ST. PETERSBURG – Adam Oller couldn’t help but feel like he was letting his family and friends down. Each year that went by felt like his big league dreams were slipping further and further away. But after Tuesday night, he can officially never feel that way again.
Taking the mound for his first Major League start in the A’s 9-8 walk-off loss to the Rays in 10 innings at Tropicana Field, Oller didn’t exactly have the big league debut he was hoping for. The right-hander fell behind in the count often and was removed with just one out in the second inning after Ji-Man Choi’s three-run homer marked his fifth run allowed.
“Not great,” Oller said. “It was nice to finally check that last box. Obviously, it didn’t go as planned. At the end of the day, I thought I had good stuff. I just couldn’t locate.”
Despite the rough final line, though, nothing could diminish this career achievement for Oller. Not when you take into account the turbulent journey it took to reach this point.
Released by the Pirates in 2018 as a former 20th-round Draft pick by the club, Oller went on a baseball tour that left him just about ready to quit the game completely. The next three years brought a short stint in the Giants’ organization, followed by a venture into independent ball to keep his playing career alive. He hung on just enough to land with the Mets as a Minor League Rule 5 Draft pick in December 2019, but instead of getting an invite to New York’s 60-man player pool during the shortened 2020 season, he instead was shipped off to play winter ball in Australia, where he struggled to a 10.24 ERA in just three starts.
Earlier that summer in 2020, Oller semi-jokingly made a bet with his agent, Matt Gaeta, that if he were to make it to the Major Leagues one day, Gaeta would have to show up to his big league debut in a Jimmy Buffett-type outfit. Why Buffett? It’s the artist whose music Oller’s father, Mike, would often play in the car while driving him to games as a kid.
Fast forward to 2022. After a strong season in the Mets’ Minor League system in ‘21, Oller was included in the trade package sent to the A’s in exchange for Chris Bassitt last month. With a couple of rotation slots opening up in Spring Training due to injury, Oller seized his opportunity with a pair of impressive performances to land a spot on his first Opening Day roster. At last, at age 27, Oller did what he’d been working toward his entire life.
True to his word, not only did Gaeta follow through on that promise to wear the outfit of Oller’s choice Tuesday night at Tropicana Field, the idea morphed to the point where all 23 friends and family members showed up in Jimmy Buffett-style Hawaiian shirts and leis. The large group sat in section 105, with the cheering section led by Oller’s mother, Sharon.
“I can throw up, if you want me to be honest,” Sharon said just minutes before Oller took the mound for his debut. “I haven’t eaten. I’m just a nervous wreck. But I could not be more proud of him.”
Though Oller was left yearning for a better performance, seeing his support system clapping for him as he walked off the mound was certainly still a special moment.
“It was definitely a lifelong dream come true,” Oller said. “Being able to see my family out there and all the sacrifices my parents, brothers and sisters have made to get me to where I’m at – they were able to be out there for it to all be worth it.”
In similar vein to the fight Oller showed to reach this day was the effort shown by the A’s as a whole in the contest. If there ever was such a thing as a feel-good loss, Tuesday’s qualifies. Trailing by three runs entering the seventh, Oakland stormed back with a three-run frame to tie the score.
With the game heading into extras after a solid effort by the bullpen, Billy McKinney delivered a go-ahead RBI single in the 10th to put the A’s ahead by a run. Ultimately, closer Lou Trivino was unable to secure a victory, surrendering a walk-off single to Manuel Margot in the bottom half. Still, resiliency continues to be a positive theme that has constantly shown up for this club in games through the first week of the season.
“It shows we have that fighting spirit,” Trivino said. “Just because you’re down, it doesn’t mean you’re out. In 2018, it felt like we had this same vibe. We have a lot of talent. Guys don’t give up. There’s a lot of opportunity, and it’s good to see guys stepping up.”