“Mr. Versatility” Ryan Olenek takes center field for the Rebels
Pitcher, shortstop, left field, right field, center field: Ole Miss sophomore Ryan Olenek excels at all of these positions on the baseball diamond.
The versatile athlete will begin this season in center field, the spot left vacant when last season’s star outfielder J.B. Woodman was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays organization. As a true freshman last year, Olenek made 48 starts for the Rebels–with 43 of those coming in left or right field. He started a game at third base and one at shortstop, but today at 4:00 pm (SECN+) against East Carolina marks his first start at center.
High school star
Growing up in Winter Springs, Florida, Olenek never hesitated to “take one for the team,” doing whatever he could to help his coaches and teammates win games, regardless of which position he was asked to play.
Posting a .365 career batting record in high school, Olenek earned numerous accolades. He was named 2015 Honorable Mention All-American and Honorable Mention All-Region (Florida) by Perfect Game and was also a two-time member of the organization’s World Wood Bat Association (WWBA) All-Tournament team.
The Trinity Preparatory School (Fla.) graduate was named most valuable player as a junior and senior, and was a three-time member of the Florida Collegiate Summer League (FCSL) All-Tournament team. Olenek, who also made the academic honor roll throughout his four years of high school, is an Accountancy major at Ole Miss.
Seizing the opportunity
Although he was one of the best high school players in the country, Olenek found his transition to Ole Miss a little rough in the beginning. When he arrived on campus last season as an incoming freshman, Olenek weighed only 150 pounds. He said he felt he needed to work harder than everyone else just to make sure he made his way onto the Rebels’ roster.
Early in his freshman campaign, Olenek received his chance to take the field. “It was the third game of the season,” he said. “My very first shot was when Errol (Robinson) got injured opening weekend and coach put me in at shortstop.
“It was my first collegiate game and Coach “B” (head coach Mike Bianco) had enough faith in my abilities to put me out there, and ever since then I felt I could come in whenever he needed me to play any position.”
“A couple weeks into the season, Coach asked me if I had ever played outfield before,” Olenek said. “While in Little League, I was put in the outfield, and that’s where I gained experience.”
From that conversation with Bianco, Olenek was told to grab some fly balls at the next batting practice—and the rest is history. “I was moved from left field on my first start, across the entire outfield to right field in one season,” he said.
At Monday’s Baseball Media Day, Bianco praised Olenek, saying: “He really could play any position on the field he’s so athletic. He’s improved in the outfield and has all the tools I think to be a great center fielder for us.”
The torch is passed
With the departure of J.B. Woodman, Errol Robinson and Henri Lartigue, to name a few, the Rebels lost a tremendous amount of productivity from last season. But Olenek is comfortable with the torch being passed to him and believes he can be a leader on the Ole Miss team.
“With me just now being a sophomore, I was really able to look up to JB (Woodman) last season,” he explained.
“We have very similar leadership traits. With him being so soft-spoken, he showed me how the game should be played and how to handle yourself when you play.”
Ryan Olenek on what he learned from J.B. Woodman
When asked about current Rebels who influence him, Olenek mentioned teammate Tate Blackman, Ole Miss’ Preseason All-SEC second baseman.
“I think the person who has had the biggest impact on my life since last year has definitely been Tate Blackman.” Olenek said.
“He has helped me tremendously with the mental side of things. Being as highly ranked as he was coming in, he had to deal with setbacks early in the year, only to bounce back and become an All-American player.”
Olenek went on to describe how Blackman’s tutelage continues to pay dividends.
“He actually pulled me aside multiple times last season and kept me in check, and that has been a huge help for me this year as I try to mentor this incoming freshman group—because I see a lot of myself in them from when I first got into college.”
Ryan Olenek on how Tate Blackman has influenced him
A new season: Chemistry second to none
In last season’s regional, Ole Miss (43-17, 18-12 SEC) hosted No.2 seed Tulane (39-19), No. 3 seed Boston College (31-20) and No. 4-seed Utah (25-27)—last season’s Pac-12 Champion—prompting many to describe it as the toughest of all the regionals.
Losing to Tulane on the second day was heartbreaking for Ole Miss, but Olenek says the team’s approach to this season is quite different.
“We came up pretty short last year,” he said. “It was a long year. But this season we have prepared in a completely different way. Everyone has a bulldog mentality and we come in and work every day.”
In addition to their work ethic, Olenek is also pleased with the Rebels’ team chemistry.
“Personally, this is the closest team I have ever been on,” he said. When we aren’t at the field, we are hanging out, having team cookouts and get-togethers. We’ve sat in the dug-out hours at a time after practice, just talking, bonding, getting to know each other, and I think it is things like that, that will help carry us farther into the postseason.
“The love and care we have for each other is unmatched. In baseball, that’s the biggest thing you can do and I love that about this group.”
Ryan Olenek on Rebels’ team chemistry
Olenek’s favorite hobby
Incidentally, baseball isn’t the only thing at which Ryan Olenek excels. He’s a bit of a duck hunting aficionado.
“Well, I grew up on a lake in Florida and I was really big into duck hunting,” he explained. “I got into it my sophomore year of high school, and I have done it almost every day since then. It is definitely my favorite hobby.”
“In the Name of Love”
So when you’re sitting in the stands watching the Rebels take on East Carolina in the weekend’s only matchup of two top ten teams, be sure and pay attention when you hear “In the Name of Love,” (by Martin Garrix) blaring from the Swayze speakers.
That’s when you’ll see Ryan Olenek, walk up to the batters box from the on-deck circle, simultaneously chewing Big League gum and spitting out sunflower seeds.
We can promise you will definitely want to tune in and watch “Mr. Versatility” in action.
Opening weekend info
No. 8 Ole Miss hosts No. 6 East Carolina this weekend at Oxford-University Stadium at Swayze Field.
Friday, February 17: 4 p.m (CT) SEC Network Plus
Saturday, February 18: 1:30 p.m. (CT) SEC Network Plus
Sunday, February 19: 12:00 p.m. (CT) SEC Network Plus
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)