Rangers Impressed With Olt

BOSTON – Mike Olt had a major-league day to forget Sunday in Kansas City against the Royals. By Monday afternoon at Fenway Park, he was ready to put it behind him the only way he knows how.

And you might say his manager, Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers, was impressed by the rookie's approach.

"I got in today, he stepped in my office and he wanted to do some work," Washington said. "So we went out there and did some work. . . . I couldn't wait to get in uniform and get out there. He just wanted to work on some simple stuff – throwing and footwork and stuff like that."

It wasn't planned, and it wasn't on the team itinerary like stretching and batting practice. The stands were empty. It was 2:30 in the afternoon. Fenway's vendors don't have the hot dogs and sausages on the grill that early.

But Olt, the Branford native and former University of Connecticut infielder, knows a thing or two about getting better – and getting promoted. Complacency isn't part of that equation. It was his game-ending throwing error Sunday that allowed the Royals to celebrate a 7-6 victory, so he reacted the way a Don Mattingly might. Or a George Brett might.

He asked for more work.

He told himself he had to move on.

"That's baseball," said Olt, who was called up by the Rangers from Double-A Frisco last Thursday. "It's going to happen. It was just a bad throw. All the guys were here to pick me up. The quicker you forget, the quicker you can go on."

Sunday has been the only downer during a week that has been a major life event on Olt's personal timeline. Just hours after being called into the manager Steve Buechele's office in Frisco and being told to pack for Arlington, Olt was standing on first base at Rangers Ballpark, exhaling deeply after stroking a single off C.J. Wilson of the Los Angeles Angels in his first career plate appearance.

"I'll never forget it," Olt said. "I get goose bumps just thinking about it. I've always heard that Texas has great fans and all that, but just to see them give a standing ovation for a single in my first at-bat meant a lot to me."

Olt did not play in a 9-2 loss to the Red Sox Monday, the first of a three-game series. But Washington said Olt will be in the starting lineup Tuesday night against Boston left-hander Jon Lester.

"He's going to play against left-handers," Washington said. "He's going to do what he did [Sunday] and spell Beltre at third [base] every now and then when I give Beltre a DH day. That's his role."

Olt, batting .286, has started twice at first base and Sunday at third base. In his second and third games, he had three runs basted in, his first walk and first stolen base. Then bad luck found him in the last two innings of that game in Kansas City Sunday. It wasn't just the throw.

Here's a recap of all that went wrong. (And remember this all happened in a matter of minutes.)

- In the top of the ninth, with the score tied 6-6, Olt walked to leadoff. He stole second and took third on a throwing error by Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez. But when Elvis Andrus failed to execute a suicide squeeze bunt, Olt was out at home.

- In the top of the 10th, Texas loaded the bases with one out. Mitch Moreland lined out and then Olt struck out on a 3-2 pitch.

- Then his throwing error on a ground ball to third allowed the tiebreaking run to score in the bottom of the 10th. Royals 7, Rangers 6. Olt suddenly had a lot to think about on the plane ride from Kansas City to Boston.

"That is tough, when it's your first call-up and it's your first opportunity in the big leagues – to have an ending to a game like that," Rangers infielder Michael Young said. "We talked to him after the game. He's a tough kid and he'll be fine.

"We've all been there. I just told him to keep his chin up and get ready for the next one. You give him a little time to let everything process. But he seems like a real tough kid."

Olt doesn't turn 24 until Aug. 27, but the Rangers have been pleased with his demonstration of maturity.

"Adversity is how you handle it," Washington told Olt Monday. "You make a mistake, as everybody in this game has made, it's how you handle it. And that's all you can do. He was in a good mood. I asked him about how he handled the media [Sunday] and he was truthful.

"The one thing I tried to tell him is to step up. That's all. Just be accountable for what you do. We believe in you and when it's time for you to go back out there, you're going to go back out there.

"I just don't want him around here being concerned about us losing a ball game. When one guy on our team makes a mistake that costs us a ball game, we all take responsibility for it. No one guy has to carry that burden. His burden is shared. He doesn't have to walk around caring it. His is just a little bitty piece."

