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Your Random D-Back: Trent Oeltjen

He had one of the best debuts in Diamondbacks’ history.

Arizona Diamondbacks Photo Day Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Do you come from a land down under?

An outfielder with a great smile, somewhat of a (female) fan favourite, lots of speed and a tendency to get hit by pitch. Does that sound familiar? If you think Tim Locastro has been one of a kind: you are wrong. In 2009 we already had Trent Oeltjen from Down Under. So, if you add the Aussie accent to the mix you probably get Trent Oeltjen > Tim Locastro.

Oeltjen’s way to Arizona was a long one that started in, of course, Australia. As we might know, baseball is not a mainstream sport in Down Under, but the love for the game is gifted to him by his American father:

Like most kids, I played cricket and rugby, all the big Australian sports, but I excelled at baseball. Dad being American also meant he was the first one to get me into the game. I remember mum and dad taking me to watch local games. I remember how fun it was, and it gave me something to aspire to. - Trent Oeltjen in a 2011 interview with Sydney Morning Herald.

Young Oeltjen starts playing baseball at local club Winston Hills Baseball Club, close to Sydney. Obviously the odds on ever making it to the big leagues are slim but if there is one kangaroo who can do it, it could be him. He is a talented kid, and soon plays state and nation-wide in U14, U16 and U18 teams. According to his own biography, he becomes the youngest kid to undergo TJ surgery at the age of 15. That does not stop him from getting selected and to play for Australia at the Junior World Baseball Championship a couple of years later. American scouts write his name on their sheets and soon an offer follows:

A few American scouts came to the Claxton Shield competitions and I got a few offers before signing with the Minnesota Twins in the minor league. - Oeltjen on signing with the Twins in a 2011 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald

“I should be so lucky”

Soon after signing with the Minnesota Twins, Oeltjen starts the 2001 season in the Rookie leagues at the age of 18. Oeltjen proves to be not much of a slugger, so it is important he gets on base. Thing is...he does not draw much walks. He does not strike out a lot either and makes contact quite often leading to terrific batting averages. However, as Dann Strittmatter would notice on the AZSnakePit, Oeltjen has a huge BABIP year in and year out: in a total of 14 seasons in the minor leagues the career BABIP is .347. While that might sound unsustainable, it could be that he is able to maintain a high BABIP in the minors because he is able to rely on his speed and beat out the throws.

When I was younger I think I was just a speed player. - Trent Oeltjen in a 2013 article on the Courier Mail

But when he isn’t that lucky anymore and the BABIP falters him, Trent Oeltjen’s baseball skills cannot save him: in 2007, after a season in Rochester for the Twin’s Triple A affiliate where a .259 BABIP leaves him with a .303 OBP, he is cut loose.

Best Diamondbacks debut of all time...and Renonitis

The Arizona Diamondbacks sign Oeltjen for the 2008 season. He plays the entire season in what would be the last season of the Tucson Sidewinders as the D-Backs AAA team but does not get a call-up despite some decent hitting.

But the D-Backs like what they see and he becomes one of the first off-season signings for the 2009 season. However, he participates with Australia in the 2009 World Baseball Classic before heading to Reno. Representing his country at international tournaments is a recurrent theme during his minor league career and he misses quite some games doing so, although that dedication rewards Trent Oeltjen with a silver medal: Australia is baseball’s runners up at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Some of my favourite times playing baseball have been representing my country. It’s something that as a kid you always look forward to and it’s always fun coming back to play. - Oeltjen in a 2014 interview with the Daily Telegraph

In 2009 Oeltjen’s numbers are comparable to the previous season, but this time the Diamondbacks are prepared to give the Aussie a look in the majors.

He gets called up on August 6 when Justin Upton hits the injured list with an oblique injury. Oeltjen starts the very same day in left field in a game against the Pirates in Pittsburgh and has a debut to remember: he starts his career with a hit and a homerun. Another 4 games in and Trent Oeltjen sports an unearthly batting line of .500/.500/1.042. As Jim McLennan would later recall, Oeltjen gets honours for having one of the best Diamondbacks debuts ever:

Oeltjen certainly had the best start to the career of any Diamondback - indeed, one of the very best ever by any player. [...] He became the quickest player in major-league history to get 12 hits with three home-runs. - Jim McLennan in 2013 on Oeltjen’s debut

But, like Jim McLennan also noted, it would only go downhill from there: in the next 13 games he would gather just two more hits in 44 at bats and by the end of September Oeltjen was back in Reno. He would garner another call-up in September when rosters expanded, but ended the season with a 78 OPS+. The Oeltjen experience did give us some kind of a legacy, apart from a memorable debut. Although SnakePitters would not remember him as their favourite #16, the Australian became part of one of the first discussions on the AZSnakePit about the Reno-effect.

He would later get outrighted in November and reject the assignment. The outfielder opted for free agency and, after a short stint in the Brewers’ minor league system, played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the majors in 2010 and 2011, but again without much success. He stayed with the Dodgers in 2012, tried with the Angels in 2013 and returned to the Diamondbacks in 2014 but never made it back to the MLB again.

In a piece Oeltjen offers on his own website, he remembers those difficult times and relates it to anxiety:

With baseball, it took the shape of the possibility of a bad game. What if I strike out tonight or my swings do not feel the way they should. Some days it would get so bad I wouldn’t want to go to the field. But what I found was the anxiety and fear of a projected negative outcome was actually 100x worse than the actual worst-case outcome. I struck out, who cares. Get over yourself Trent, people will leave the stadium and trust me they will not be saying for weeks on end can you believe Oeltjen struck out.
It sounds almost laughable breaking it down in this way but I can tell you when you’re in it, it’s absolute torture and you feel there is no way out. I would feel my world was coming crashing down. My heart rate would spike, my entire physiology would change, my muscles would tense, my eyes wouldn’t adjust they should to a 95mph fastball, and all of this from my living room. I wasn’t even at the stadium yet!!!
Coming from this place, now wonder I felt exhausted by the time I got to the game. This was the issue with my swing during those times when I felt I just couldn’t find it. I would spend endless hours upon hours in the cage yet the issue wasn’t in my mechanics it was internal, I simply wasn’t present, no longer in that flow state. - Trent Oeltjen on anxiety in baseball on his own website.

He would return to Australia to play in the ABL in 2015, retired soon thereafter, but would return to play for Australia and in the ABL in a couple of stints until he said goodbye to baseball indefinitely in 2017.

Extreme running

After hanging up the cleats and a couple of years of laying low, Trent Oeltjen took advantage of the skill he was long known for, running and speed, and started long distance running. He participates in marathons, 80 km runs (50 miles) and 100 km runs. On the other hand he is also involved in baseball as one of the coaches at the NxtGen Baseball program that tries to prepare young kids in Australia for a future in professional baseball. And while he was in quarantaine for the 2021 program he also biked 70 kms a day in his hotel to complete a virtual 1,000 kms from Melbourne to Sydney, because ... that is what speedsters do.