In AAA minor league baseball, the typical age range is 23-24, maybe 25, over 26 is considered “old.” At age 37, as starting catcher for the Sacramento River Cats, Oakdale’s Miguel Olivo is far beyond that 26-year-old threshold as he carries on his quest to make it back to the Major Leagues.
On the field, hidden by his catcher’s gear protecting his muscular six-foot, 230-pound frame behind the plate, Olivo, who’s age is closer to his manager’s than any teammate, appears ageless going in a squat for every pitch, blocking balls in the dirt, and shaking off scorching foul tips that may catch a piece of him. Unknowing fans would not know this is the oldest player in minor league baseball.
With a .288 batting average and three home runs coming into Monday’s game, despite hovering above the .300 mark most of season, his .490 slugging percentage is third on the team. He ranks in the top five of catchers for batting in the Pacific Coast League.
The veteran of 18 professional seasons, 13 in the majors or portions thereof, Olivo is a real life Crash Davis as he handles a pitching staff of big league hopefuls more than 10 years younger than he is.
“There are a lot of young guys here and someone with experience like Miguel behind the dish, the staff is lucky,” said River Cats Manager Jose Alguacil, a former career minor league player. “He’s a leader here in the clubhouse. Even I’m learning much from him.”
Olivo’s trek back to “the Show” started in 2013 when he left the Florida Marlins due to not having playing time after 12 MLB seasons. In 2014 he was in the Dodger organization and actually saw part of the season playing in eight big league games but was released in May after a tussle with an AAA-Albuquerque teammate.
Refusing to give up, still believing in his value to a potential MLB team, Olivo played in the Mexican League in 2015 and was invited to the San Francisco Giants camp this season, making the AAA roster for the River Cats.
“Right now, I’m feeling in better shape than 18 years ago,” Olivo said, before Monday night’s game at Raley Field. “I’m doing what I can to contribute and think I’m here to give some advice.”
Over his career, Olivo has handled some incredible pitchers, including Clayton Kershaw, Mark Buehrle, and Stockton’s Eddie Guardado.
“The best, I think, have been Felix Hernandez with the Mariners and Jake Peavy when I was with the Padres,” Olivo said.
Olivo said he was grateful to the Giants for the opportunity to still be playing. The added plus; he’s able to stay in Oakdale with his family during the season.
“This is the first time in my career I can sleep in my own bed and still play baseball,” Olivo said, but added the commute can get bad when returning from a road trip and doubling back to Raley Field the following day.
For Monday’s game, Olivo was in the starting line-up catching right-handed prospect Joan Greggorio, 13 years his junior.
In the second inning, Olivo threw out a threatening Colorado Springs Sky Sox runner challenging his 37-year-old arm. In the third, with a runner in scoring position, Olivo came through with a single to put the River Cats ahead 2-0.
Following a stellar outing by Greggorio where he allowed only two hits, Giants reliever Sergio Romo, on a rehab assignment, took the mound in the sixth. The battery at that time then had 22 years of Major League experience. The River Cats went on to claim a 4-2 victory with the pitching staff, under Olivo’s game calling, striking out 13.
Olivo said he knows there are already two good catchers currently playing for the Giants; superstar Buster Posey and second year player Trevor Brown. Even though he’s one Giants’ pulled hamstring or injuring foul ball away from AT&T Park, he doesn’t want to see anything bad happen to them.
“I have high compliments for Posey – he’s a friend,” Olivo said. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to either one.”
If a big league catcher vacancy does occur, Olivo is hoping an older more experienced player will have the advantage over his younger counterparts. Even if the relative skill levels are the same, with age and with professional playing experience comes baseball wisdom that gives the older player the advantage.
Until then, as Olivo continues to pursue his taste for more big league games, he goes to the stadium each day, wherever it is, and plays the best he can, still trying to respect the game after all these years.
Maybe the the game has one more surprise left for him.