Jared Oliva almost quit before his baseball career took off
Arizona outfielder Jared Oliva (42) celebrates after game three of the series against McNeese State on Feb. 26 at Hi Corbett Field. The Wildcats won 12-5.
Jared Oliva’s path to becoming a key member of the Arizona baseball team and a top Pac-12 talent has been unlike your typical success story. In fact, his journey and achievements almost never materialized, as he at one point mulled over the idea of quitting baseball altogether.
Despite Oliva’s impressive physical prowess and natural feel for the game, he came to the UA as a preferred walk-on after only playing a handful of varsity games at his high school in Valencia, Calif.
Oliva attended the highly-competitive Valencia High in northern Los Angeles where he had to fight for playing time in a crowded and talented outfield, consisting of a few players who went on to play at the University of San Diego, San Diego State and the University of Oregon, among others.
Still, Oliva felt he deserved an opportunity merited by his relentless work ethic in conjunction with God-given abilities. However, the coach’s outlook did not match Oliva’s, as Oliva played only ten games his junior year and just slightly more his senior season.
“We had a talented team,” Oliva said. “Was I the same player that I am right now? No. But I still had the talent and the tools and work ethic. I feel like I was ready to go if I got a shot and it didn’t happen. For some reason [the coach] decided to not have me in the lineup.”
Despite limited playing time in high school, Oliva still believed he could play division one baseball as opposed to playing at a local junior college or at a lower level school. While he believed in himself and trusted his abilities, uncertainty of the future proved to be a difficult reality.
“It was a big obstacle and [it] really tested me,” Oliva said. “First off, do I want to continue playing baseball? It was tough at the time going through senior year wondering where I’m going to play next year.”
Oliva still attracted the attention of collegiate programs after participating in summer showcases, among which included Arizona, resulting in an invite to a private workout session with then assistant coach Shaun Cole. However, Oliva’s high school coach once again almost undermined his future in baseball.
“I told my high school coach about it and he said he would call [coach Cole] who was here at the time,” Oliva said. “Basically he said ‘you don’t want this guy, he’s not going to play in my program.’ Sure enough, I came here and talked to the coach and after a day I showcased batting practice and all the typical stuff, [coach Cole] pulled me aside and asked if he had the right guy. He called [my high school coach] back to make sure they were on the same page. After that he basically offered me a walk-on spot and the rest is history.”
After redshirting his freshmen year, Oliva had an impressive first season with UA in 2015 when he hit .272 with 20 RBIs, 22 runs and four stolen bases. Despite the momentum, the last season’s performance couldn’t match, in which he hit .240 with four home runs and 36 RBIs.
Throughout his first two years, Oliva had shown glimpses of five-tool player capability, but this season, he’s starting to put it all together. Now batting at the top of the order and playing centerfield every day, Oliva has hit .337/.403/.546 with four home runs, 43 RBIs and 43 runs while playing exceptional defense and causing havoc on the base paths with his above-average speed.
Oliva attributed his resurgence at the plate to a tweak to his load during the offseason that has allowed him to see the ball better.
“The biggest thing was when I would load back, I was turning my shoulders,” Oliva said. “I would lose the ball with my eyes. Coach Johnson pointed that out to me really early in the fall so I made that staple to always focus on, keeping my right eye — my dominant eye — locked in on the pitch and all the sudden I’m seeing the ball a lot better.”
Coach Jay Johnson has certainly seen the evolution of Oliva’s game since taking over for Andy Lopez two years ago. Johnson has raved about his discipline and even likened the outfielder to an MLB superstar who also impacts the game in multiple ways.
“There was a stretch of 12 to 15 games last year where Jared wasn’t starting, [but] I would not trade him for anyone in the country right now,” Johnson said. “He’s our Mike Trout if you will. That wasn’t the case a year ago. His work ethic and how he goes about everything he does with his athletic tools have now led to this development.”
Even more impressive is the way Johnson describes Oliva’s character. “I hate saying this because it sounds like the teacher’s pet but if I had a kid and you could tell me he’s going to be like one of these people, Oliva would be the guy I would choose,” Johnson said.
Oliva will most likely be the second Wildcat drafted behind JJ Matijevic in the upcoming 2017 MLB Draft in June. Now, as Oliva prepares for another postseason run with UA, he makes light of the situation with his former high school coach who almost derailed his baseball career, but admitted the situation gave him an edge and a sense of determination that has gotten him to this point.
“I won’t lie to you, it gave me a chip on my shoulder,” Oliva said. “Right now I don’t think too much about it at all. It’s made me develop that work ethic, perseverance and to be humble about everything. Looking back on it, I realize more and more how lucky I am to be here.”
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