M’s Olivo is a catcher who can hit, throw and … run?

  • By Larry Henry / Herald Columnist
  • Tuesday, July 20, 2004 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE – At least it was entertaining. Yes, the Mariners were beaten 9-7 by the Boston Red Sox Tuesday, but you can’t charge them with being boring.

Not when they collected 18 hits, stole a half-dozen bases and had a chance to win the game in their final at-bat. And certainly not when their catcher scored from second on a single.

Run that by us again. A Mariner catcher scored all the way from second on a one-bagger?

What gives? They have Ichiro Suzuki catching? Everyone else get hurt?

It was nothing like that.

Everyone’s fine. Suzuki was in right field. Spraying hits – he had four singles – all over the place. And running the Red Sox nutty – he swiped four bases.

No, the M’s had a real-life catcher – you know, one of those guys built like a linebacker – behind the plate. A real-life catcher who also stole a base. A real-life catcher who takes pride in his speed.

Speed? Catcher?

Word association will never be the same.

Catchers lumber. Catchers slog. Catchers crawl.

Catchers do not streak.

OK, so Miguel Olivo will never be mistaken for Maurice Greene. But neither will he ever be confused with Pat Borders.

How fast is Senor Olivo? Suzuki wouldn’t fear him in a 60-yard dash. But he might glance over his shoulder just to be safe.

Suffice it to say: When Olivo gets on base – and he appears to be fully capable of doing that quite a bit in the second half of the season – he’ll have the complete attention of the pitcher and the catcher.

“Ground ball on the infield, I have to be quick,” he said. “I go to the base.”

And he goes hard. Perhaps hard enough to cause a hurry-up throw that might be a bit wide of the mark.

Speed was something drastically lacking on the Mariners during the forgettable first half of the season. Speed and hitting.

Olivo looks as if he might provide both.

He had three hits Tuesday, giving him five for the two-game series with the Red Sox. He had two doubles in the finale after hitting his first home run as a Mariner the night before. In 19 at-bats in an M’s uniform, he has six hits, four for extra bases (he also has one triple).

And there were some M’s fans asking, “Miguel Who?” when he came over in the Freddy Garcia trade with the White Sox. He’s making friendships fast now that he got rid of the kidney stone that laid him up for a spell right after the deal was made.

There were reports out of Chicago that he cried after learning he had been traded. That was then. This is now. He says he’s happy to be here and feeling more and more comfortable with his new team and new surroundings.

First base coach Mike Aldrete did his part to make him feel welcome, relinquishing the No. 8 he wore on his uniform Monday. When a TV reporter reminded Olivo that he’d had five hits since getting his old number back, he smiled and said, “You think there’s something to that?”

Then he answered his own question. “Baseball’s a mental game.”

And a superstitious one.

This kid looks as if he can walk under ladders, cross paths with black cats, step on baselines or do anything else that defies superstition and still play the game well.

He has had a little trouble with passed balls (he has three) since joining the M’s, but that might have something to do with not knowing the pitchers. Or, as manager Bob Melvin, an old catcher, explained: “Balls taking some late action that he’s not used to seeing.”

His arm is the stuff of glowing scouting reports though he hasn’t had an opportunity to show it with the M’s yet. Last season with the White Sox, he threw out 35.8 percent of would-be base stealers, third-best in the American League.

“My arm,” he said, “is the best thing I have in baseball.”

Well, your legs aren’t bad either, Miguel.

That shocking slice of base running that will surely be on the M’s 2004 highlight film came in the seventh inning after Olivo had doubled. Raul Ibanez singled to shallow left and, with two outs, Olivo was running the moment bat collided with ball. Not only did he score, but he did so standing up.

Mind you, this is a guy who swiped 29 bases in Class AA two years ago.

You might guess that Olivo developed his speed playing the infield or the outfield at some time in his life. He’s been a catcher from the beginning. “Six years old,” he said. “I never played another position.”

His father, Eduardo, was a catcher, a good catcher, Miguel said, though he never played pro ball. And his baseball idol was a catcher, Tony Pena, now the manager of the Kansas City Royals.

When someone said Pena could run a little bit, Olivo quickly replied with a grin, “not like me.”

No, Miguel, not anything like you.

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