Olson opens eyes with HR Derby round

A's slugger bashes 23 long balls but falls one shy of Mancini's total

July 13th, 2021

DENVER -- If anyone didn't know who was prior to Monday night's T-Mobile Home Run Derby at a sweltering Coors Field, they do now.

Olson, who plays for the A's in games many on the East Coast never see because they end in Oakland around 1 a.m. ET, put on a show in his first-round matchup against Orioles slugger Trey Mancini. He came up one homer short, losing the round, 24-23 -- his last batted ball would've tied the contest, but it landed foul as time ran out.

“It was hooking pretty hard,” Olson said. “Sometimes, here, it stays a little straighter because of the altitude. But it was definitely foul.”

Olson, who is as understated as they come, isn’t the type of guy who attracts much attention despite his tremendous slugging ability. Combine that with the fact he plays in Oakland, and you’ve got a Home Run Derby contestant that many analysts considered a “sleeper” pick going into it.

“I mean, he’s got 23 home runs this season,” said fellow American League West slugger and Home Run Derby participant Joey Gallo. “He shouldn’t be a sleeper pick. He’s not a limelight guy. If he played for the Yankees, I think people would be thinking he’s the top favorite.”

Olson went into the All-Star break amid his best offensive season yet -- and he has a campaign in which he posted an .896 OPS with 36 homers (2019) on his resume. He's hitting .282/.371/.567 (161 OPS+) in 2021, and by the end of the season, he will certainly have made a household name for himself.

Olson's longest distance in the Derby was 495 feet, which he achieved on two shots. His highest exit velocity was 111 mph and his average home run distance tied Mancini at 447 feet. Altogether, Olson hit 10,274 feet of home runs, against Mancini's 10,723 feet.

“I got a little too line-drive-y at one point,” Olson said. “But then I really just started letting it go, especially here.”

In any home run contest, much depends on the pitcher -- does he put the ball where the contestant can optimize his chances of depositing it over the fence? In the case of A’s assistant hitting coach Eric Martins, the answer from Olson was a resounding yes.

“He was putting it right where I liked it,” Olson said. “It was good. It was a cool moment to have that with ‘E.’ And we’ll always have that. We’ve been together for a while now, so I’m glad he said yes and it worked out.”

While he came oh-so-close to moving on to Round 2, Olson is glad it was Mancini who beat him after Mancini beat the Stage 3 colon cancer he was diagnosed with in March 2020.

“I mean, I want to win. It can be competitive, for sure. Sometimes too competitive,” Olson said. “But it’s all for fun. We’re putting on a show. Mancini had a great round and he’s a great dude. ... To be able to battle what he’s battled and come back and perform the way he’s performed this year, it says a lot about him and his grit and toughness, and I’m happy he was able to work through the situation and get back on the field and do well.”

Before Monday night, Olson had only participated in one official home run contest in his life, and that was in Corpus Christi, Texas, while he was with Double-A Midland in 2015. He was somewhat nervous going into his first MLB Home Run Derby in front of about 50,000 people and the eyes of millions watching from home.

But while his time in this Derby was short, expect him back for more in future years.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Olson said. “There were some butterflies going into it. But once I got the first couple out, it was all fun from there. ... It was a lot of fun. Definitely something I’d consider doing again.”

If and when that time comes, there will be one major difference from Monday: People around the country will know exactly who Matt Olson is.

“He’s got power, man,” Gallo said. “I think he’s a top guy that can win the Home Run Derby.”