SEATTLE – Fans of the Seattle Mariners who turn out early for tonight’s game against the San Diego Padres might be asking themselves an understandable question.
The latest Turn Back the Clock promotional poster that will be handed out tonight features catcher Miguel Olivo and first baseman Justin Smoak in full get-up from the 1980s television show Miami Vice. And a longtime Mariners fan may look at the poster and wonder whether it’s really been that long since Olivo’s first stop in Seattle.
It only seems that way.
Since Olivo arrived in Seattle as an up-and-coming, soft-hitting prospect as part of the Freddy Garcia trade nine years ago, he’s grown into a clubhouse leader and power hitter who may be on the verge of putting up some historical numbers.
Through 70 games of his second stint as a Mariner, Olivo has already hit 12 home runs. That not only ranks as sixth in franchise history for homers by a catcher in an entire season, but it also puts Olivo on pace to set a team record in that category if he can keep it up.
“Right now, I’m not thinking about hitting a home run,” he said last Saturday night, one day after hitting his 12th home run of the season in the Mariners’ 5-1 win over Florida. “I’m just trying to make contact, and the ball’s been going out of the park.”
Hitting home runs is not entirely new to Olivo, who has 93 home runs over five-plus seasons despite playing a position that isn’t known for its offensive power. He’s been a bit of a rarity – not only in Seattle but also in Major League Baseball.
Only two Mariners catchers – Dan Wilson and Kenji Johjima, who both did it twice – have hit more than 13 home runs in a season. That duo shares the franchise’s season record (18, by Wilson in 1996 and Johjima 10 years later) for homers by a catcher.
Olivo appears well on his way to breaking it, despite a slow start to the 2011 season. It took him 16 games to drive in his first run, and another three to hit his first home run. Through April, he was hitting .217 with two home runs and eight RBIs in 83 at-bats.
Olivo’s numbers only slightly improved in May before he had a torrid June, with eight homers and 19 RBIs to lead the Mariners’ anemic offense as Seattle climbed back into contention.
“I’m taking better pitches,” Olivo said of his offensive turnaround this season. “I’ve been working in the batting cage more with the hitting coach (Chris Chambliss) and trying to do my best.”
Olivo has been working hard on his game since he first came into the majors as a Chicago White Sox up-and-comer in late 2002. After spending 2003 and part of 2004 as the White Sox’s primary catcher, he was dealt to the Mariners as part of a five-player trade that sent Garcia and Ben Davis to the White Sox for Olivo, outfielder Jeremy Reed and infielder Mike Morse. Olivo, who was 25 at the time of the trade, hit below .200 with 11 home runs over 104 games in two seasons with the Mariners before being traded to San Diego in July 2005.