Eddy Alvarez heats up in Arizona League

Eddy Alvarez
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source:  Olympic short track speed skating silver medalist Eddy Alvarez kept his goal simple this spring when he started playing baseball for the first time in three years.

“Not look bad and swing and miss at the first three pitches,” he joked.

He’s looking better and better in the uniform of the Chicago White Sox’s Arizona League rookie-level affiliate, suiting up for games in 115 degrees with little to no spectators on spring training complex fields.

Alvarez ranks 15th in batting average (.301) in the 13-team league, is riding an eight-game hitting streak, including his first two professional home runs on Sunday and Monday, his first two games of the second half of the season.

Alvarez was an all-conference shortstop at Salt Lake Community College in 2011 before shifting focus to short track speed skating, where he and his U.S. teammates won 5000m relay silver medals in Sochi.

He reverted to baseball when he returned from Sochi, ended up working out for the Chicago White Sox and signing a minor-league contract with the club in early June.

“It definitely was a chance, picking up a kid who hasn’t played in three years who is starting at the age of 24,” said Alvarez, who plays in a league full of recently drafted and signed players in their teens and low 20s. “It’s not your typical story, but I play like a 17-year-old kid. I’m running around everywhere. I’m diving around everywhere. I’m full of life. I definitely see my progression moving at a rapid pace.”

The speed of the game challenged him at first, seeing high 90s mph pitching for the first time in three years, perhaps ever. But he’s now settled in, with regular advice from older brother Nick, a former prospect in the Dodgers system.

Alvarez smacked his first professional home run Sunday, a “nice and pretty,” bases-loaded 3-1 fastball over the right-center field fence. It being the Arizona League and no spectators, the ball was easily retrieved by his hitting coach and trainer via a golf cart.

“From what I can remember, you know when you have an out-of-body experience?” Alvarez said. “Not out of body but when you feel like you’re not there sometimes. That’s kind of what happened.”

He estimated the ball flew about 400 feet.

“As soon as I hit it, I knew instantly it was gone,” Alvarez said. “It was one of those moments you don’t feel the ball hit the bat. It was absolutely perfect.”

Alvarez, a 5-foot-9 Miami native nicknamed “The Jet,” was known more for his speed by Olympic followers, but proved his pop by going deep again Monday.

He’s thinking about his future, ready to let go of speed skating, but not ruling it out completely if something goes amiss with baseball and he gets the Olympic itch again. He still talks with friend and Olympic teammate J.R. Celski weekly. Celski called him after that first homer.

Alvarez’s next goal is a promotion in the White Sox’s minor league system by the end of the season. Either way, he hopes to be at their minor-league camp in spring training next year.

“He’s as athletic as anybody we have,” White Sox assistant general manager Buddy Bell said earlier this season, according to the Chicago Tribune. “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.”

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Luz Long’s Olympic silver medal for sale from Jesse Owens long jump duel

Jesse Owens, Luz Long
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One of the most consequential Olympic medals ever awarded is on the auction block — the silver medal captured in 1936 by Germany’s Luz Long, the long jumper who walked arm in arm through the stadium with Jesse Owens to celebrate their triumphs while Adolf Hitler watched from the stands.

Long’s family has decided to auction the medal and other collectibles from the German jumper’s career. Long was killed in World War II in 1943.

The auction house selling the medal has labeled Long’s collection “The Beacon of Hope.”

“The story of Jesse Owens never seems to end,” said Long’s granddaughter, Julia Kellner-Long, in a phone interview from her house in Munich. “My grandfather has always been inspirational and influential in the way I choose to see the world, and this is something I think the world outside needs. Now more than ever. It gives us hope.”

Long cemented himself in Olympic lore during the Berlin Games when he was the first to congratulate Owens on his triumph in the long jump. Later they walked around the stadium together and posed for pictures.

There’s also the story Owens told of Long approaching him after he fouled on his first two attempts in the preliminary round. With only one more try to make the final, Owens said Long suggested he take off a foot in front of the board, to assure he wouldn’t foul on his last try. Owens took that advice and went on to win the title — one of four he captured in Berlin — with a then-Olympic record jump of 8.06 meters (26 feet, 5 1/2 inches).

Owens was Black, and his stirring success at those Olympics was said to have annoyed Hitler by puncturing the Nazi myth of Aryan racial superiority.

The camaraderie between Owens and Long, and the relationship that ensued between the men and their families, are often held up as the prime example of what the Olympics are supposed to be about — a peaceful coming together of people from different countries and cultures who set their differences aside in the spirit of competition.

“It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me,” Owens said, years later. “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace.”

The decision to sell came shortly after Luz’s son (and Julia’s father), Kai, died at age 80. Kellner-Long said the great responsibility of preserving her grandfather’s memorabilia should be passed onto an individual, or museum, that has the time and resources to do so. The family also wanted to use the sale to rekindle the story of Long and Owens.

“Even 86 years later, shining a beacon of hope is an important and realistic value, especially in a time of increasing racism, increasing exclusion and hatred,” Kellner-Long said.

The auction house started the bidding for Long’s medal at $50,000, and estimated the value at somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million. The bidding runs through Oct. 15. The value of Olympic medals on the open market varies widely. One of Owens’ four gold medals from 1936 fetched $1.46 million. Bill Russell’s gold medal from the 1956 Olympics recently sold for $587,500.

David Kohler of SCP Auctions, which is conducting the sale, said the medal is about Long, but also “the story of the courageousness and the athlete and what he did there.”

Long didn’t live long enough to see his legacy play out. He was killed in 1943 in the battle of St. Pietro on the Italian island of Sardinia. Shortly before that, he wrote a letter to Owens, one he predicted would be “the last letter I shall ever write.”

In it, Long asked Owens to go to Germany after the war and find his son.

“Tell him, Jesse, what times were like when we were not separated by war,” Long wrote. “I am saying — tell him how things can be between men on this earth.”

Owens and Kai Long met several times over the years, including at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in 1966. Owens later was a best man at Kai’s wedding.

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Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
Puma
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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