The John Olerud Award is given to the best two-way college baseball player each year. Two-way doesn’t refer to the “Barry Sanders” sense of the term, as in a freak of nature athlete who can be the best player on the field in any sport. In baseball, it simply means someone who both pitches and hits. The Olerud Award was instituted in 2010 and is named after the former All-American first baseman and pitcher at Washington State.
The Olerud Award goes to players who excel on the mound, at the plate and in the field. Every college baseball player was “that guy” who was the best in all three aspects of the game in little league and probably in high school, but at the college level most players are either position players or PO’s (pitcher only). Nevada has a few of the rare two-way breed.
Nevada’s head coach, Jay Johnson, says one of his team’s greatest strengths is the depth of its pitching. He has pitchers to choose from in the bullpen and on the field. During Monday’s 13-12 win over Pacific, two Nevada players started the game in the outfield and pitched at least one inning.
Trent Brooks, Cal Stevenson, Jordan Pearce, Christian Stolo and Grant Fennell are all Wolf Pack players listed as pitchers and fielders. Three out of the five have pitched and hit this season.
On Monday, Brooks started in right field and then moved to pitcher. He was 3-4 at the plate and he pitched one and two thirds innings. This season, Brooks has three home runs and 17 RBI’s.
Stevenson played center field for nine innings and came in to pitch for Nevada in the 10th inning. He allowed no runs and an infield single in two thirds of an inning on the mound. After hitting a batter with a pitch, Johnson brought in Evan McMahan to pitch and sent Stevenson back to center field.
“It’s difficult to be a two-way guy,” Stevenson said. “Right now I’m hitting the ball well, and if I’m not hitting the ball well, I’ll go out there and do my best on the mound when they need me to.”
In the top of the 11th inning, Johnson made a strange move that could only be done with fielders that can pitch. He moved Stevenson from center field back to the mound to get the final out of the inning. In the bottom of the 11th Stevenson doubled and then scored the winning run on a walk-off single from Austin Byler.
“I thought it was kind of odd, but it got the job done,” Stevenson said.
He recorded his first win of the season on the mound and scored the game-winning run. That’s not something you will ever see in Major League Baseball.
It’s basically impossible to be a two-way player in the MLB. You’d think it could happen; Babe Ruth was a pitcher right? Well, the game was different back then. The fact is when a player is proficient at one aspect of the game (hitting and fielding or pitching) that’s what they’re going to be paid to do. Organizations have enough players to let everyone stick to their strengths. That’s why Olerud became a first baseman only when he broke into the big leagues with the Blue Jays. They had other guys that could pitch better, and he was more valuable at first base.
Stevenson was recruited to play at Nevada as both a pitcher and hitter. However, some major league scouts have already told him that hitting might not be in his future.
“As a hitter, they thought I was too small,” he said. “They told me to do what I have to do on the mound and they’ll see what happens after college.”
To major league scouts, players who can pitch and hit are a bonus, but it’s clear that at some point the player is going to have to choose. Sometimes the switch can even happen a few years into the minor leagues. That’s the funny thing about baseball. If you can play you can play. If you do something well enough, somebody will pay you to do it.
Of the five players who have received the Olerud Award three went on to be pitchers in the pros and two are position players. None are two-way players.
For now, Nevada’s two-way players are good enough to continue to play both ways, and Johnson likes having options.
The Wolf Pack won its third weekend series in a row after defeating Pacific on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Nevada improved to 10-1 on the season.
The Pack will play UC Davis at home at 4pm today. The Aggies are 8-4-1 this season.
Ryan Suppe can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.