Nate Oliver, wielding a busy bat which zoomed his average to .286, has created an open-and-shut case of one of the major Dodger challenges for 1968 – the shortstop position.
The job is wide open and Oliver has closed his stance enough to to make him a candidate after his first serious try at the spot, an opportunity which came when the hard-played Ducky Schofield was injured. It looks as though the newest Dodger surprise is about to escape from his eight-year sentence in the minors, much of which he spent on a shuttle to Spokane. This spring, Oliver was uncertain, unsigned and unwanted and, because he had been cut $1,000 and assigned outright to Spokane, he phoned this reporter and announced his retirement. “Until the last day before I was report to Vero Beach,” recalled Oliver, “I had quit baseball.”
“I wasn’t on the Dodger roster, and I just wanted to chuck it all.” Not only that, but Nate had gone through the draft, unwanted by 19 other clubs, as well as his own. “I guess I would have taken a job offered me as a car salesman,” Oliver said, “but then the Dodgers offered to restore my $1,000 if I did well. So I reported to the Spokane club in Florida.”
It was a dismal spring for the little infielder, especially the day the big club broke camp. No only were the Dodgers departing without him, but he had broken his ankle on the previous day. “They treated it as a sprain,” Pee Wee related. “I opened the Coast league season and played three weeks before the break was discovered. The ankle was placed in a cast.”
Oliver thinks it was during this unfortunate period he became a major league hitter. He was magnetized by a Vancouver infielder, some 15 pounds lighter than himself, who was leading the Coast league with a average of .500. His name was John Donaldson, currently playing second base for the Athletics. “I figured if that little guy could do it, so could I,” said the 165-pound Oliver. “I closed my stance like he did and it accomplished three things for me – cutting down on my strikeouts, preventing me from falling away from inside pitches and helping me to hit to the opposite field. The closed stance made me a major league hitter,” Oliver stated.