GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Adam Oller had plenty of moments where he was ready to give up on his dream. The long bus rides through random Minor League cities. Endeavors into playing independent ball and overseas. There was only so much more disappointment that he could take.
The way Oller’s professional career had been playing out, it only made sense that his first Major League Spring Training was a shortened one with less time to make his case for a roster spot. Over that time, though, he impressed A’s coaches with each opportunity he was given. On Friday, that work was rewarded with the news of a lifetime.
Upon returning to the dugout at the conclusion of his outing in a 12-4 A’s victory over the White Sox at Camelback Ranch, Oller was pulled aside by manager Mark Kotsay and was told that he made the Opening Day roster. After a long and turbulent journey, Oller’s dream was finally realized.
“I’ll be honest, that was something I never thought I would hear in my career,” Oller said. “Just with all the ups and downs that I’ve had, it was a very surreal moment.”
The first call went to his father, Mike, who previously flew in from Knoxville, Tenn., to watch his son’s first Cactus League start on March 23. Next was his mother, Sharon, who quickly got emotional. After failed calls to his three siblings, Oller then made calls to three of his closest friends.
“I’ve still got quite a few phone calls to make,” Oller said. “Mom was crying. Dad was happy. Just everything that’s gone on the last two or three weeks, it’s been a crazy career.”
Oller has also been pitching with a heavy heart this spring. On the morning of that first Cactus League outing against the Cubs, he found out that his grandmother had passed away. Later that day, he put himself on the A’s radar by striking out four of the eight batters he faced -- a feat he sensed was aided by his grandma’s spirit.
“She’s been with me for all the outings and she will be in the future,” Oller said. “With everything that’s gone on, it was nice to have good news.”
Originally a 20th-round selection by the Pirates in the 2016 MLB Draft, Oller was released in 2018 without ever receiving an invite to the club’s Spring Training. Following a short 2019 stint with the Giants' organization, he fought to keep his career alive by playing independent ball and was selected by the Mets in the Minor League phase of the 2020 Rule 5 Draft.
It was in New York’s system that Oller began showing signs of a turnaround. Though he was not included in the organization’s Minor League player pool during the COVID-19-impacted 2020 campaign, he debuted with a bang in 2021 by going 9-4 with a 3.45 ERA and 138 strikeouts over 120 combined innings at Double-A and Triple-A, leading to Oakland’s interest in acquiring him as part of last month’s trade that sent Chris Bassitt to the Mets.
Looking to get the most out of his stuff, the A’s approached Oller at the start of Spring Training with a message of focusing on taking advantage of a good fastball that sits 93-95 mph by using it more, to combine with his changeup, cutter and slider. It’s something that Oller said he’d been doing less of with the Mets, whose staff advised him to throw more breaking balls.
Through three Cactus League outings, Oller’s increased fastball usage has led to success, including Friday’s start. His fastball maxed out at 96 mph, and he struck out five batters and allowed two runs on four hits and one walk over three innings.
It was an outing the 27-year-old righty said he felt was essential to his roster chances after a rough showing in his previous game pitched against the Angels earlier in the week.
“I knew going into today that I was kind of on that cusp,” Oller said. “I’d only had two outings to this point and had one good one and one not-so-good one. This one was one I needed to put up or shut up.”
Now that he’s put up, Oller remains hungry for more. Though he hadn’t yet processed what it might be like standing alongside his A’s teammates on the foul line at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park for Opening Day next Friday, he knows that isn’t the end of his journey. Instead, that emotional day will mark the beginning of a new pursuit.
“I’m not done yet,” Oller said. “I don’t want to be a cup of coffee guy. I want to have an eight, nine, 10-year career. From here, now I’ve checked the last box to start new boxes to check.”
Still, what role Oller might fill remains unclear. The A’s have an opening in the starting rotation with both James Kaprielian and Brent Honeywell Jr. expected to miss the start of the season due to injury. Before Friday’s game, Kotsay indicated Oller was in the mix for that starting job, as well as a spot in the bullpen as a reliever who can provide bulk innings.
Whether starting or relieving, Oller won’t be too concerned with the final decision.
“I don’t really care,” he said. “Just give me the ball and let me work.”
All that matters is the opportunity. After an improbable journey, Oller’s Major League dream is coming true.