six or seven people max fit in there.

A couple hours after resting up, I walk to our bus, get on the bus, and then it depends on whether we have to drive about an hour or so or 20 minutes to the stadium we're practicing in.

The protocols are so strict, where the only time you're allowed to go to your venue is at a certain time, or the time that the IOC gives you. When we go and practice, we have precisely two hours. We have people bring up a sign and hold "10 minutes to go" or "five minutes to go" at our practice. Everything's really run by the book here. We try not to waste any time. We get there, we stretch immediately. We go through our program -- either the outfielders are throwing that day or the infielders are going through their infield routine, throwing across the field to the bases. We've been switching on and off every other day. From there, we go right into our hitting groups in short rounds. There are no cages on the side to warm up, so we have a coach there side flipping us, or we hit off the tee just to warm up to hit live. The past couple days we've been going right into simulated at-bats where our pitchers have been throwing to our hitters. We've played simulated games. If we need any extra work, it's usually done right after BP.

After practice, we come back, and I usually jump in the ice tub, shower, go eat dinner and then come back, hang out, watch some sports.

We have a direct feed to our village. Not all of us have TVs in our rooms, but we have lounge areas, we have lounge rooms. There are hammocks on the balconies. We've got couches and rooms with TVs. They've been doing their best to accommodate the athletes to be able to watch other sports. It's been nice. Yesterday, we gathered, literally the whole baseball crew, around the lobby with the big screen to watch the softball team play. It just so happens we had some pole vaulters come through, some high jump and some track athletes like Gabby Thomas. We had some fencers come through. It was like a big party almost -- but we're all masked up. It was cool, because these are the only opportunities we get to celebrate them winning a medal. We tried to go to the stadium, but that got shut down quickly.

I've been running into a lot of people that have just recently won a medal, like Jagger Eaton the skateboarder. It's motivating, makes you want to play already. It's so weird. We're baseball players. We're not used to this much downtime.

 It looks like the women's rugby team is in a huge circle right now on our lawn stretching, while someone is tanning. I'm assuming the reason why they're out here is because they can't just get up and go to their venue, so they're just going to probably do a team stretch, practice, move around.

In the three buildings around me, I see Denmark, Ireland, Cuba, Iceland, Australia, us, Great Britain, South Africa. We're all around, so it's really convenient. In Sochi, it was more of a line of buildings. It was kind of far to get from building one to the last building. This is a little bit more localized in a circle, so it's really easy to get around and run into different countries. I'm looking through the buildings right now, and I'm seeing water and city. This kind of reminds me of Miami.

July 23: The Opening Ceremonies

Earlier in the day, we got on a Zoom call with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. Most of the USA delegation was on the Zoom call, as well. I had no idea that I was going to have to do that. I was the first one that had to speak to her and address her, and it was just intense. When you get put in those situations, you try not to sound silly. The first thing I said after I finished was, 'I blacked out, what did I say?' But it ended up I sounded OK.

When it came time to leave for the stadium, I was downstairs with the majority of Team USA, dressed up by like 7:25 or so. We had a roughly 7:45 p.m. bus that was delayed a little bit, so we were able to hang out, [take] pictures. Heading into the Olympics, there were certain athletes I wanted to meet, including Miami Heat player Bam Adebayo. I went up to him and I basically told him, 'I'm from Miami. I've been following you.' He noticed my white jacket and he goes, 'Dude, you're the flag bearer.' We talked for a little bit. I told him that it's been a lot of fun watching him and his career, and how he's developed as a basketball player in Miami. He goes, 'Thanks, appreciate it.' [We discussed] this and that. We talked about baseball a little bit. It was just really cool to get my picture and hang out, and then he wanted to take a picture with me.

Once they told us that the buses were here, we all started lining up, and then they would take us to the bus. Sue Bird and I were nonstop around each other from the very beginning. When we loaded up the buses, we were already in the very, very front, so we were together from the bus loading for the 25-minute trip to the stadium and then the hour or so walk. It was a long time before we actually got to walk it. We got to know each other, and it was really, really cool to hear her story and her sacrifices -- and how she's become the athlete that she is. She's a sweetheart. It was a great moment for both of us.

When it came time to get the flag, it was a lot of walking. That was for sure. We went through like a maze at the stadium, then we went through the tunnels -- which felt like a mile walk or so. We reached a point where we're about 100 meters away from the opening area where we start walking out, and they handed us the flag there. We just held it until we walked out. It was a PVC pipe with the flag on the end of it. At some points it felt heavy, because it was kind of long, and the wind would pick up a little bit. It would start waving and you're like, 'Uh... uh... OK, we're good.'

When we first got the flag, I think was the coolest part -- because the whole team started chanting 'USA' behind us, and it was just cool holding the flag and feeling the energy from everyone. In Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics, I was in the front of the line, too. I don't know how I finagled my way up there, but I ended up being one of the front liners. That was a true, unbelievable, great first experience at what the Opening Ceremony and the feeling of the Olympic movement really is.

My biggest takeaway this time around was a feeling of, ‘We actually got here,’ just knowing that the world went through what we went through -- and just the fact that we were all in this moment, finally. It was almost like a sigh of relief. Everyone seemed happy and excited. The cheers were happening between us -- although we had some fans -- but it wasn't crazy. It seemed like that was the coolest moment, knowing that there's going to be a lot of dreams coming true and a lot of goals to be met.