Washington has the reputation of being a good teacher and Olt will absorb these lessons the same way he did with UConn coach Jim Penders during his three headlining years with the Huskies.

Penders will be at Fenway Tuesday night, along with Olt's parents, brothers and countless relatives and friends from Branford and other Connecticut locations.

"We've been trading texts like crazy," Penders said. "It's been a lot of fun."

Penders was at an event in Syracuse, N.Y., when Olt got his first hit. He wasn't able to watch it live but he did see it over and over on TV replays.

"It was almost better because I had so many of the teammates and coaches e-mailing me or texting me," Penders said. "I was getting updates every five seconds. It was awesome.

"I'm very proud. There's not a better representative to have. Since I've been [UConn] coach this is the first guy that has been one of our players who has made it. It's just incredibly satisfying knowing that Michael represents all that's good about Connecticut and about our program. There's not a better pioneer to have in the big leagues right now."

After playing in the Futures Game during All-Star weekend in Kansas City last month, Olt continued to sizzle at the bat. He had 28 home runs and 82 RBI but he wasn't event thinking about a bump up to Triple-A Round Rock when the call came from Texas.

Olt is playing first and third for the Ranges (US PRESSWIRE)

It has happened quickly. He attracted attention by hitting 44 homers in three seasons at UConn, led the Huskies to the 2010 NCAA Tournament and then was drafted that summer.

Olt's older brother, Brad, has been splitting his time between travel agent and ticket manager since Mike was called up from Frisco. The Olts were asleep and it was after midnight early Thursday when Mike called with the news baseball families dream about. Mike's parents, George and Bev, then woke Brad.

"It was one of the best phone calls you could ever get," Brad said. "We were up a while, I had a beer with my dad at one in the morning."

Then Brad went online and arranged flights for George and Bev to be in Arlington for Mike's first game. They traveled on to Kansas City for the three-game weekend set but travel delays Monday prevented Olt's parents from being at Monday's game in Fenway.

Brothers Brad, 27, and Tyler, 20, were there Monday night, along with a family friend when the gates opened at Fenway. Brad was wearing a Rangers jersey from the Arizona Fall League with OLT lettering on the back when the trio arrived with Texas on the field for batting practice. Soon, they were allowed on the field to greet Mike.

"Branford is invading Boston," Brad said as he settled into seats in Section 20 behind home plate, tickets that were left by Mike. "We were screaming his name during BP. It was cool then when he came over and I gave him a big hug. I was seeing him for the first time as a major leaguer."

Olt didn't see his parents in Arlington before his first at-bat. But thanks to Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, CEO and President of the Rangers, he found them before the next time to the plate.

"The coaches told me they were in the second tier where the family section is," he said. "Then I got to the on-deck circle my second at-bat, put the doughnut on [the bat], I looked over, saw them and was like ‘Wow.' They said Nolan had asked them to come down to the [president's] box. That was a really cool experience."

The last week certainly could have unfolded quite differently. Olt was the subject of trade speculation before the deadline. But the Rangers decided not to deal him – not even for Cliff Lee or Zack Grienke. They wanted a right-handed batter to impact the lineup and the front office was focused on Olt all along.

"His name was coming up in a vast number of our trades," said Thad Levine, assistant general manager for the Rangers. "Some of our fans were curious why we wouldn't include him in a package for a bigger pitcher. Our vision for him was much grander than that and much more immediate.

"We view him as a premier prospect in our system with a chance now to realize his potential in the big leagues. He's a plus-defensive player with a plus-power and we think he's going to mature into being a very good big league hitter."

As for Sunday's error, Levine says the Rangers don't expect anyone to be flawless and they won't put Olt in a pressure situation. It won't be over-evaluated, he said, because Washington doesn't manage that way.

That probably explains why Washington was so eager to build up a sweat with Olt on Monday. It seems the former Husky has found the perfect home in the big leagues.

"He's been great," Young said of Olt. "He's a great kid and he's going to have a very successful major league career. We're really excited for him. We expect him to be a big contributor."

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