JUPITER, Fla.—Connor Ollio is stepping into the sunshine.
The 14-year-old native of Pittsburgh joined the Central Florida Gators after a standout pitching performance against them in a Cooperstown tournament caught their attention. He quickly took the opportunity to play at a higher level and in a much more baseball-friendly climate, and so far the move is working out.
“This is just my first year with Central Florida and it’s good,” Ollio said. “The kids here have accepted me and I’m getting along with everyone pretty well, so that’s good. The (game) is the same and I just go out and play but the competition is a lot better because teams in the north aren’t as good.”
In his first big tournament with the Gators, away from his Pittsburgh teammates whom he spent all of his pre-teen playing days with, the righthander took the mound for the first game of USA Baseball’s 14U East Championship tournament at the Miami Marlins complex in Jupiter. His squad finished Sunday, taking home silver medals.
Though he claimed he wasn’t at his best in his first game on Wednesday and gave credit to his defense, Ollio went 4 1/3 innings against an impressive MVP Elite Squad lineup and allowed just one run on four hits with two walks and four strikeouts before moving over to first base for the remainder of the game.
“Connor is great,” Central Florida head coach Joe Mercadante said. “He’s a great competitor, first and foremost. Even (Wednesday) he didn’t have his best stuff but he battled and gave us a real quality start. He kept us in the ball game against a really good ball club.
“He competes, he’s got some versatility for us—he can play some third base, he can play shortstop, can play first, he hits in the middle of the lineup and he’s one of our top arms on the mound as a starter. He does a lot of big things for us. He’s the kind of guy that you want on your team for sure.”
On the hill, the young righty sat between 79-83 mph with his fastball, and has a pitching repertoire that also includes a curveball in the low 60s and a changeup. The latter pitches in particular are what he considers to be the weakest part of his game.
“My off-speed pitches are what I need to work on the most,” Ollio said. “I have a four-seam (fastball), a two-seam, a curveball and a circle change. I’ve been throwing the four-seam, curve and changeup all my life but I just started the two-seam. I know I can always get better so I need to keep working on them.”
Though pitching against his current team was what made such a strong impression on the Gators and team owner Mark Roberts, Ollio has since really shown what he can do in the infield.
“He’s definitely got a chance to play at short, and on the left side of the infield for sure,” Mercadante said. “He’s got a tremendous opportunity to be a starter on the mound, and he does a lot of really good things that you want to see in a baseball player. He’s going to give himself a great opportunity to make any ball club.”
The place that Ollio enjoys the most on the diamond is the middle infield, and the 6-foot-2, 160-pound righty tries to model his game after Dustin Pedroia, former American League MVP and second baseman for Ollio’s favorite team, the Boston Red Sox.
“I like playing short the best,” he said. “Short is my place. I grew up there and that’s where I’m the most comfortable. I like it a lot … My strength is fielding the ball, just because I’ve grown up doing it and I’ve had so many (repetitions). On the mound, I can always get better.”
Ollio’s biggest priority is continuing to develop and make progress in all aspects of his game, along with of course trying to make the Team USA National Team Development Program roster, and he believes that he has already come a long way in the short time with his new squad.
“(Playing with Central Florida) has definitely made my game better,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot better in the field and I am hitting the ball better. I’m seeing it better and everything has been pretty good.”
Since Roberts made the decision to give the Ollio family a call and ask if their just-turned-14-year-old might want to be a Gator, Mercadante couldn’t be more impressed with the newcomer.
“Mark saw him in Cooperstown and was raving about him,” Mercadante said. “He said that I would love to coach him and I’m going to love it when he joins us, and he’s been right. He’s been a pleasure to have on the team. He’s a great teammate for everybody and he plays the game hard.”