He was a novelty in his home country growing up. As teens around him whiled away time with cricket or rugby, Trent Oeltjen, the son of an American, was finding his way in baseball.
Over a decade later, he’s still a novelty: an Australian in baseball. The 30-year-old has long dealt with the same questions about growing up Down Under, and his home country still is warming up to the American pastime.
“Even people back home would probably say, ‘Pick a real sport,’ ” the outfielder said. “My friends back home still can’t believe the following baseball gets here.”
But he’s not with the Salt Lake Bees as a cultural oddity. On Sunday afternoon, Oeltjen found his way on base by a walk, a hit, and a strikeout on a passed ball. He stole two bases, and batted in a run as the Bees notched an 8-7 extra-innings win.
Even in a year when he’s not hitting his best — he’s batting .216 but his career Triple A-average is .298 — he’s found ways to keep the team alive in games. And the hitting is coming around, too.
“I think the most important part is the consistency of his approach,” manager Keith Johnson said. “He was fighting for that early in the year, he was searching for it. Over the course of time, you get that swing and timing down, it gets a little easier.”
The veteran has had a steadying presence in the outfield, getting starts in center and right. But a sunny disposition has helped just as much as his play for the clubhouse. On a team that has taken a few lumps this season, Oeltjen has been among the players who can lift spirits after disappointment.
His last big-league game was with the Dodgers in 2011, and like everyone in Salt Lake, he’s hoping the majors will come calling sooner or later. But for now he’s just enjoying playing the game, cheering for other Aussies who are still in the big leagues and those still coming up.
In Australia, elite baseball players make up a pretty small circle. But since Oeltjen was signed by the Twins when he was 18, he’s seen some great growth in the sport. Players such as Travis Blackley and Luke Hughes who are still around in the pros are just a few of his countrymen.
“There’s something like 50 Aussies in the minor leagues, so there’s some good players out there,” he said. “Baseball is getting better over there; not everyone knows that.”
And Oeltjen has been a part of that. He goes home every summer — mind you, that’s December and January in Australia — and helps out coaching young would-be sluggers. It gives them someone to look up to, and a goal to aspire to reach.
He’s already given much to his country, winning a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics and competing in the World Baseball Classic. Could more coaching be in store after his playing career?
“I haven’t thought that far ahead yet,” he said. “But I enjoy giving back to the same system that brought me up. Baseball is a great game, and I like to let people back there see what I’m doing over here.”
Trent Oeltjen file
• The outfielder was born in Sydney, Australia.
• 30 years old, left-handed, 6-foot-1, 205 pounds.
• Batting .216 this year, but his career Triple A-average is .298.
Walkoff homer lifts Salt Lake to 8-7 victory over Nashville
Luke Carlin ended the Bees’ first extra innings win this season with flair, belting a two-run walkoff homer to give Salt Lake an 8-7 victory over the Nashville Sounds in the 10th inning.
The home run — Carlin’s first hit of the day — wrapped a seesaw affair for the Bees that had seen them stage two comebacks to stay alive and eventually come out on top.
“I haven’t seen it happen too often, to be honest,” Carlin said of the comeback. “Just the makeup of the guys on the team to go out there and put hits together — they didn’t walk us. We got our hits to win the game.”
Nashville took a 5-3 lead on Josh Prince’s three-run double in the ninth inning, before Salt Lake tied it in the bottom of the inning, with Brad Hawpe hitting an RBI double before scoring on Andrew Romine’s ground out.