By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa. –The road to Altoona and Double-A professional baseball wasn’t an easy one for Curve center fielder Jared Oliva.
“Not your typical story,” Oliva said matter-of-factly at Peoples Natural Gas Field recently.
Actually, Oliva is considered a rags-to-riches story in some baseball circles. He didn’t earn a starting position at Valenica High School in Santa Clarica, Calif., until his junior year, and then had to walk on at the University of Arizona.
“I didn’t really play much in high school,” Oliva said. “We had a bunch of talented guys and I didn’t crack the lineup until my junior year. I played in about nine or 10 games, maybe, and about half in my senior year.
“Then I was fortunate to walk on at the University of Arizona,” he continued. “Some of the coaches got to see me at a camp and I’m very grateful to coach Andy Lopez because he gave me an opportunity with a program that was just coming off a national (collegiate) championship.
“I just took it and ran with it.”
Oliva had a solid career at Arizona, was named to the 2016 College World Series all-tournament team as a red-shirt junior, and earned a scholarship his senior year when he batted .321 with 25 doubles in 59 games.
“It all came together at Arizona,” said Oliva, who earned his degree in marketing. “I went from walk-on to All-American – pretty cool.”
The Pirates drafted him in the seventh round in 2017 and his pro career began a short time later with the short-season West Virginia Black Bears. Oliva batted .266 in 56 games and was promoted to advanced-A Bradenton for the 2018 campaign.
Oliva was solid at Bradenton and batted .275 in 108 games. He was the Marauders’ leadoff batter in 93 games, had 26 multi-hit games, led the Florida State League with 75 runs scored, and stole 33 bases.
Those numbers brought him to Altoona this season where he’s been the club’s leadoff guy most of the time.
Oliva (6-2, 203) is considered one of the Pirates’ top defensive outfielders and has been a decent leadoff hitter for the Curve.
“Pretty much a leadoff guy,” Oliva said of his career to date.” “I try to keep stretching my limits and I’ve learned a lot. The coaches keep pushing you every day. You can’t be complacent. It’s a pride thing.”
“He’s been up and down a little, to be honest,” manager Michael Ryan said. “It’s a new level for him and the game’s teaching him some lessons.
“He continues to work hard with (hitting coach Jon) Nunnally and you see sparks of greatness at times,” Ryan said. “It shows the capabilities he has and I look for him to have a big second half (of the EL season).”
Oliva’s dad, David, played in the Red Sox organization from 1982-86 and his uncle, Steve, played four seasons in the Braves farm system.
“A lot of my cousins and brothers all played baseball,” he said. “I always knew I was going to be a baseball player. It was just a little bit of a rocky path … a little different than most guys.”