When the ceremonies were done, I was scheduled to do an interview live on NBC's Today. I was supposed to do this on camera at a broadcasting location, but they said that they didn't have time. So I had to do it on FaceTime while half of the bus was sleeping and they were like, 'We're just going to do a quick flash of you and then we'll come back in a few minutes.' By the time they came back, I was getting off the bus and about to enter into the village going through security. So I stopped and I had my interview, and then they surprised me with my family. I got emotional. It was such a great moment for them and for me to watch them as happy as they were.

I didn't get back into my room until close to 3 a.m. I had to shower -- imagine the sweat and stuff. I had to eat. The Olympic Village cafeteria is open 24 hours, so I definitely had to snack, fuel up. I had these short ribs with mashed potatoes and a slice of pizza. I got to bed roughly around 4, and then I woke up just before 9 a.m.

The whole experience really was perfect. It was such an honor to know that I was representing more than just myself. That's huge, especially in the city of Miami, my hometown, knowing that someone in my position is representing them proudly. I'm just honored that I had this opportunity to hold the American flag and lead Team USA into the Opening Ceremonies.

July 20: How I’m preparing for another Olympic experience

The magnitude of what I’ve been able to accomplish didn't dawn on me until Major League Baseball announced the team and people really started congratulating me. It just felt like, "Wow, this is a really, really big deal" because of the amount of love I've received. One of the questions you had asked me was, "Am I feeling nervous?" And I really wasn't until it kind of hit me.

Of course, I'm feeling a little nervous now. It's something I have great pride in. I almost live to be an Olympian. Now that I get to do it again, I'm super excited. And they let me know that I got nominated to be the flagbearer, and it seems like I'm one of the top athletes that is being voted for, so who knows? We'll see what happens.

But this second time around, it’s also a little bit calmer, just because now I know what to expect. When you're a first-time Olympian, the noise kind of gets to you a little bit. It's not so much the attention or the media and this and that. It's more of trying to take in everything and trying to take in as much of the experience as possible, and it becomes a lot and becomes overwhelming.

But now that I feel like I've gone through it all, everything that these guys are going through -- the signing up, the classes online, everything -- I've done all this. I know what to expect when I get there. It just kind of feels like I have a cheat sheet.

The biggest thing that I always tell first-time Olympians is get ready to be gifted at all times. Everywhere you go is a gift. You receive gifts here and there, and everyone's going to try and pull you left and right. Always set aside extra time. It's better to just get on the earlier bus because of how unpredictable travel around the village and to your event or stadium or wherever you're competing may be. Everything's kind of separated a little bit. If you have to walk to the cafeteria, I think if I'm not mistaken, when I've done my classes and research and all that, I think it's like a 10-15-minute walk. Just set time apart and soak up the moment and record as much as possible because no joke, you forget. It’s unbelievable how you forget the moments. I'll go through my old Olympic videos, and now I can't believe I forgot that moment.

So I invested in a GoPro, which is going to be my main source of video, and I have my phone, which is going to be my main source for camera and video. I'm traveling light with my recording devices, because I learned my lessons after having a huge camera around at all times in Sochi. We'll see. It should be interesting. I record everything. I'll record from the trip over there, interactions with the guys on the flights. It's all for the memory bank.

It's also crazy how social media has changed in seven years. I had just gotten onto Instagram about a year before the 2014 Olympics. I kind of blew up a little bit where I went from a thousand followers to like 15,000. It's going to be different now. I can see how, especially people who have supported me through this ride and this journey, how much they crave to be a part of this again. And I want to do my best for them, because they've done nothing but support me and be there for me as my support system. So I want to give back to them as much as I can.

I did have a close call right after the Olympic qualifier while I was at Triple-A Jacksonville in June. I swung and hit a changeup off the end of my bat -- I kind of reached for it, and I felt like a tingle in my wrist. I woke up the next morning, and I couldn't rotate my palm up on my right hand. I was like, "Uh oh, I have to say something now."

I felt like I probably could've played through it, but it would have been with a lot of pain, and I didn't want to risk making it worse leading up to the Olympics. I got it checked out. I had a minor tear in the tendon around my wrist, but the doctor said no surgery was needed. So I went to work and got it strong again and we're good. I missed about a month, but I'm all set now.

(Editor’s Note: Team USA just wrapped up a series of exhibition games against the Collegiate National Team in Cary, N.C. Alvarez homered in Sunday’s 8-3 win.)

We had a bunch of soldiers come through, and they had brought an Apache helicopter for show and tell and a rocket launcher. Before the national anthem of our first exhibition game, we had a little ceremony where the soldiers lined up while we were down the first-base line. They walked toward us, and they ripped off their USA patch on their right arm and they handed it to us to take to the Olympics.

It was such a moment -- I don't even know how to describe the word -- but I had chills. It’s such an honor to be presented something that they stand for and to fight for all of us. For them to give me a token, I'm definitely going to keep that patch with me everywhere I go. It was a pretty awesome moment.

As for what awaits in Japan? I don't know what to expect from this Olympics experience, because of how the COVID-19 protocols are going to be. I'm looking forward to basically going into battle with my boys. I'm so excited. I feel like my head is in a really calm place, and I'm really focused on the end goal, which is to be on the top of the podium.