The 68 runs Olerud knocked in two years ago are his career high, but he and the Jays think that as the number-five hitter in their potent lineup he should drive in at least 30 more this season. "I don't want to put pressure on him, but John can drive in 100 runs and hit 20 or so home runs a year," says Tenace.
But RBI men aren't usually so finicky at the plate. They go up there hacking. To become a big run producer, Olerud knows he'll have to keep doing more swinging and less looking. "I think it's true that sometimes I wait for the perfect pitch and let some good ones go by," he says. "When I'm struggling, I wind up kicking myself after a lot of pitches, saying, Man, that was a good pitch to hit, I should have gone after it. And if I don't say it to myself, I know I'll hear it from half the coaching staff."
Olerud's success in this, his fourth full year, may just be part of a natural progression from wide-eyed newcomer to established veteran. Says Kelly, "He told me during spring training that this was the first year he really felt entirely comfortable with the Blue Jays and with being a major league player in general." Many of Olerud's teammates think that Kelly herself is responsible for that newfound feeling of comfort, that her outgoing personality has rubbed off on her soft-spoken husband. Olerud agrees that there may be something to that theory. "Just her presence has helped," he says. "Having someone I feel totally relaxed with has probably made me a little more relaxed around other people. She's an athlete herself [Kelly went to Arizona State on a volleyball scholarship], so she understands the things I go through. It's not that I was unhappy before, but I'm happier now."
There was a time, in Olerud's early days with the Jays, when he was Toronto's quiet man. He may not exactly be the clubhouse clown these days, but he has become a bit more extroverted. "I was up here playing with guys I had watched on TV," says Olerud. "It wasn't that I didn't want to talk to them, it was just that I figured there was no way these guys would want to talk to me or go to lunch with me."
But slowly a more engaging Olerud has emerged. When he was asked recently about becoming the first .400 hitter since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, Olerud said he hadn't expected the comparison so early, "at least not until July or August."
"He never would have said that a couple of years ago," said Toronto leftfielder Joe Carter. "He probably would have just smiled and said nothing. Getting two sentences out of Oly used to be a real challenge."
But Olerud hasn't completely erased his shy, quiet image. Before the start of the season, a radio commercial for the Blue Jays was aired in which a guy named Bernie is at the Jays' spring training site in Dunedin, Fla. He calls a friend back in Toronto and tells him, "I've been working on John Olerud's shyness. Getting him to come out of his shell."
"Has it worked?" the friend asks.
"Terrific," Bernie says.
Olerud is nearby, waiting to use the pay phone, and Bernie puts him on the line with his friend, who says to Olerud, "Give us your comments on spring training, how you feel, how the other guys feel and how you think the team will do this year."