Swinging against odds

BASEBALL: Oliver, an Orange Coast College first baseman, is hoping to work his way up ladder.

May 18, 2007|By Barry Faulkner

Professional baseball scouts dream of players with tools and long for those with makeup. The most dedicated diamond observer, however, may grow gray waiting to find the quintessential blend of physical gifts and the mental capacity to apply them consistently against the current upon which baseball sweeps its most promising participants.

From this dichotomy, Eric Oliver, garners hope. For though some believe the Orange Coast College sophomore may be giving ground to the stronger, taller and swifter of his peers, the very core of his being provides an oar with which to row against the relentless flow of failure that can submerge those perceived to possess more talent.

It's the same contrarian competitive zeal that allowed late-round draft picks Mike Piazza (62nd round), Jeff Conine (58th) and Keith Hernandez (42nd) to have long, successful big-league careers.


It is this almost pathological devotion to the game that drives Oliver, a first-team All-Orange Empire Conference first baseman, who leads the Pirates (26-19) into the four-team Southern California Super Regional that runs today through Sunday at Orange Coast College.

The Pirates, who swept College of the Canyons in a best-of-three regional series last week, play Cuesta (26-19) in the second game of the double-elimination event today at 3 p.m.

Riverside (30-17) faces Moorpark (27-17) today at 11 a.m.

The 6-foot Oliver, still waiting to appear on many scouts' radar, watched from the on-deck circle last year as former Pirate and Corona del Mar High product Josh Bradbury impressed scouts enough to garner an eighth-round selection (238th overall) by the Texas Rangers in last year's June draft.

"[Bradbury] had one of the most natural swings I've ever seen," said Oliver, whose nine home runs, 42 RBIs, .332 batting average, 61 hits and 40 runs last season more than held their own against Bradbury's .364 average, 12 homers, 35 RBIs, 56 hits and 34 runs.

Despite gaining strength with offseason weight training and benefiting from the experience of his first collegiate season, Oliver's numbers have slipped slightly this season. He is hitting .339 with five homers and 38 RBIs, with 57 hits and 44 runs.

A slow start produced some statistical sabotage, but it failed to dent Oliver's determination.

"You just have to keep working," said Oliver, whose unyielding work ethic immediately impressed OCC Coach John Altobelli.

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