The Olympic Diaries, from Eddy Alvarez

Relive the action from Tokyo through the eyes of two-time Olympian, who is a silver medalist in speed skating and baseball

August 24th, 2021
Art by Tom Forget

, an infielder for the Marlins' Triple-A Jacksonville affiliate, has made history -- and taken us along for the ride.

Alvarez was 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 was the second baseman for USA Baseball's 24-man roster. The Miami native debuted for his hometown Marlins on Aug. 5, 2020.

Prior to this year's Games, only five athletes -- regardless of country -- medaled in both a winter and summer event. Alvarez became the sixth member of that exclusive company, winning a silver medal, and he was here to provide an inside look at the Tokyo Games to readers. Here are his entries from the Olympics, as told to reporter Christina De Nicola.

Aug. 23: Back home

The closing ceremony was Sunday (Aug. 8), and I flew out Monday. I landed in New York City late at night and got up earlyish to go on the TODAY show. I was excited to be with family, to see my wife and my son. My mom made the trip out as well, but I didn't get to see them until the day of the TODAY show. I guess it was an exciting way to see them on national television. I tried to get my son Jett's attention. There was a lot of noise around him, so it took him a minute to look in my direction. But once he did, he looked at me and studied me. He didn't realize that I was there. He looked like he was really concentrating to see if this was really true -- that I wasn't on an iPhone or an iPad. Once he realized, he squealed.

There wasn't a welcome party at the airport. I was just so exhausted that I was hoping that they weren't there. Plus, it's chaos at Miami International. I'm glad that I was able to go home and just be at my house for a little bit. But the family support has not stopped. I got to see everyone. It was tough the first week to adjust, but I knew that I had just a couple days to relax before I came back to Triple-A Jacksonville.

So I still worked out at LOX Fitness in Doral. I still got to practice every day just to keep at it, because I knew that I was going to be jumping right into it, and I knew that the ultimate goal was to try and find myself back on the big league team. It was great to have a moment, a breather, but I really didn't because I knew what the ultimate goal was.

I was going to head up Friday (Aug. 13), and the Marlins had called me to say to wait back and stop by loanDepot park. It was weird seeing your own team play, just kind of being a fan. But I enjoyed it, because I got to celebrate my son's first birthday at the same time. When we got the invitation that they were going to give us a suite and I could invite 25 guests, me and my wife, Gaby, instantly looked at each other and we were like, 'Oh my God, we should do Jett's birthday celebration as well since you're here.' I was like, 'Done.' So I called the Marlins and I told them, 'Is it OK if we bring cake and balloons?' We celebrated my son's first birthday a week early.

That Sunday (Aug. 15) was a big travel day for me. I made the drive from Miami to Jacksonville to meet the team, and I hopped on a bus for the six-hour drive to Durham (N.C.). I got to face USA Baseball teammates David Robertson and Shane Baz, which is awkward. I don't like facing people that I know. It was a pretty even duel with both pitchers. Shane Baz struck me out my first at-bat, then hit me on my foot. And then with David Robertson, he got me out, and then I hit a long single in the gap.

The Sochi medal is back home. I do have Tokyo, because I promised a few people I would take it to Jacksonville, so it's with me, it's hanging out, it's made its rounds. Triple-A teammate Jake Fishman made a funny joke. He grabbed it and he's like, 'So this is what I could have had around my neck?' I reminded him how proud I was of how hard Israel went for it. They gave it their absolute all.

(Editor's note: Alvarez has a slash line of .389/.476/.722 with five runs, three doubles, one homer and six RBIs in five games since his return. He went deep in his second at-bat.)

It's a little different now. I'm getting recognized more -- like even at Durham I had people clapping for me, which is weird because Durham can be a tough crowd sometimes for the opposing team. I had people cheering me on here. Sometimes I get tagged on social media by people taking pictures of me hitting, and that part's a little different for me. Just for everyone back home to kind of know my name, especially all the kids that are at my facility, it's unique.

