The Time I Taught the US Flag Bearer to Charge the Mound
The most interesting athlete in the Tokyo Summer Olympics will carry the American flag in today’s opening ceremony.
I should know. I taught him how to properly charge the mound and start a baseball brawl when he was 18 months old.
Eddy Alvarez is an infielder for the US baseball team.
He’s a Miami native and the son of Cuban immigrants, Walter and Mabel Alvarez. More on mom and dad in a moment, because Eddy’s professional athletic resume defies all Venn-diagram logic and deserves attention.
Currently, Eddy is a professional baseball player in the Miami Marlins organization. Last year, he recorded his first Major League hit as a 30-year old rookie.
In 2014, Eddy made history as the first-ever Cuban-American male to appear in the Winter Olympics, winning the silver medal in the 5,000-meter short-track speed skating relay at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
You read that correctly.
Eddy Alvarez is both a medal-winning Olympic speed skater and a Major League Baseball player who this year will make his second appearance at the Olympics, this time in the Summer Games.
For Eddy, it is a lonely middle in that Venn diagram.
Thirty years ago in 1991, 18-month-old Eddy and his parents traveled from Miami with our team of elite youth baseball players to Dublin, Ohio for a weeklong baseball tournament featuring many of the best 14-year-olds from around the country--including Eddy's half-brother, Nick, who would eventually play AAA professional baseball.
Eddy was still in diapers at the time but stole the show in front of Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium when he put on a hitting exhibition in front of at least 200 fans.
Had we lived in the digital age at the time, the scene of little Eddy swinging a souvenir bat and smacking cushioned balls into a cheering crowd would have certainly gone viral.
It was an American moment if ever there was one.
The kid had learned to hit before he could walk. Not an unusual circumstance in Miami’s Cuban culture, where baseball is more than religion. The game itself is God. Everything else is mortal.
Eddy’s life-changing event happened around his fifth birthday.
His mother, Mabel, thought her son was perhaps too obsessed with baseball and gave him a pair of plastic roller skates, hoping to round out Eddy’s interests.
His father--Walter, who was then and still is as plugged in a member of the Miami baseball community as anyone who’s ever lived--was livid.
But Walter’s fears of career-threatening emergency room visits subsided when it was clear young Eddy had a talent for skating that surpassed his gifts for baseball.
Within a year, Eddy was again wowing public crowds. This time, he was riding inline skates and putting on acrobatic displays for weekend passersby in South Beach.
Eddy’s prowess soon drew the attention of coach Bob Manning who introduced the then seven-year-old to ice skating.
By the age of eleven, Eddy had won national titles in ice skating’s “Triple Crown” of events-- inline speed skating, long track speed skating, and short track speed skating.
The legend of “Eddy the Jet” was born.
If you’re from, say, anywhere in the US other than Miami, Eddy’s wild rise to youth athletic success may sound like a case of open-minded parents nurturing their son’s ability.
But those of us who’d lived in the heart of Miami’s unrivaled baseball culture and knew the Alvarez family thought the universe might spontaneously end.
If baseball is God in Miami, only an atheist would accept that one of its chosen sons would end up a speed skater.
Perhaps God righted the universe when he called Eddy back to the diamond for his high school years.
As a shortstop for Miami’s Christopher Columbus High School--a powerhouse known for producing blue-chip prospects with factory-like regularity--Eddy picked up right where he left off, proving to be one of the city’s best during his senior year.
But when it came time to choose among his many baseball scholarship offers, Eddy decided to again trade his cleats for skates, this time to pursue his goal of making the Olympics.
That dream would come true at the Sochi games in 2014.
A year later, Eddy began an arduous climb through baseball’s Minor-League system fueled by the dream of one day making the Majors.
That dream would be fulfilled on August 5th, 2020, when Eddy appeared in his first Major League game as a member of his hometown team, the Miami Marlins.
On July 21, 2021, Eddy was chosen to be a flag-bearer for the US in the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony, the first-ever US baseball player to be selected for such an honor.
I’ll be watching when he takes the field during the Games, remembering the time I tossed underhanded balls to Eddy when he was in diapers back in 1991 and watched his sweet lefty swing crush those pitches like a natural.
That day in front of Riverfront stadium, the crowd of gushing onlookers was treated to more than just a hitting display by a young prodigy.
When one of my errant pitches hit Eddy in the shoulder, the 18-month-old did exactly what we’d taught him. He dropped his bat on the asphalt and changed the mound like a boss.
The crowd loved it. Cincinnati is a blue-collar baseball town, after all.
If during this year’s Olympic games, the most interesting athlete in the field takes one in the ribs and charges the mound, my heart will burst with pride.
It happens that way when your'e from Miami, where baseball is God.
Bring home the gold, Eddy.
We can’t wait for you to wow us with whatever comes next.
Fred Smith grew up in Miami, Florida in 1980s and '90s playing baseball in place and at time when the game mattered a bonds were made that lasted a lifetime.
His debut novel ,The Coolest Labels, is about a group of disparate teens in the 1990s trying to find their way in the immediate wake of Hurricane Andrew's devastating wake.