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August 27, 2010

Friday 5: Joe Oliver

With the Cincinnati Reds still surprising the baseball world by continuing to widen the gap between them and the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central, it is time to, again, look back at their storied past.

I mean, here is a team (or, if you prefer…a machine) that re-defined baseball in the 1970s. Two decades later, they straight up demoralized the heavily favored Oakland A’s by sweeping them in the 1990 World Series.

And who can forget catcher Joe Oliver ending Game Two with a game-winning RBI (remember when they were called that?) off Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley in the tenth inning?

One of my favorite members of that wire-to-wire World Championship team was Oliver…and I had a chance to catch up with the 19-year pro for this week’s “Friday 5”.

HOVG: You’ve been playing baseball all your life…who has been your biggest influence and why?

OLIVER: My father was at every game and every practice when I was growing up…he was always there to play catch with me. It turns out he had supported me so much growing up, I didn't realize how important that was until I was a father and had saw him attending my kids’ games. It means a lot to a son to see his Dad and Mom there.

HOVG: After playing thirteen seasons for a number of Major League franchises, it is, without saying, that you’ve done some traveling…what is your most memorable travel experience?

OLIVER: Well, I have to say going to Oakland in 1990 and winning the World Series. I had never been there and to go there and win it all makes a great impression on you forever.

HOVG: Being part of that World Series winning team is probably your greatest experience…what is your favorite story from that crazy wire-to-wire season?

OLIVER: There are so many memories from that season…it is hard to name just one. One of the things I remember in the clubhouse after Game Three of the World Series…(Chris) Sabo had just hit his second homer of the game and put us up three games to zip. He was so intense in his interview and was so wired about how good Oakland was and how we couldn't let up. As I look back, he was so right. We had just lost (Eric) Davis and (Billy) Hatcher to injuries. If we played more than four games, we might have lost it all after losing those key parts of our team. It just showed he was so focused like we all were during that post season.

HOVG: This past weekend saw your former manager Lou Piniella hang it up for good. What is Lou’s legacy…Hall of Famer or no?

OLIVER: Lou was the main reason I played for so long! He motivated me and challenged me to be a better player every day. Some players can play for a manager like that and some just can’t perform for a tough manager. What I saw from Lou was a man who hated winning and didn't want anyone to accept losing. It is more infectious than winning. You can accept it and let it divide a team and clubhouse. He wouldn't allow it. He has won a lot of games as a manager and I look at how many franchises he has affected in a positive way and turned them around. Lou saved baseball in Seattle and got Tampa Bay headed in the right direction. The Cubs were doing well, they just fell short with bad breaks and…they are the Cubs. (Laughs) He should be in the Hall someday as a great manager who just loved the game and loved winning.

HOVG: When did you know that you “made it”?

OLIVER: I guess I felt like I made it after my third season. I ended up winning the team MVP in 1993 and from that point on, I felt like I was a big leaguer. You can’t get caught up in the hype and attention and get complacent. It is nice to have people recognize you for your hard work but not needed to make you feel like you belong.

This Sunday, Joe Oliver’s Triple Threat Baseball 15-18 (and under) team in Orlando, Florida will be holding their second set of tryouts at Zinn Beck fields in nearby Sanford. Registration kicks off at 8:30am…with tryouts starting at 9:00am. For more information, check out Triple Threat Baseball
on the web.

Aside from coaching the 15-18U squad…Oliver is also at the helm of the baseball team at Pine Castle (FL) Christian Academy.

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