May 2010

Catching Lightning in a Glove. Twice.

The Colorado Rockies are a mere 18-years old, so it would seem fitting that a young, upstart pitcher would be the first to crack the club’s pitching history books.  On April 17, 2010, Ubaldo Jimenez threw the first no-hitter in franchise history by blanking the Atlanta Braves.

Everyone has heard or read the game story.  We all know by now that Jimenez walked six batters, threw 128 pitches, and changed his delivery mid-game en route to his no-no.  What, or rather who we don’t know much about- is the man behind the plate. 

Miguel Olivo caught the Jimenez no-hitter that night in Atlanta, and unlike the pitcher and the franchise, it wasn’t his first.

It would be easy to look past Olivo.  In his ten-year big league career he’s played for six different teams: three years with the White Sox; two years with the Royals, Mariners, and Marlins; one year with the Padres, and this season with the Rockies.  But quietly, Olivo has been catching some of the game’s rising stars.

The 31-year old catcher (he’ll be 32 in July) caught his first no-hitter in 2006 while with the Marlins.  On September 6th of that year, in just his 13th Major League start, Anibal Sanchez no-hit the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Olivo also spent last season on the receiving end of a Cy Young Award winner, the Kansas City Royals’ Zack Greinke. 

And this year, he’s calling pitches and catching no hitters for Ubaldo Jimenez. 

Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca is not at all surprised that Olivo’s pitchers have so much success, “He has the imagination.  He doesn’t call typical pitches in typical situations.”

It can be understood that all of the praise for such an accomplishment is heaped to the player on the mound.  But his battery mate is integral to the outcome.  Apodaca said that during the Jimenez bid for a no-hitter, he only communicated to the right-hander through Olivo. 

And that is a lot of pressure. 

Olivo said when closing in on such an accomplishment, he is just as nervous as his pitcher, “I don’t want to call the wrong pitch.  I don’t want to mess it up.” 

In fact, Olivo was so nervous jogging out of the dugout before the ninth inning, he could barely feel his legs.  “In the ninth inning when I put on my chest protector and my mask, my legs were shaking.  When McCann hit the ground ball to second base, I just froze at home plate.”

But when Clint Barmes scooped up the McCann grounder and fired it to Todd Helton, the feeling was anything but uneasy for Olivo,.

“That is an amazing feeling.  It’s like when you win the World Series.  Because no-hitters, not that many people do it.  Anybody can come to the big leagues and hit a home run, hit a single.”

But not everyone can be a part of history, not just once, but twice, and then be perfect himself just a few weeks later. 

On a chilly Denver day in mid-May, Olivo had a gem of his own against the defending NL champs, the Philadelphia Phillies.  Olivo hit a walkoff home run in the tenth inning, propelling the Rox to a 4-3 win. 

The catcher also went 5-5 that day.  And of course, it wasn’t the first time.