Matt Olson is a human vacuum cleaner.
The Oakland Athletics first baseman recently won his second consecutive Gold Glove award.
Though he missed 34 games due to injury, Chapman still recorded the most defensive runs saved (13) of any MLB first baseman.
Winning a Gold Glove requires a mind-boggling level of defensive brilliance and consistency, and many of those who’ve done it began building those skills from an early age.
For example, Cleveland Indians short stop Francisco Lindor, a two-time Gold Glove award-winner, grew up fielding grounders his father would hit down to him from the top of a steep hill.
For Olson, one childhood drill involved his father, Scott, launching pop-ups for him and his brother through the branches of a massive tree in their yard.
From The Athletic’s Alex Coffey:
There’s a sprawling tree that looms over the Olson’s driveway in Lilburn (Georgia), and some nights after dinner, Scott would toss pop-ups over the low-hanging branches for Zack and Matt. The ball would soar over their heads, and they’d have to turn and quickly catch it, praying it didn’t redirect off a branch along the way.
“I told him half-jokingly that his ability to catch those pop-ups in foul territory over there is a direct result of all of the hours I spent in the driveway tossing pop-ups,” Scott Olson said.
That sounds like a really fun way to build hand-eye coordination and quick reactions. Of course, this drill alone isn’t responsible for Olson’s modern defensive magic.
He also attended Parkview High School, a Georgia baseball powerhouse who’ve won eight state titles. Chan Brown, Parkview’s long-time head coach, believes in a defense-first approach, and Olson performed hundreds—if not thousands—of practice reps under his guidance. That certainly helped, too.
But in an era when many parents are spending exorbitant sums on youth sports, it’s always interesting to see what current MLB stars did as 8, 9, or 10-year-olds.
Very rarely did they spend all their time (and all their parents’ money) on special facilities and private trainers. They often just got better by practicing with their family and friends.
Lindor’s dad hit him grounders down a hill. Olson’s father threw him pop-ups through a tree. Juan Soto played vitilla, an extremely popular street game in the Dominican Republic which involves attempting to hit a bottle cap with a broomstick. Andrew McCutchen did something similar, trying to whack the tape-wrapped pieces of cork flung at him by his dad.
As they got older, their training became more intensive and formalized. But back in those early days, they were just kids having fun with a game that they loved.