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Beginning as a Third Baseman Helped Make Athletics' Matt Olson Into a Gold Glover at First

Oakland Athletics first baseman Matt Olson was a third baseman growing up, and he says third is just more difficult to play. The experience he got playing third helped him become a top-flight defender at first.

Matt Olson didn’t take long to blossom into one of the best defensive first basemen in the game.

The Oakland A’s slugger won his first Gold Glove in his first full season in 2018, then came back and won the same award last year, too.

While he’s hunkered down in his Atlanta-area home waiting like the rest of us for baseball to start up again, it’s not a bad time to look into how Olson became Olson.

He didn’t begin at first base. Rather he was a third baseman growing up, and only over time did he move to the other side of the diamond. And he credits that time at third base with making him the third baseman he’s become.

As part of a Sports Info Solutions’ podcast, Olson said learning to play third base made the move to first base a little smoother.

“I don’t want to talk trash about my own position in a way, but third base is just harder,” Olson said. “There’s a lot more into it – it is the hot corner. Not only do you have to make the stop, you have to make really good throws.

“In a way, it prepared me for making the stop and moving over to first base. You just get a lot more time and you don’t have to make as good of a throw.”

Asked about the first great defensive play he made, Olson said it came as a young third baseman.

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“When I was growing up, I played a lot more third base,” he said. “The first time I came in and bare-handed a chopper and threw it across the body across the field, it was one of those cool things. I would always go to the field with my dad hitting grounders to me. I would want to end with a bare-hand, on-the-run throw. So, to pull that first one off in a game was pretty sweet.”

At this point, Olson can leave that bare-handed, throwing-on-the-run ballet to teammate Matt Chapman, another A’s two-time Gold Glove winner.

Of course, Olson has to do some things that Chapman doesn’t – mastering a different kind of footwork around the bag and digging throws out of the dirt to record the out, a skill at which he’s become so adept that it has burnished his Gold Glove credentials.

“The key to learning first base is to get the footwork right,” Olson said. “It’s different from anywhere else on the field. You want to move your foot around the bag to maximize the reach. But once I got it, it’s been natural since then.

“Scooping throws didn’t take me that long to be comfortable. I’ve always been a guy who like to work one-handed. I’ve always been one-handed. That just translates directly to scoops. I’ve learned the more passive you are on picks, the less successful you will be.”

Olson, a left-handed batter, could have been on left-handed thrower, too. He says if he had gone that route, however, he wouldn’t be the same defensive player he is.

“It probably hurts me at first base that I don’t throw lefty,” he said, “particularly going to second base on double plays. I’d love to be able to switch, but looking back on it, I wouldn’t have played third base (and my) skills would be completely different.”

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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