In 20 years of minor-league baseball in Kannapolis, some of the most accomplished athletes in the world have called Cabarrus County home for short stints.
In addition to dozens of future major-league players, Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins played for the Piedmont Boll Weevils in 1997 before becoming the National League MVP in 2007.
Ricky Williams, a Boll Weevil in 1996-97, won the Heisman Trophy as the best college football player in America while playing for Texas in 1998.
Now there is a Kannapolis Intimidators player who already has achieved glory in one sport and hopes to be among the best in another.
On Aug. 11, the Chicago White Sox promoted middle infielder Eddy Alvarez to Kannapolis, where he likely will finish the 2014 season.
Alvarez may not be a household name, but the Miami native opened 2014 on the other side of the world, winning a silver medal in short-track speed skating at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
“I hope to share my story with kids,” said Alvarez, 24. “I definitely want to motivate them to grow up and do something spectacular and exceptional with their lives. There’s no reason to look back at your past. You should try and succeed.”
Though he has played baseball most of his life, Alvarez signed his first professional contract less than three months ago. Speed skating, both on ice and inline, consumed him for most of the past five years.
After the Olympics were complete in late February, Alvarez attended tryout camps to shop himself around to major-league teams. The White Sox signed him June 11.
Alvarez spent two months playing in the Arizona League before being promoted. Through his first 11 games with Kannapolis, Alvarez was batting .467 with a 1.209 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average). He has driven in eight runs and scored eight runs, and Aug. 23 he hit his only two home runs as an Intimidator, in the same game.
A switch-hitting slap hitter, Alvarez can fly around the bases. Listed as 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, his stature is similar to Houston Astros all-star second baseman Jose Altuve.
Through his sophomore year of high school, Alvarez juggled both baseball and speed skating, but he dedicated himself to baseball over his final two years.
Alvarez then picked up speed skating again, and as a 19-year-old he participated in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Marquette, Mich., prior to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
At the trials, “Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong,” said Alvarez. “It was a life lesson for me. I was young at the time and at that level the pressure got to me a little bit. I wasn’t ready physically and mentally to be in that spot.”
He thought about quitting skating but decided to train with the U.S. National Team in Salt Lake City. During 2010-11, Alvarez played one season of baseball with Salt Lake Community College.
Participating in the Olympic Trials in Salt Lake City in January 2014, Alvarez qualified for the U.S. team. He competed in four events in Sochi but either fell or was disqualified in his first three.
By the time of the 5,000-meter relay – the final speed skating event of the Olympics – no U.S. skater had won a medal. Alvarez and his three teammates secured a silver by finishing 0.271 seconds behind the Russians.
When he signed with the White Sox and reported to Arizona, Alvarez said it took his teammates some time to find out about his Olympic glory. Intimidators manager Pete Rose Jr. said the only information he had about Alvarez when he reported to Kannapolis was that “he plays second base and shortstop, he wears No. 1 and he bats left-handed.”
Winning an Olympic silver medal “probably says a lot about his work ethic and character,” said Rose. “If he can do what he did in that aspect of athletics, I’m sure it’s going to carry over to the baseball field, which is nothing but a plus for him and the other guys around him.”