Miguel Olivo provided one of the most memorable moments in one of the Marlins’ most forgettable seasons. It was the next-to-last game of the 2007 season when Olivo dashed across the diamond at Shea Stadium and began taking swings at New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, delivering blows that grazed third base coach Sandy Alomar and ignited a bench-clearing brawl.
“You guys still remember that?” Olivo asked reporters this week while standing inside the visitors’ clubhouse at Nationals Park. “That’s in the past. Everything in the past stays in the past.”
The Marlins hope not everything about Olivo remains in the past.
Signed only days ago to serve as the team’s backup catcher until Jeff Mathis is healthy and ready to return, the Marlins are hoping the muscular Olivo, built like a cinderblock, is able to deliver some much-needed punch with his bat.
Olivo and Atlanta’s Brian McCann are the only two catchers in the majors who have hit 10 or more home runs each of the past seven seasons. For Olivo, the first two of those in the string were with the Marlins, where he hit 16 home runs in both 2006 and ’07.
“I have pop, and I’m here,” said the 34-year-old native of the Dominican Republic and veteran of 11 big-league seasons. “I’m very happy the Marlins gave that opportunity again.”
Olivo signed a deal that pays him $800,000 but doesn’t provide him with much in the way of security. The Marlins are allowed to release him within 45 days without owing him the rest of that amount, and Mathis could be ready to return from a broken clavicle before then.
“Let’s not think that way,” Olivo said when asked about it. “I think about staying here. How? I don’t know. For right now, I just think about helping the team win. When that situation comes, we’ll see what happens.”
Because of his success hitting against lefties, Olivo could see the bulk of his playing time come when the opponent sends out a southpaw, as the Nationals will be doing Wednesday when Gio Gonzalez takes the mound. For his career, Olivo has an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .780 against left-handers compared with only .656 against righties. Rookie Rob Brantly will be used as the primary catcher and mostly face right-handers.
“This guy is a grinder,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. “He’s a good catcher, and he’s got some power, too [141 career homers]. He’s definitely a guy that we had our sights on at the end of spring training.
“Obviously, we had a need there with Mathis still being hurt. Skippy [2008 first-round pick, catcher Kyle Skipworth] was an option, but him being a rookie, he needs to play and develop. Sitting on the bench for a month wouldn’t have been the best for him.
“Bringing in a guy like Olivo is a big upgrade for us.”
Said Marlins general manager Mike Hill: “Since Brantly and Skippy both hit left-handed, we were looking for a right-handed complement. As soon as we heard Olivo was available, we felt like he was a perfect option.
“We know Miguel. He’s going to be a professional. We know we can run him out there whenever and we’ll have a veteran bat in the lineup and he can handle a major-league staff.”
Though it has been just six years since Olivo last played for the Marlins, only one of his former teammates from then still remains with the club: Ricky Nolasco.
“He was happy to see me,” Olivo said of the reunion with his former battery mate. “We said the same thing: ‘Man, everybody disappeared. You and me, we’re still here.’ ”
Olivo hopes to remain somehow, even after Mathis returns. And Olivo promises not to become involved in any fisticuffs during his stay.
“Now I think before I do something like that,” he said. “When you’re young, you do a lot of stupid things. Everybody makes mistakes. I play for so many teams.
“Now I’m older and I don’t want my children seeing me do that. Now they would have to push me really, really hard.”