The 2022 Oklahoma City Dodgers are a vibe.
They are the most exciting team I’ve seen in a while with an energy that makes it easy to understand their record coming into this series in Sacramento. From the nonchalant too cool for school attitude of Omar Estevez, the slick laid back demeanor of Andre Jackson, the swagger of Miguel Vargas, or the cool professional leadership of veteran Kevin Pillar, it creates an energy in the dugout that is making baseball fun for this team and exciting for their fans.
Eddy Alvarez, shortstop for the OKC Dodgers had this to say about what he feels creates the ball club’s energy,
“I think the roles that a lot of us have, [as] a lot of us are…veterans now, [with] a lot of big-league experience in our clubhouse, and we’ve taken the roll as it comes. The big-league team is obviously a video game kind of lineup, we understand that. I think the Dodgers on their end have done an unbelievable job in just getting and meshing a great group of guys together; if you can tell what its like as an outsider, it only gets better once we’re in the clubhouse”.
The last time the OKC Dodgers played in Sacramento was in 2018 with a team that featured the likes of Alex Verdugo, Tim Locastro, and Donovan Solano. This year the Dodgers roll in with an 8-4 record and atop the Pacific Coast League East. The River Cats, at 7-5, are in a three-way tie for second in the West.
Game 1 featured a pitching matchup between Sean Hjelle of the River Cats, and Andre Jackson for OKC. While the River Cats would lose by a score of 10-4, which included a six run eighth, the fireworks started early on when Dodgers’ second baseman Eddy Alvarez knocked in a run in the first, and then blasted a monster solo homerun in the third.
After rounding the bases and giving high fives to his teammates lined up across the front of the dugout, OKC Dodgers pitching coach Dave Borkowski said, “He does it all”, and that is no exaggeration, as Eddy indeed, does it all.
Eddy Alvarez is not your typical professional baseball player. A native of Miami, Florida, Eddy was born to Cuban immigrant parents, and while baseball was in his blood, he fell in love with another sport, inline speed skating. Eddy learned that to compete on the international level he needed to be skating on ice. That decision, determination and hard work led to Eddy being selected for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Short Track Speed Skating team which earned him a Silver Medal in Sochi.
I mentioned earlier that baseball was in Eddy’s blood, and that was manifested in his brother Nick, thirteen years his senior, who spent seven years in the Dodgers’ organization making it to Triple-A. Nick was a power hitter, and unbeknownst to me until recently that the two were brothers, I actually followed Nick’s career for a time. I live and write about baseball in San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s country, but on the inside, I bleed Dodger blue through my Red Sox. After the 2014 Olympics, Eddy decided to hang up his skates for cleats due to the punishment his body was taking and the surgeries he needed to maintain at just 24 years of age.
Signed as an undrafted free agent, for nothing more than a chance by the White Sox, Eddy toiled in the Minor Leagues for five years before being traded to his hometown Miami Marlins in 2019. Eddy made his Major League debut on August 5, 2020 for the Marlins and would go on to get his first Major League hit off Jacob deGrom a few days later. Eddy credits his brother Nick in helping him transition to baseball.
“Nick’s career was kind of a steppingstone for me. He passed a bunch of information down to me when I made the decision to transition to baseball. He was the first one that I went to, to ask for help. Now he has three kids, two boys that are heavy in the baseball world. He has his own baseball academy…his own training facility that he runs the academy through; 25,000 square feet and that place is booming. He’s doing good, he’s doing really well, and the kids are doing extremely well, and we know he’s a basher right? He hit some far home runs that probably haven’t landed yet but he’s an unbelievable dad now, and it’s incredible to watch”.
In May of 2021, Eddy was named to the roster of the 2020/21 United States National Baseball team at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and would once again wear the Red, White, and Blue on the international stage. Eddy’s experience in Tokyo was much different than Sochi.
“It was a lot different, the 2020 Olympics, compared to the 2014 with everything being shut down with Covid, and no crowds in the stands. The 2014 experience was my first taste of accomplishment, something that my whole life I sacrificed for, but either way, I was so honored to be named one of the flag bearers, next to Sue Bird, and to be able to walk out the Flag, knowing that it’s a symbol of liberty and freedom. It’s something that my family came over to the United States in search of, so I waved that Flag proudly for them”.
Team USA Baseball would fall to Japan in the Gold Medal game, which earned USA Baseball, and Eddy Alvarez the Silver Medal. This would be Eddy’s second Olympic Medal, in a different sport, making him one of six athletes, and only the third American, to have medaled in both the Winter and Summer Olympics. He is also the first Winter Olympian, and first non-baseball Olympian to have played Major League Baseball since the great Jim Thorpe in 1913, after getting Gold in 1912.
Eddy isn’t the only Olympian on the OKC Dodgers roster; he is joined by Team Israel infielder, and U.C. Davis alum, Ty Kelly. One thing I was dying to find out though was about the beds in Tokyo. All over social media last summer, athletes from around the world shared videos of the beds as they were tried, tested, and sometimes destroyed for views. The one thing that none of them ever mentioned, was how comfortable they were, so having the opportunity, I asked Eddy and with a laugh he said,
“They weren’t bad; they were a little stiff, the cushions were a little hard, but I slept really good. Then again, it was like sleeping on an arts and crafts model of a bed frame, but it was perfectly fine. [They were] really easy to move, and really easy to clean under”.
Its hard not to root for Eddy and wish the best for him. Eddy is also known for his backflips, and one of his goals is to bring the backflip back to the game of baseball a la Ozzie Smith, which he says he’s saving for when he’s back in the Major Leagues. So, a tip of the hat, and a raise of the glass to Eddy’s success in making it back to the Majors, so that we can see that flip.
The six-game series would end with a split between the teams but was much more meaningful for Giants and River Cats fans as the Dodgers were knocked out of first place in the East, and the River Cats would take sole possession of first place in the West.
Key highlight of the series included a Game 4 pitching matchup between Michael Plassmeyer for the River Cats and Ryan Pepiot who is the Dodgers’ #2 pitching prospect. The Dodgers would beat the River Cats by a score of 1-0 with the Dodgers lone run coming in the first off a double by Andy Burns that scored Miguel Vargas. From then on out it, it was lights out. Plassmeyer, and reliever Wei-Chieh Huang combined for 15 strikeouts in the loss. While Pepiot struck out eight in five innings of work.
The tables were turned in Game 5 when the River Cats exploded for 12 runs against the Dodgers. Heliot Ramos went oppo-taco, newly assigned Luke Williams continued his hot streak by going 3-4, and LaMonte Wade Jr started his rehab assignment, but the story of the night was Austin Dean. Dean went 3-5 with two runs score, and four RBI, as he fell a double short of the cycle. Things got so bad that infielder Ty Kelly came in to pitch just to save the bullpens arms. Kelly was really zipping them in there as he even touched the low 80’s on his fastball.
The River Cats are off to Albuquerque next for a series against the Isotopes, the Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. If you’d also like to know more about Eddy Alvarez, and in his own words, check out Episode 8 of the podcast Sax in the Morning, hosted by five-time Major League All-Star, and 1982 National League Rookie of the Year, Steve Sax. Sax in the Morning can be found wherever you listen to your podcasts.