Eddy Alvarez won an Olympic silver medal because of his speed, but he now is facing a different kind of fast.
"Seeing a 96-mph fastball thrown at you," Alvarez said. "I don't think I've ever seen pitching that fast coming at me."
The day Alvarez returned home from the 2014 Sochi Olympics with a silver medal for the 5,000-meter relay in short-track speedskating, he traded in his skates for cleats. Speedskating is now behind him, he said, and he is focusing on baseball while playing with the AZL White Sox in the rookie-level Arizona League.
"I loved short-track speedskating, but I could only do it for so long," Alvarez said. "And my true love and my true passion is baseball, so I think it's time for me to move on from skating and see where this goes."
Alvarez was first a baseball player as a child, but until this summer he hadn't played the sport since April 2011 while in junior college in Utah. After accomplishing his goal of becoming an Olympian, he decided he would become either a pro or college baseball player and began preparing in Miami.
A few months later, he worked out with the Sox, who were impressed enough with his athletic ability that they gave him a minor league contract to see what might come of it with more training.
"He's as athletic as anybody we have," Sox assistant general manager Buddy Bell said recently. "You have to be at the level he has competed at. Surprisingly he has really, really good instincts for baseball considering he hasn't done a whole lot the last few years. I'm really interested to see what develops."
Entering Thursday, the middle infielder had played in seven games for the AZL White Sox, hitting .241 with two doubles, a triple and three RBIs. The speed of the game has been the biggest challenge.
"Being away from it for three years, it really speeds up the game," Alvarez said. "That's the main challenge for me is trying to slow the game down. … For being out for so long … I've been keeping up well, and I'm thankful that I'm capable of playing at this level with minimal practice."
Alvarez's older brother, Nick, played in the Dodgers system for seven years and offers advice in the transition.
"He tells me, 'Every pitch, step out of the box and take a deep breath,'" Alvarez said. "Just control my heart rate and feel for it and slow it down. He's a huge part of this journey. I'm glad he's dealt with it, so I can cheat a little bit."
Alvarez said he has one advantage — his physical conditioning. He was used to training six to eight hours a day while preparing for the Olympics, and he has found himself with plenty of extra time to work on reacquiring his baseball skills.
"I run circles around people here," Alvarez said. "People are like, how do you do this? The transition is fun for me because (we trained) at such a high level for so many hours. When I show up to the baseball field, I'm ready to go. I want to do stuff. I want to lift weights right away, I want to run, I want to stretch. I'm willing to do the extra work because I'm used to two-a-days."
Alvarez said he is not sure what the Sox plan is for him, but he has one in mind — try to improve every day and see what happens.
"It's a little unusual in that he's 24," Bell said. "He's a little late getting started, but considering the type of routine he's had, the grind his body has been through and the shape he is in, he plays like a younger kid who is just starting out. I was actually shocked by the things he was able to do on the baseball field. He's a great kid, and we know he's going to bring it every day."
Extra innings: Triple-A Charlotte shortstop Tyler Saladino has been named to the International League All-Star Team. He was hitting .307 with 14 doubles, four triples, nine home runs and 38 RBIs through Wednesday. … The Sox claimed right-handed pitcher Angel Sanchez off waivers from the Rays and assigned him to Class A Winston-Salem. Sanchez was 0-9 with a 7.04 ERA in 14 starts between two Double-A teams this season.
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