June 21, 2010 in Sports

Olt shines at plate, in field

UConn star eager to make Indians debut
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Mike Olt walked into the Spokane Indians’ clubhouse Sunday and saw from the lineup card that he would be batting fifth in his professional debut.

That suited Olt just fine, as his move to the No. 5 slot for the University of Connecticut this spring coincided with the Huskies putting together a 22-game winning streak.

Olt’s debut, however, was put on hold as the final game of Spokane’s season-opening series with the Tri-City Dust Devils was rained out.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound third baseman will instead get his professional introduction tonight in another country, weather permitting, when Spokane begins a five-game road series against the Vancouver Canadians.

“I’ve learned a lot in college and I’m excited to get back out there,” said Olt, whose third season with the University of Connecticut ended June 6 with an NCAA regional loss to Oregon. “Hopefully, I’ll just dust off the cobwebs. … I just have to get my timing down.”

In three seasons, Olt broke UConn’s career home run record with 44, including 23 during his junior season. He set the record June 5 by hitting two homers and driving in eight runs during a 25-5 regional win over Central Connecticut.

The day after the season-ending loss to Oregon, the Texas Rangers selected Olt with the 49th overall pick in the first-year player draft. He was the only collegiate player the Rangers selected during the first four rounds.

Olt, 21, signed for $717,000 on Friday and arrived in Spokane on Saturday afternoon. He was in the dugout as the Indians dropped their second consecutive game to the Dust Devils.

“The fans here seem real loyal and seem to care about the Indians,” Olt said. “It looks like a great environment to play in.”

Olt fashioned a career .475 batting average at Branford (Conn.) High School and followed his brother Brad, a catcher, to Storrs, just an hour away.

He started his Huskies career as a shortstop, but moved to third base as a sophomore when a wrist injury sidelined him and allowed a teammate to shine at short.

“I always knew third base would be the spot for me at the next level,” Olt said.

The Huskies won a school-record 48 games this season for coach Jim Penders, who handed due credit to Olt.

“Mike Olt made it OK for the best Connecticut high school player to say yes to UConn baseball,” Penders said the day Olt was drafted. “He was a trailblazer for our program, and one need only talk to any teammate of his to realize his impact on our program is much deeper than the amazing one he had on our record books.”

Olt also won the inaugural Big East Home Run Derby, held May 25 in Clearwater, Fla.

He’s known for his homers, but Olt more than holds his own at third base. Before the draft, Baseball America rated him as the third-best overall college defensive player. Olt has had to work on his fielding skills, but his arm strength has never been suspect.

Olt, who hits right-handed, said he’s also focusing on cutting down on his strikeouts and hitting the ball to the opposite field.

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