You get this moment, you're on top of the world, and it happens so fast. As an Olympic athlete, the Olympics happen, it feels like, in a day. We were just at the peak of our athletic career, our physical shape competing against the whole world, and then it just kind of all gets taken away underneath us like a rug being pulled from under our feet. And then what? I put a lot of time into all this to get to where I am and the attention that I'm getting now, but there are a lot of athletes that are really struggling not knowing what to do, not having motivation to train, really wondering what the heck the next step is. I feel for them.

I've been very fortunate for this to be kind of an easy return home so far. It did feel like I was on a book tour over there for a little bit, but it was nice. It was all great, it all ran smoothly. I had a great team behind me. I’m just trying to take it a day at a time now. Back to the baseball grind.

Aug. 8: Making history

When we first faced Japan with a trip to the semifinal on the line, it was a tough one to lose, especially when you were up three runs. Once we were back in the clubhouse, we knew exactly what we needed to do. It was more of, 'Let's not chance anything. Freaking win everything.'

After we beat Korea to guarantee a medal, I was just sitting there. I was happy. Nick Martinez came up to me, pulled me up to stand up, and he gave me a hug and basically told me how proud he was of me. That's when I kind of started losing it a little bit and started realizing what I have achieved, so I had a little moment in the dugout.

Back in the clubhouse, I received so many messages. I wish I could reply to everyone; I've been feeling so much love and support. I wish there was an easier way of contacting and getting to everyone. But it's been great. My first call was to my wife, and she was with my parents, because they're all in Orlando and they watched the game there. I saw that my parents and my wife and my son made a little TV debut while I was hitting. I saw a video of that somewhere, which is pretty awesome. My family is what I've missed the most, of course. That's tough that they couldn't experience this, but I knew they were here with me every step of the way.

The day after ensuring a medal, I posted video of me rollerblading around the Olympic Village. It was great. I rollerbladed a lot to our bus. That was kind of a long trek. I would get there in a couple minutes, so it was awesome. And then I rollerbladed to go get a haircut. It was fun busting them out here, especially with no traffic, so I can just cruise around the streets. I did see a bunch of the Netherlands athletes just stop and start pointing at me. Speed skating is a big sport in the Netherlands, so I can only imagine they were like, 'What the heck is happening here?'

Before the rematch against Japan in the final, we were super fired up before the game, absolutely ready to attack. I've got to tell you that they spotted up the majority of all their pitches. It seemed like they didn't make many mistakes -- or at least the pitchers didn't. When they did, it was like we hit the ball right at someone. We just couldn't catch a break the entire game.

It was a little bittersweet earning the silver, to be honest. I think it was just because it was so fresh in my mind. When you do the ceremony right after a game like that and you lose, you don't realize how much you actually have accomplished. Once I got the medal put around me, it kind of felt like nostalgia, and it brought some great memories back. Just to be able to relive it again, it honestly feels like such a blessing.

Our teammates to the side put the medals on us, so Eric Filia put it on me and we hugged it out. We went all the way down the line like that. It was a cool, cool way of doing it. It was kind of cinematic with the rain coming down. The weather's really changed here. It's been really gloomy and raining. But it wasn't heavy rain. I did wear my medal the entire night at Closing Ceremonies back in 2014, and my neck and shoulders and traps were so sore. It's a heavy medal -- over two pounds! This one is the same kind of weight. It's not as big in diameter. The ones from Sochi have some glass in the center, so it had like cutouts. This one's not as big, but it's just as heavy.

Where is the medal going to go? I think the two medals need to meet, hang out and vibe off each other. It's for show and tell and stuff. I'll just keep it around in my house, and then my mom will probably be the safe keeper.

I keep having moments throughout my day. I think it's just one of those things that I'm still trying to live in the moment right now with Closing Ceremonies about to happen. I think it's going to hit me more once I'm home, maybe in the offseason when I look back and realize that this journey is very rare. I'm just so happy and blessed that I got to experience something like this, because I know making one Olympics alone is a once-in-a-lifetime event. But the fact that I get to do it twice and medal in both, I mean, how lucky am I?

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.