The United States defeated South Korea, 7-2, on the baseball diamond Thursday, clinching no worse than a silver medal and securing a rare Olympic double for second baseman Eddy Alvarez.
A Miami native and former elite short-track speed skater, Alvarez will become just the third American to medal in both the Winter and Summer Games after Team USA punched its ticket to Saturday's matchup against Japan.
Alvarez cried tears of joy in the dugout after the final out as teammates came to congratulate him.
“Yeah, I got emotional because it was a lot of sacrifice,” he said. “I still can’t believe it. I know the job’s not done yet because at the end of the day, one of the only reasons why I came out here is for redemption, to win a gold medal.”
The son of Cuban immigrants will join a remarkably unique U.S. club that includes Eddie Eagan, a 1920 boxing gold medalist and 1932 four-man bobsled champ, and Lauryn Williams, who won 2012 gold in the 4x100 relay and then 2014 silver in the two-woman bobsled.
Alvarez was a member of the 5,000-meter relay team that captured silver in the 2014 Sochi games, shortly before trading in his blades for a glove and bat.
Alvarez has been toiling in the minor league systems of the Chicago White Sox and Miami Marlins organizations ever since. Before heading to Japan, he had been playing for the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, Miami's triple-A affiliate. Alvarez made his Major League Baseball debut in last year's pandemic-shortened season.
He and American women’s basketball legend Sue Bird carried the U.S. flag at the Opening Ceremony two weeks ago.
The 31-year-old has joked that baseball and speed skating have virtually nothing in common, other than both require a series of left turns.
While baseball is a uniquely American game, winning Olympic medals in the national pastime has been far from a given for Team USA.
Baseball was a long-time Olypmics demonstration sport — meaning it was played to promote the sport, but no medals were awarded — most notably in Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988, before taking root at the 1992 games in Barcelona.
The U.S. has won one gold (2000) and two bronze (1996 and 2008) baseball medals.
With the Olympics happening at the same time as the multibillion-dollar domestic baseball season, MLB has not stopped the season or allowed the game's best players to participate in the Tokyo Games, in a manner similar to professional hockey.
This U.S. team is comprised of minor leaguers allowed to play in the Olympics by their parent clubs, and veteran free agents looking to catch the eye of an MLB team. Team USA was one of the last teams to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.