First-year manager Joe Oliver, a former World Series hero for the Cincinnati Reds, leads the Spinners into action Friday night in Game 1 at LeLacheur
First-year manager Joe Oliver, a former World Series hero for the Cincinnati Reds, leads the Spinners into action Friday night in Game 1 at LeLacheur Park. SUN/JULIA MALAKIE

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LOWELL -- Joe Oliver played his rookie ball in Billings, Mont., back in 1983. Living conditions were unglamorous.

Oliver was selected in the second round of the 1983 amateur draft by the Cincinnati Reds out of Boone High School in Orlando. That summer, he arrived in Billings as a nervous 17-year-old and moved into a dorm room with a 23-year-old teammate. The room had two twin beds, no television and no phone.

Dining options were limited.

"I lived for McDonald's. I couldn't tell you where anything in the city was except for McDonald's, my dorm room and the ballpark," said Oliver. "I was sitting there wondering if I made the right choice."

Yes, it was the right choice.

The 48-year-old enjoyed a 13-year playing career as a catcher and utility man in Major League Baseball. He was the starting catcher on the Reds' 1990 World Series championship team. He was named the Reds' team MVP in 1993 after having tallied 14 home runs and 75 RBI. He played 1,076 career games, and had 831 hits and 102 home runs during stints with seven Major League clubs.

Oliver played briefly with the Boston Red Sox in 2001 before retiring after that season.

"I always wanted to play professional baseball. I think it finally clicked when I got to Double-A, which at the time was in Burlington, Vt.," said Oliver.

It's apropos for Oliver to get reminiscent of those quirky minor league markets.


He now enters Phase 2 of his pro baseball career as the manager of the Lowell Spinners, the Red Sox's Class A affiliate. It's his first job managing or coaching at the professional level.

Oliver arrived in Lowell on Tuesday morning and will make his debut Friday night at LeLacheur Park when the Spinners host the Vermont Lake Monsters in the 2014 season opener.

"I'm excited. Being in extended spring training for two months is kind of like you're in Groundhog Day," said Oliver, the 11th manager in Spinners' history. "I'm ready to go out and get involved in a real game where the stats matter. We can go out and make moves that are going to help us try to win."

After his playing career ended, Oliver took a break from the game to spend time at home in Orlando with his wife and four children. He then took various jobs coaching youth and high school baseball in the area.

"Being a catcher, you're definitely the leader on the field, controlling the game," said Oliver. "That's where I felt like my calling was going to be after I got out of baseball. I'm excited that I get to do it at the beginning level. Not only are the players learning, I'm going to be learning.

"When you're in love with what you do and you step away from it for a while, there's a part of you that knows that something is missing. I have baseball in my DNA. Not being in it for quite some time just made me hungry for it even more."

Walter Miranda (pitching coach), Noah Hall (hitting coach) and Iggy Suarez (coach) round out Oliver's staff.

Oliver thought about bringing his World Series championship ring with him to Lowell as a constant reminder of the ultimate goal for the young prospects. He decided to leave it back home in Orlando.

"Especially after seeing what the Sox got for rings this year," joked Oliver. "It was a lifetime ago. Most of these kids, their parents probably weren't even married yet when I won that ring."

The ring may not have made the trip, but Oliver commands plenty of respect from his players.

"His accolades speak volumes," said catcher Danny Bethea of Oliver. "I met him down in spring training. He's a great guy, a great coach. He brings a lot of energy and he's always helping us catchers out. He's a great guy to learn from."

Oliver still talks to many of his former World Series teammates, such as Chris Sabo, Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble. Sabo was a very proactive advocate in helping Oliver get back into professional baseball.

Oliver reached out to the Reds in regards to a managing or coaching job, but there were no positions available. Then the call came from the Red Sox.

"I was elated," Oliver said. "This is a team that just came off a World Series and they had an opening in their organization. I'd be crazy not to jump at that opportunity. It made it a lot easier knowing that I had a little bit of time with the organization. There are still some people in place that were here when I was here playing.

"I've only been in Lowell for a couple of days, but I'm really impressed with the facility. To see where rookie ball has progressed is pretty incredible. Anywhere you go it's really like a mini big league stadium. I think a lot of the cities are starting to understand that people get excited about coming to a nice facility."

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