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Two Of A Kind Eddy Alvarez And Lee Mazzilli Thrived In Speedskating And Baseball

By David Seigerman | Nov. 24, 2020, 2:04 p.m. (ET)

Over the course of 145 summers, nearly 20,000 players have taken the field for one of the 220,409 games in Major League Baseball history. That distinguished collection includes a former Heisman Trophy winner, a Wooden Award winner, a gold medalist track star and a solider who earned a Purple Heart during the D-Day invasion, as well as a future Pro Football Hall of Famer, an NBA champion and several U.S senators and congressmen. But until this past Aug. 5, late on a Wednesday afternoon in Baltimore, when Eddy Alvarez stepped to the plate with two out and one on in the top of the second inning, not one of the 15 million MLB at-bats had been taken by an athlete who previously had stood on a podium at the Winter Olympics.

Alvarez, an infielder for the Miami Marlins and a member of the U.S. short track 5,000-meter relay team that captured the Silver Medal at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, grounded out to first in that first major league at-bat. His first big league base hit came four days later — a grounder between third base and shortstop off Jacob deGrom, winner of back-to-back Cy Young Awards. That ball is displayed in his home, along with the batting gloves from that historic debut and his hard-earned silver medal, a trio of tokens from his rare route to the top levels of two sports.

“When someone says that anything is possible, they’re not just blowing smoke,” said Alvarez, 30. “And if anything is possible, it comes from going for it, giving it your all.”

Few athletes could fathom what it took for Alvarez to accomplish what he has in two sports so fundamentally different as speed skating and baseball — the sports’ one commonality, as Alvarez sees it: “You gotta turn left.”

In fact, there may be only one person who can relate directly to Alvarez’s particular dual pursuits. 

Before he became an All-Star center fielder for the New York Mets, Lee Mazzilli was an accomplished speed skater, winning four age-level national championships in short track competition and three in long track. As a teenager, Mazzilli’s reputation had a greater reach on the oval than on the diamond.

“Big meets drew people from all over the country. And in certain competitions, Lee came from New York and it was, ‘Oh god, here come’s Lee Mazzilli,’” recalled Bonnie Blair Cruikshank at a recent US Speedskating virtual event featuring Mazzilli and Alvarez.

Blair — racing royalty herself — remembers Mazzilli, now 65, coming to the Midwest to compete against her older brother, Rob, and the best speed skaters in the country. Eric Heiden, a few years younger than Mazzilli, was winning races on the circuit at that time, too, and Mazzilli seemed well-positioned for an eventual shot at the Olympics. 

His crossroads moment came during the summer of 1971. Mazzilli had been invited to Colorado to train at the Air Force Academy with the junior national team. But professional baseball scouts were hearing about this promising young ballplayer from Brooklyn, and Mazzilli couldn’t take the time away from that sport. His speed skating career came to end a few years before he was selected by the Mets with the 14th pick of the 1973 draft.

“Someone asked me the one thing I regret during my professional career. I wish I had a chance to go to the Olympics, to be part of an Olympic team.” said Mazzilli, who would play 14 seasons in the majors and managed the Orioles for nearly two seasons. “Back then, you could not be a professional in one sport and go to the Olympics. I picked baseball, but I wish I could have represented our country.”

Alvarez faced similar decisions throughout his career, jumping back and forth between sports for two decades until he stepped down from the podium in Sochi and turned his focus to baseball for good. His path mirrors Mazzili’s in other ways, as well.

Both of their fathers, coincidentally, were involved with boxing. Mazzilli’s father, Libero, fought 20 professional bouts as a welterweight; Walter Alvarez has managed fighters and promoted fights for years. Also, both athletes made their major league debuts with their hometown teams: “Eddy the Jet” grew up a mile-and-a-half from the Orange Bowl, the site where the Marlins now play their home games; Mazzilli was from Brooklyn, but he frequently skated at a rink in Queens, on the opposite side of Flushing Meadows Park from Shea Stadium.

And both were admittedly bashful about what they wore as competitive speed skaters.

“Miami is a mecca for baseball, but it’s not very often you find a Cuban American willing to put on tights and go somewhere in the Midwest to skate on ice,” Alvarez said.

“I came from Brooklyn,” said Mazzilli. “I didn’t tell anyone I wore tights when I skated.”

Ultimately, the most important trait that they share is probably the one that enabled their respective success in both baseball and speed skating. It’s what fueled Alvarez through impossibly long days when he juggled training with the US National Team, playing college baseball and taking a full course load at Salt Lake Community College, and again through six years in the minor leagues. It’s what drove Mazzilli to leave Brooklyn to skate on an outdoor rink in Minnesota when the temperature was well below zero, and again later when he was the most popular player on a series of Mets teams suffering through an extended stretch of moribund baseball.

It’s what earned Alvarez his Silver Medal and Mazzilli his two World Series rings.

“If you’re going to do something, do it with passion,” said Alvarez.

“My dad told me, ‘You gotta have fun,’” Mazzilli said. “We have something inside us, a competitiveness, a love for the game. When you stop loving what you’re doing and you think it’s a job, it’s time to get out. When you feel it’s a grind to get up at 5 in the morning to do your workout, it’s time to get out. And I always had fun.”


David Seigerman is a veteran sportswriter, producer, author and the producer/writer/host of the new sports podcast, Out Of Left Field. He is a freelance contributor to USSpeedskating.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

David Seigerman

By David Seigerman

Red Line Editorial