Oeltjen enjoying time back home in Australia
Ex-big league outfielder off to great start in Australian Baseball League season
MELBOURNE -- Two weeks into the 2013-14 Australian Baseball League season, Sydney native and former big leaguer Trent Oeltjen is taking his native league by storm, hitting at a .400 clip with an OPS of 1.344, and ranking second in the ABL with nine RBIs in seven games.
In short, things couldn't be going much better for the affable Aussie with more than 13 years of professional experience.
"I've felt great," he said during a break from a mid-week workout. "It's nice to come home and see family and friends and also get a chance to play a bit of baseball while you're here as well."
Frankly, Oeltjen hasn't needed to come home much of late, having built a very successful career for himself in the United States. A lifetime.295 hitter and author of 1,314 hits in the Minor Leagues, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound outfielder has been at the Triple-A level for each of the past seven seasons.
After being signed by the Minnesota Twins as a 17-year-old international free agent in 2001, Oeltjen made his Major League debut eight years later as a 26-year-old with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He appeared in 24 games with the D-backs in '09, then joined the Dodgers organization in '10. He spent the next two seasons traveling between Los Angeles and Triple-A Albuquerque, appearing in 74 games with the Dodgers.
When asked about his personal career highlights, Oeltjen obviously has much to consider, but quickly cites his Aussie pride.
"Coming from Australia and being an international player, representing your country is pretty special, and I think playing in the Olympics and winning a silver medal in the Athens Olympics has to be up there," he said.
Australia lost the gold medal game to Cuba in 2004.
"Also, being the 25th Aussie to ever make the Major Leagues is pretty special," he added.
In November 2012, Oeltjen inked a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and things were going well for the then-30-year-old outfielder in his first season with his fifth organization.
Oeltjen spent the entire season with the Salt Lake Bees and had already posted career highs in home runs (14) while belting 30 doubles through 99 games when things changed abruptly one night in early August.
"You know baseball -- freak things can happen all the time," said Oeltjen, more than three months after a pitch ended his season.
"I was batting and had a two-strike count and the pitcher just let one go a little bit inside. I didn't quite get out of the way quick enough and it just struck me in the face and actually broke my nose and fractured my cheek."
Fortunately, Oeltjen never lost consciousness, and he also hasn't lost a healthy perspective on the injury.
"This is my 13th year playing professionally and this is the first time this has ever happened to me," he said. "It was a pretty scary incident, but in the end I think I was pretty lucky that it didn't hit me in the eye or in the mouth. That would've got pretty messy."
Oeltjen hasn't lost his sense of humor about it either.
"Everything's fixed and healed now," he said. "I just had to fix the broken nose, straighten it up, so I'm better looking than ever, mate."
However, the injury couldn't have come at a much worse time.
"It's always disappointing to finish the season with an injury and to miss that much time," said Oeltjen. "The final month is important for guys trying to get a call-up and trying to get back to the Major Leagues."
With the Angels struggling in the basement of the American League West, and Oeltjen putting up big numbers with the Bees, it certainly isn't crazy to think that a call-up could have happened.
But now it's back to the drawing board, and once again a free agent, Oeltjen is encouraged by the early returns through two weeks with the Blue Sox.
"Being hit in the face like that, it's important to come back and make sure I wasn't a bit jumpy of having balls come at me again," he said. "But I picked up right where I left off. Everything feels great and I really don't even think about it."
Oeltjen has not been in contact with any teams yet, but there is a confidence -- along with a proven record of Minor League success -- that makes one think that the phone could ring any day.
"Just waiting to sort of see where the best opportunity for next year to make a Major League club is," said Oeltjen. "It's always an exciting time. I look forward to it, and we'll see where I end up."
As fate might have it, the two teams that perhaps know best what Oeltjen brings to the table -- the D-backs and Dodgers -- will be in his hometown to start the 2014 Major League season with a two-game series beginning on March 22.
"I love it," Oeltjen said of the historic event -- the first time Major League Baseball will ever be played in Australia. "I couldn't be happier. There's really a good buzz over here, and I think there's a lot of interest coming out of the ABL games. It's really great for baseball in Australia, they really needed something like this, and tickets have sold quickly.
"It's really going to be special playing it out here at the Sydney Cricket Ground. That's a special pavilion here in Australia. It's going to be awesome."
For now, though, there is an ABL season still in its infancy, and a lot of young talent for Oeltjen to lead by his example.
Asked if he embraced the leadership role that had fallen on his shoulders, the answer came without hesitation.
"Absolutely," Oeltjen said. "In Australia, I think it's important that some of the guys who have got some experience and done well overseas come back and help out the younger kids and give them some things to look forward to.
"I'm really excited to come back and help out the league over here and also some young kids coming up through Sydney."
For a man who has worked so hard and accomplished so much, there is a refreshing selflessness about him that is not always found in today's athletes.
"You never know what tomorrow will bring, so I just try to live day by day," he mused, almost philosophically. "Any chance I get to help someone or better myself as a person is a good day in my book."
Craig Durham is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.