Eddy Alvarez

Eddy Alvarez heats up in Arizona League

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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.”

Watch 41-shot rally, crazy celebrations in table tennis at Commonwealth Games

Bernard Lagat reminded of Atlanta Games at U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

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ATLANTA — As 45-year-old Bernard Lagat sat inside a hotel overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, he spoke one sentence that prefaced the start of his Olympic journey more than two decades ago.

“We are doing this in a special place,” he said of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which finish at the park on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Lagat is an underdog, but has a chance to make a sixth Olympic team by placing in the top three. He can break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history.

Lagat was reminded this week of the Atlanta Olympics that got away.

In 1996, the Kenyan-born runner was coming off his freshman year at Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi. He studied mathematics and computer science.

Lagat debuted at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. He remembered finishing seventh in the 1500m, having exhausted himself by clocking a 3:37 semifinal.

“They had fancy shoes, nice clothing,” he said of the pros. “Me, I was like hand-me-down spikes.”

Lagat’s coach at the time, Nganga Ngata, arranged for him to transfer to Washington State later that summer. But first, Lagat watched on TV the Olympic 1500m final — famous for then-world-record holder Noureddine Morceli and current world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj making contact at the bell; El Guerrouj fell, Morceli won.

Days later, Lagat headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. He was to fly to the United States for the first time, embarking on a journey that would lead to U.S. Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016 after he represented Kenya in 2000 and 2004.

Before a 21-year-old Lagat boarded his flight, he encountered a reception. The Kenyan Olympic team was arriving back from Atlanta after collecting eight medals, including in every men’s distance-running event.

“They had all these celebrations, traditional milk and the gourds,” Lagat said. “Oh, it was amazing. … That fire, seeing them coming home with medals, and I thought, I want to be like those guys.”

Lagat went on to earn eight combined Olympic and world championships medals between the 1500m and 5000m. Lagat qualified for one last Olympics on the track in 2016, going from sixth place at the bell to win the trials 5000m. He was fifth in Rio.

Then he turned to the marathon. Lagat has raced two of them. He clocked 2:17:20 in New York City in 2018, saying he was “running blind” with inexperience. He ran 2:12:10 at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, ranking him outside the 20 fastest Americans in this Olympic cycle.

Lagat went back to Kenya last month to train for the trials with the likes of world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Lagat soaked up so much that he likened it to a six-week school term.

At one point, Lagat was part of a 30km training run with Kipchoge. By the end he rounded a bend and saw the Olympic favorite just 60 seconds ahead.

“You think about Eliud being 60 seconds ahead of you in a 30K?” an incredulous Lagat said. “I thought, I’m done. Now I can buy my flight and go back to USA. I’m ready.”

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Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

Andrey Kulagin
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U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

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