MLB.com Columnist

Jon Paul Morosi

For A's rookie Olson, success started at home

Georgia native has taken MLB by storm with record-breaking power

For A's rookie Olson, success started at home

DETROIT -- Lee Olson's fifth-grade classroom in Lilburn, Ga., is filled with baseball fans.

Matt Olson fans, to be more specific.

"She's always telling me things her students have come up with," a smiling Olson said of his mother. "They'll say, 'Oh, I saw Matt on TV.'"

The kids have had plenty of occasions to say that lately, given Olson's historic second half with the Oakland A's. 

Olson, 23, continued his historic run in Tuesday's 9-8 win over the Tigers, taking over the Major League lead with his 12th home run in September. He's homered in eight of the team's past 10 games, including the last five in a row, and joined Giancarlo Stanton (2010) as the only players to hit 20 homers in the Minors and Majors in the same season.

Olson's 22nd home run

But perhaps the most impressive stat is this: Olson has hit 23 home runs in 55 games this year -- a Major League record for a rookie season of fewer than 80 games. He laughed in disbelief when those words --  Major League record -- were mentioned to him after Monday's win.

"It definitely is kind of weird to hear, especially how this year has gone for me," Olson told MLB.com. "I was up and down [to Triple-A] five different times. Ultimately, [former A's first baseman] Yonder [Alonso] getting moved gave me the opportunity to be in there every day. I just want to make the most of it, and I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job of that right now."

The A's view Olson as a Gold Glove-caliber defender at first base, a player they intend to build around as they approach the planned opening of a new stadium near Laney College in Oakland in 2023.

Olson's torrid stretch can be traced back to an 11-game cameo in the Majors last year, during which A's officials helped him realize that he had to adjust his batting stance. Olson's hands were tucked too closely toward his back shoulder, which left him vulnerable to inside pitches. After tinkering with a few ideas aimed at developing a cleaner path toward the ball, Olson decided to set up with his hands further away from his body. And it's worked -- first at Triple-A Nashville, and now with Oakland.

Through the end of July, Olson had a .196 batting average and a .768 OPS over 60 Major League plate appearances, scattered throughout intermittent callups. That changed when the A's dealt Alonso to Seattle, opening up the everyday job at first base. Olson joined Oakland's lineup for good on Aug. 8; in the 36 games since, he has a blistering 1.132 OPS and 18 home runs.

Customize a Matt Olson A's jersey

"I was feeling really good in Nashville during the time I was going up and down," Olson said. "Then I'd come up here, be here for a week-long stint, and I might get less than five at-bats. It was tough having to go back down to Nashville with my rhythm all thrown off. ... But they wanted me up here whenever they had a spot, so I wasn't upset at all.

"[A's manager Bob Melvin] was always reassuring whenever he had to send me down, and the staff in Nashville -- [hitting coach] Eric Martins, [manager] Ryan Christenson -- got me right back to it. I think we all knew it was going to be one of those years for me, where I was the guy whenever there was a spot. [The mentality] was to take care of business in Nashville and be ready for the next time."

Olson paused.

"My parents might've been a little more upset than me, wondering about how I was doing mentally," he said with a laugh, as he thought about Lee and his father, Scott. "They were there for me if I ever got down about it."

It helped that Lilburn is only about 260 miles away from Nashville. His hometown also offered a good baseball background: His sixth-grade mathematics teacher was Karen Francoeur, mother of Jeff, who starred with the hometown Braves as Olson grew up.

Francoeur and Olson graduated from the same high school (Parkview) and were first-round selections in the MLB Draft a decade apart -- Francoeur in 2002, Olson in '12. Olson is now a rookie sensation reminiscent of Francoeur in 2005.

Rookie statistics: How does Olson stack up?

Over the weekend in Philadelphia, Olson found himself face-to-face with another breakout star, Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins, whose 18 home runs are the most in a rookie season of fewer than 50 games.

"I talked to him a little bit," Olson said. "We just kind of said, 'Keep swinging it, man.' It's fun to watch. We have that mutual respect for each other and know what each other is doing."

Lee Olson's fifth graders in Lilburn are paying attention, too.

Jon Paul Morosi is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.