Northeast Times

A big hit

Somer­ton's Greg Olenski is hav­ing a heck of a sum­mer in the Cal Rip­ken Col­legi­ate Base­ball League. The former Uni­versity of Mary­land play­er and Holy Ghost Prep product will trans­fer to the Uni­versity of Delaware in the fall.

  • High five: Shoulder surgery helped prevent Greg Olenski from getting into a regular routine at Maryland. He’ll try for a fresh start at the University of Delaware. PHOTO COURTESY MARYLAND ATHLETICS

  • After redshirting his freshman season, Olenski hurt his shoulder while warming up before the first game of the 2012 season. He pushed surgery off until after the season, but it relegated him to pinch hit/part-time duty for the Terps. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARYLAND ATHLETICS

  • Olenski is known for his bat, which features gap-to-gap power. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARYLAND ATHLETICS

  • Power stroke: Greg Olenski, a 2010 graduate of Holy Ghost Prep, spent the previous three seasons at the University of Maryland. The power-hitting catcher-turned-outfielder will be transferring to the University of Delaware in the fall to play for the Blue Hens. PHOTO COURTESY OF GREG OLENSKI

  • Extra work: Before he heads to Delaware, Olenski is playing for the DC Grays in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. He qualified for the league’s All-Star Game last week and even won the event’s Home Run Derby. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DC GRAYS

Greg Olenski re­mem­bers Feb. 17, 2012, like it was yes­ter­day, and not too fondly at that. 

After red­shirt­ing his fresh­man sea­son at the Uni­versity of Mary­land, Olenski was back on the base­ball dia­mond for the Ter­ra­pins that late winter night in Los Angeles. Due to a glut in back­stop op­tions, the Somer­ton nat­ive and former catch­er at Holy Ghost Prep had been shif­ted to the out­field by his col­legi­ate coaches, and that sea­son-open­er at UCLA was sup­posed to rep­res­ent a new be­gin­ning.

But then, something went hor­ribly wrong.

“I was warm­ing up in left field be­fore the game, and my first throw home, I just com­pletely air­mailed the catch­er,” Olenski said by phone from his apart­ment in Col­lege Park, Md. “I’ll nev­er for­get it. I took my glove off right away and I felt the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my arm. The throw, it wasn’t even close, so I knew something was ser­i­ously wrong. It felt like my shoulder was on fire.”

Ori­gin­ally dia­gnosed with bi­cep tendin­it­is, Olenski sought a second opin­ion from Phil­lies phys­i­cian Dr. Mi­chael Cic­cotti a few weeks later. The en­su­ing MRI showed a SLAP tear in Olenski’s lab­rum, mean­ing he could no longer throw, but his swing wasn’t af­fected. Since he had already used a med­ic­al red­shirt, Olenski played through the pain, hit­ting .421 with three RBI in 19 at bats, mostly in a part-time des­ig­nated hit­ter/pinch-hit role.  

He had sur­gery the first week of June, de­term­ined to come back to Mary­land at 100 per­cent. However, the head coach who re­cruited Olenski, Erik Bakich, left to take the same po­s­i­tion at the Uni­versity of Michigan. In his place was John Sze­fc, a former as­sist­ant at Kan­sas State Uni­versity, whose small-ball ap­proach to hit­ting didn’t suit Olenski’s gap-to-gap power stroke.

Olenski, still work­ing his way back from sur­gery, nev­er got his chance to shine for Sze­fc, hit­ting .255 in 51 at bats as a sopho­more. 

“I did everything I could, but there were cer­tain things I couldn’t do by fall prac­tice and I fell be­hind the oth­er kids,” Olenski said. “We had a new coach, and I didn’t really get a chance to show­case my abil­it­ies in a clean slate. My play­ing time was pretty ir­reg­u­lar to the point where I couldn’t get in­to much of a rhythm.”

Olenski sensed it was time for a change, and Mary­land gran­ted his re­quest for a re­lease. He knew that for a team to get his very best, he needed to be in the middle of the lineup every day to show­case the power skills that al­lowed him to set of­fens­ive re­cords while at Holy Ghost.

Luck­ily for him, Uni­versity of Delaware head coach Jim Sher­man had re­membered Olenski from his time at Ghost. Sher­man’s top two power bats, out­field­er Nick Ferdin­and (an Arch­bish­op Ry­an gradu­ate) and in­field­er Jimmy Yezzo, were draf­ted by the Phil­lies and Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als, re­spect­ively, so he was in need of some thump in the middle of the or­der. He found it in Olenski, who will be join­ing the Blue Hens be­gin­ning in the fall.

