By John Philip Wyllie
A few weeks down the road the Padres may have an interesting decision to make. If all goes as expected catcher Ramon Hernandez will be fully recovered from his recent wrist surgery and will once again be able to play. The question is, will he?
Back in July, knowing that Hernandez would be out of the picture for most if not all of the regular season, the Padres acquired Miguel Olivo from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Triple-A catcher, Miguel Ojeda and Single-A pitcher, Nathanael Mateo. At the time, Olivo was considered little more than an emergency fill-in, a player with good defensive skills, but little hitting ability. With four home runs a triple and three doubles since joining the Padres on July 30, Olivo is turning out to be one of the biggest bargains of the 2005 season.
“Miguel has done a great job since we acquired him,” said Padres manager, Bruce Bochy. “He has stabilized our catching situation. He has got a hot hand. He’s been catching well, swinging the bat and is doing a great job of handling our pitching staff. Miguel was a great acquisition for us.”
Olivo loves his new surroundings. He is pleased to have the opportunity to once again be a starting Major League catcher. He is equally grateful to be living here in the United States.
“I grew up with nothing,” said the Dominican Republic native. “We were real, real poor. Sometimes when I talk about it I get very sad. I couldn’t speak a word of English when I came here. It is hard when you come here not speaking any English. My first three or four years were very hard (because of that). (Fortunately) my wife is an American and she has helped me (to learn the language).” His struggle on the baseball diamond has been equally difficult.
Olivo broke into Major League Baseball with the Chicago White Sox at the tail end of the 2002 season. After a promising 2003 campaign, he saw his playing time significantly reduced the following season. Midway through the year Chicago dealt him to Seattle, but Olivo never established himself as a consistent hitter there and the Mariners gave up on him and traded him to the Padres just before the July 31 trading deadline.
Coming to San Diego has given him a new lease on life. He is hitting .288 since his arrival and has demonstrated good arm strength and lots of hustle behind the plate.
“He has a lot of energy,” says Bochy. “He’s athletic, throws well and I like the way he receives. He spends a lot of time before the game on his preparations. That’s a priority for him.”
The Padres knew they were getting a solid a defensive catcher when they acquired Olivo. While his numbers didn’t show it in Seattle (.174 batting avg.), the Padres saw the potential for him to develop into a decent hitter as well. Olivo has been hard pressed to explain his new-found success at the plate.
“I haven’t changed anything I just got my confidence back and started hitting the ball. This is a great team. Everybody trusts me here,” Olivo said. “There were a lot of great guys in Seattle, but they just weren’t very lucky in winning games. Here everybody helps each other and we are together as a team. I feel comfortable here. I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
If Olivo continues to play the way he has since his arrival, he won’t have to worry about that.