Earlier this summer at roughly the halfway point of the Major League Baseball season, Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Foltynewicz went into the ninth inning against the Oakland Athletics carrying a bid for a no-hitter. With just three outs standing between Foltynewicz and one of the most sought after moments of a pitcher’s career, Oakland Athletics rookie and Atlanta native Matt Olson walked to the plate.
“The guy was throwing a great game, no doubt,” Olson recalled. “It was like an 8, 9,10 pitch at-bat . . . he left one a little too middle of the plate and I got it.” Olson blasted a 402-foot home run into right field. The no-hitter was no more.
“I got a little heat from Braves fans on social media,” Olson said. The Athletics’ rookie grew up as a Braves fan himself. A product of Parkview High School, he was drafted 47th overall by the Athletics in 2012. He worked his way through the Athletics’ minor league system until finally being called up to play for Oakland after a Nashville Sounds (Oakland’s triple-A affiliate) playoff game in 2016.
“We lost our game there and I went up into the clubhouse, and everybody started packing up,” Olson said. “Our Nashville manager came up to me and said ‘Hey, don’t pack up too much, you’re going to Oakland.’”
Hearing that you have been called up to play in the MLB can be one of the most exciting moments of a baseball player’s career. Olson said the moment caused him to feel both excited and nervous.
“Obviously you’re excited at first, and then you start thinking about everything you have to do. What am I supposed to wear? How am I supposed to act?” Olson remembered wondering after receiving the news. But throughout the end of the 2017 season, he quickly became an MLB phenom.
Olson smashed 24 home runs in just 59 games this year and hit 15 of those home runs in a span of just 21 games, a feat never accomplished by an Athletics player before. He also went on a home run streak that lasted five games, an A’s rookie record. The outstanding performance put on by Olson down the stretch of this season has drawn national praise, with CBS Sports even referring to him as “Oakland’s first baseman of the future.”
While Olson appreciates the acclaim that has recently come his way, he said it was also nice “flying under the radar and kinda just doing my thing” without a spotlight.
The incredible numbers produced by Olson this year have not come by happenstance. He credits his success in part to a change in his stance over the plate, which established his stance as one of the most recognizable and unique in modern baseball.
“I moved my hands out in front of my body and I added a little toe tap,” Olson said. “The main goal of both was to put myself in a good position to swing every time, to give myself a clear path to the ball.”
While Olson has received a lot of attention this year because of his powerful swing, Chan Brown, his former coach at Parkview High School who has been a mentor throughout Olson’s journey, said the strongest part of Olson’s game is his baseball knowledge.
“Matt is probably one of the smartest baseball players I’ve ever coached,” Brown said. “He just has a knack of knowing where to be, what to do with the ball.” Brown cited a double play made by Olson during a September 13 game against the Boston Red Sox as an example of his baseball intelligence, a play which was featured in MLB.com’s Top 5 Plays of the Day list.
Brown said Olson showed signs that he could be a great player at the professional level throughout his time at Parkview, but specifically stood out when he helped lead the school’s baseball team to win state championships during Olson’s junior and senior years. Praising Olson’s performance in the finals, which included game-winning home runs on both occasions, Brown said Olson was “always Mr. Clutch and always Mr. Consistency” as well as an impactful leader for the team.
With hopes of continuing his success in 2018, Olson is going into the offseason ready to begin training that will include time spent in Atlanta and Duluth. His offseason will be starting early this year as the Athletics are not in contention to reach the playoffs, but Olson believes that they could be playing postseason baseball next year.
“We definitely have a chance to be [in the playoffs next year],” Olson said. “We have it in us and we just need to get it all clicking together.”
If Olson goes into 2018 performing at the level he’s finishing this season (which concludes with this weekend’s series against the Texas Rangers), the Athletics will be poised nicely to get it clicking just as Olson hopes for.