“We saw him back in high school, so we knew he was a guy with pretty good pop,” Sher­man said. “We needed to re­place some guys, and Greg brings power to the middle of the or­der. He can really launch the ball and drive it in­to the gap. He hasn’t had the op­por­tun­ity to play on an every­day basis, and he needed to find a situ­ation that bet­ter fit his style of play. It comes at a good time for both parties.”

It cer­tainly comes at an op­por­tune mo­ment for Olenski, who has gained all of his con­fid­ence back and ad­mits he will come in­to his ju­ni­or sea­son at Delaware with “a chip on my shoulder.” Cur­rently, he is play­ing sum­mer ball for the DC Grays of the Cal Rip­ken Col­legi­ate Base­ball League, an elite sum­mer or­gan­iz­a­tion for col­lege play­ers look­ing to get ex­tra work in the hopes of at­tract­ing at­ten­tion from pro­fes­sion­al scouts.

It’s the second-go-round for Olenski in the Rip­ken League. Two sum­mers ago, he played for the Al­ex­an­dria Aces fol­low­ing his fresh­man sea­son and en­joyed the ex­per­i­ence. But now, giv­en second life, he’s play­ing with fiery in­tens­ity and pur­pose for the Grays (21-18 over­all re­cord). Olenski leads the 12-team Rip­ken League with 29 RBI and ranks tied for second in home runs (four), second in hits (41) and third in slug­ging per­cent­age (.507). On Ju­ly 17, he par­ti­cip­ated in the league’s All-Star Game and won the Home Run Derby con­test with five long balls in a driv­ing wind.

“I’ve been play­ing every day in left field down here,” Olenski said. “It’s big for me to go out there and put up num­bers to get back on track. I didn’t get the op­por­tun­it­ies at Mary­land, but why not start this sum­mer? I got in­to a con­sist­ent rhythm right away, and I think I star­ted to show what I can do when I get in­to an every­day routine.”

Those who know him well know a de­term­ined, on-a-mis­sion Olenski will be a night­mare to op­pos­ing pitch­ing in the Co­lo­ni­al Ath­let­ic As­so­ci­ation, Delaware’s con­fer­ence. 

“He’s the only four-year starter I’ve ever coached, and this will be my twelfth sea­son com­ing up,” said Holy Ghost head coach Keith Smeraglio. “We don’t usu­ally keep fresh­men, but the seni­ors came to me and told me I had to keep this kid. He’s an ex­tremely hard work­er and by far the strongest kid I’ve ever coached. He has tre­mend­ous bat speed, but his biggest as­set is the de­mean­or he brings to the field every day. He’s just a great kid who’s got all the tools. I look for real good things from him at Delaware.”

Dav­id Am­aro, broth­er of Phil­lies gen­er­al man­ager Ruben Am­aro, is a close friend of the Olenski fam­ily and coached Greg with the Philly Ban­dits, a high school travel team. He echoed Smeraglio’s sen­ti­ments.

“I’ve known Greg since he was 10, and you can’t say enough about him as a base­ball play­er and a young man,” Am­aro said. “He’ll do very well at Delaware. He’s a power hit­ter who doesn’t strike out a ton, which is a unique com­bin­a­tion. He can hit for av­er­age and power. He’s stronger than every­one else, and he’ll out­work you. He’s a very de­term­ined young man, and I’m ex­cited for him. There’s no stop­ping him.”

For his part, Olenski is just tak­ing his con­stantly evolving situ­ation in stride. All he wants is a chance to prove his mettle as a base­ball play­er, which is his way of thank­ing all of those who have made sac­ri­fices to put him on a stage to suc­ceed, from Am­aro and Smeraglio to par­ents Greg and Kar­en, who gave the green light for a bat­ting cage to be con­struc­ted in their Somer­ton back­yard so that their son could take ex­tra swings.

With a new op­por­tun­ity in front of him, he wants to use the next two sea­sons as a launch­pad for his lifelong goal: to be­come a pro­fes­sion­al base­ball play­er.

“Be­ing a pro­fes­sion­al base­ball play­er, that al­ways was and still is my num­ber one goal,” he said. “I’m work­ing to­ward that every day. I real­ize the game gets tough­er and tough­er as you climb the lad­der, but my plan is to play the game un­til I can’t any­more. If that day comes, I’ll have no re­grets. Base­ball is a hum­bling game of fail­ure that keeps me stable and groun­ded, and I’m thank­ful that it’s been such a huge part of my life.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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