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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Reed Olmstead Interview, Part 2, Hit That Pitch

Former pro ball player Reed Olmstead at his Southern California home, holding a plaque that from his playing days that his parents kept. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: That Confidence | Part 2: Hit That Pitch

Working with his son RJ on his baseball skills, Reed Olmstead said that, as a former player, it's hard for him to judge how his son is doing.

Olmstead shows RJ, 10, the drills he trained with as a player. There's also just the baseball fundamentals.

But there's one lesson that Olmstead tries to ensure his son learns, one that Olmstead never did quit master himself.

"What I preach to him is just the confidence," Olmstead told The Greatest 21 Days recently. "I don't care if you strike out. I don't care if you make an error. Don't ever lose your confidence. Know the next time you're going to make that play. You're going to hit that pitch."

Through his six-season affiliated career in the pros, Olmstead pointed to that confidence as something that he lost and never fully got back. He also never made it above AA.

Olmstead spoke with The Greatest 21 Days in late July at his Southern California home, the home he shares with his wife of 11 years Perla and their three children, RJ, 10, Denise, 8 and Cassandra, 3.
Digital Domain Park in St. Lucie, Fla., in May 2011. Reed Olmstead played at the former Thomas J. White Stadium in 1991 as a member of the visiting Osceola Astros. (G21D Photo)
Olmstead spent six seasons in the minors then later spent two seasons in independent ball, returning to the game after four years spent away from it, and a switch from position player to pitcher. He also continued playing in Mexico, on weekends, after undergoing Tommy John surgery and rehabbing on his own.

But that confidence, or lack of it, showed in his first years. After signing with the Cardinals as a second round pick out of Blair High School in Pasadena in 1986, Olmstead started at rookie Johnson City.

He'd hit .500-plus in high school. At Johnson City, he hit .255. The next two seasons he hit even worse. He started 1987 at single-A Savannah then moved back to short-season Erie. Between them, he hit .208.

"There were some times in Erie where I hit the ball good," Olmstead recalled. "But, to tell you the truth, my A-ball years weren't that great."

Coming out of spring training 1989, the Cardinals wanted to send Olmstead back to extended spring training. Olmstead asked for his release. Soon, though, Lee Thomas, a former Cardinals minor league director and scout, called. Thomas remembered Olmstead and signed him.

Olmstead, though, hit little better with the Phillies. Sent to single-A Spartanburg, Olmstead hit .238. But the Twins seemed to see enough to pick Olmstead in the minor league draft.

"I was excited," Olmstead said of the ultimate move to the Twins. Olmstead recalled playing with the AAA club that spring, then making the AA squad once the season started. "The Twins, really they got my blood going again. They showed some interest in me. The Cardinals, I felt like, gave up on me."

At AA Orlando for the Twins in 1990, Olmstead had his best season. He hit .266, with 8 home runs.
Sioux Falls Stadium in Sioux Falls, SD, in April 2012. Reed Olmstead played at Sioux Falls Stadium in 1996 as a pitcher for visiting Thunder Bay. (G21D Photo)
He also had five extra-inning, game-ending hits. A couple of those, Olmstead recalled, were grand slams. "It was awesome," Olmstead recalled of those game-enders. "There's nothing like hitting a game-winning hit. It's a great feeling."

After watching teammates make it up to Minnesota that year, Olmstead recalled seeing himself following right after the next year.

His manager at Orlando was Ron Gardenhire, then working his own way up the Twins ladder. In spring 1991, Gardenhire made the next step to third base coach in Minnesota. And Gardenhire already knew what Olmstead could do.

Olmstead even recalled Gardenhire telling him at the start of that spring that Gardenhire would have his eye on Olmstead.

"Everything was in my court," Olmstead recalled of that spring, "and I just, I failed."

Olmstead came into that spring out of shape. Olmstead just wasn't mentally prepared, Olmstead recalled.

Olmstead missed his opportunity. In 38 games back at AA Orlando in 1991, Olmstead hit just .196. He was then released. He signed on with the Astros and played the rest of the year at high-A Osceola, hitting .238.

The calls stopped coming. At the same time, Olmstead had another opportunity, one to settle down with a real job, one at a company that sent out marketing material for movies. And that's what he did, for the next four years. It's also a job he still holds today.

During those four years, he continued playing, on weekends with the Pasadena Redbirds. The team also drew talent, including former major leaguers, including Mariano Duncan, Jerry Reuss and others.

"I always played, I kept playing, it was in my blood," Olmstead said. "Then, after four years, I got that itch. I was like, maybe I could do it as a pitcher."

Olmstead had pitched in high school and some scouts thought he should have been a pitcher. Olmstead thought of returning as a pitcher, though, knowing that, since his playing days, he knew his arm wasn't right. But maybe he could work through it.

The opportunity came in 1996 with the independent Thunder Bay Whiskey Jacks, of the Northern League, called there by a player he still keeps in touch with, Jason Felice.

Lewis & Clark Park in Sioux City, Ia., in 2009. Reed Olmstead played at Lewis & Clark in 1996 as a pitcher for visiting Thunder Bay. (G21D Photo)
Olmstead was back on a professional field again, as a pitcher. "It was nice," Olmstead recalled, "especially as a pitcher. I had a different look on things."

That was also the year major leaguer Darryl Strawberry mounted his comeback with independent St. Paul. Olmstead recalled facing Strawberry twice, Strawberry going 0 for 2.

Olmstead returned to independent ball for 1997, at Regina in the Prairie League. But his arm troubles forced him back to first base.

Those arm troubles soon turned out to be Tommy John arm troubles. Olmstead finally walked into Dr. Frank Jobe's office and, using his personal insurance, had Tommy John surgery.

He rehabbed on his own, the 28-year-old making it back far enough to play weekends in Mexico, in a kind of Mexican minor league. He even recalled getting a tryout with the Rangers. But they ended up not being interested.

Then, after Mexico, it was time to again move on.

Olmstead not only works with his son RJ, but his daughter Denise, as well. Denise plays softball. "That's my activity now," Olmstead said.

He also continues to ensure they believe in themselves, have that confidence, both on the field and off.

"That's what baseball is," Olmstead said. "In life, too, man, you've got to have that confidence. You've got to believe that you can do it."

Part 1: That Confidence | Part 2: Hit That Pitch

1 comment:

  1. Good story. His pants he wore with the Osceola Astros (also worn by Rick Rhoden) are on eBay now.