Taylor Olmstead during the 2015 Home Run Derby (PC: Shawn Stannard/Stannard Photography)
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – In a league with so much turnover each summer — whether it be players moving on to the professional ranks or new teams jumping on board — the Utica Brewers have been a constant since they joined the league back in 2012.
The Brewers made the postseason last year, slipping into the final playoff spot in the Western division. But the Brewers are now gone from the league, a name of the past in a league that seems to be welcoming more and more teams each year.
It’s not that Utica doesn’t still have the same team; in fact it even retained some of the players from its Brewers roster. But with George Deak buying the team after last season a new marketing campaign was started, and the Utica Blue Sox were reborn.
“One of the things I’m trying to accomplish is that I’m looking for markets with a strong history in baseball,” Deak said. “The market used to be really strong in Utica, but it hasn’t been as much recently…so we want to bring the nostalgia back to the town.
“First thing I did was look at the history of the town, and it was Blue Sox, Blue Sox, Blue Sox. So we wanted to keep the old feel with the Blue Sox and freshen it up a bit. Let’s get back to what made this market great. We want to bring back the people that were at the games when they were kids, and hopefully they now bring their kids back. I think we’re headed towards that.”
The Utica Blue Sox name dates all the way back to the 1940s, when the team was a minor league affiliate of the major league team in Philadelphia, then the Blue Jays. The Blue Sox were again a mainstay in Utica from 1977-2001, playing as an affiliate for teams such as the Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox and the Florida Marlins. The team name bounced around from the Blue Sox, Blue Jays, and Marlins during that time, but the Blue Sox remained the true identity of the team.
Cal Ripken Jr. purchased the team in 2002 and moved it to Aberdeen, Maryland where it became the Aberdeen IronBirds, but the Utica club eventually made its way back to upstate New York and into the PGCBL as the Utica Brewers until 2016, when the Blue Sox officially returned.
Taylor Olmstead, an outfielder for the Blue Sox and holdover from the Brewers days, said it’s cool to be involved in the name change transition.
“At first, I didn’t know too much about the history of the name,” Olmstead said. “But getting back here and learning the culture of the name, it’s cool. The People in Utica know the name Blue Sox, it’s a part of the town history here, so it’s cool to go back to the old ways.”
Olmstead, who just finished his sophomore year at one of the top Division II schools in the country at Southern New Hampshire, was one of the more dangerous hitters in the Utica lineup a season ago.
The righthanded slugging center fielder hit .265 in 2015 registering the second-most at bats on the team, smacking four doubles, five triples, and seven home runs. The seven big flies were tied for second in the league in 2015, and he returned to Utica this season as the returning home run leader.
The power he possessed earned him a slot in the home run derby during the all-star game festivities in Mohawk Valley.
“Being in the home run derby was a lot of fun,” Olmstead said. “I always watched the major league home run derby as a kid growing up, so it was an honor to try to go put on a show in front of a big crowd like that.”
The Greenwich, Connecticut native took a somewhat roundabout path to Utica. Olmstead was a 13th round pick of the Texas Rangers coming out of Greenwich High School in 2013, but ultimately chose not to sign with the major league club and honor his commitment to the Connecticut Huskies.
After two and a half years at UConn, Olmstead decided he needed to make a change and ended up at D-II power SNHU for the 2016 season. The move has been a good one so far, as Olmstead helped his team to a 50-win season and a No. 12 ranking in Perfect Game’s final D-II poll.
“We definitely got used to winning this year,” Olmstead said. “I give that credit to my teammates. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of 50 wins, and it’s a credit to us showing up every day and playing hard every day.”
Now with his summer team in Utica, Olmstead said he gets to take his foot off the gas a little bit with the more laid back atmosphere the PGCBL has. The spring season for a college baseball player is a constant grind between weekend series, midweek games, and classes on top of that.
The PGCBL offers an opportunity to slow things down and focus solely on baseball. And it gives the players a chance to turn back the clocks a bit.
“[The PGCBL] is always laid back and relaxed,” Olmstead said. “It’s a lot of fun to be able to play in the summer during some good weather. It makes you feel like a kid again playing here in these cool stadiums and meeting different guys from all over the country.”
As laid back as the atmosphere may be in upstate New York, the PGCBL still offers players a great chance to improve their game. Limiting distractions is one of the greatest benefits of playing during the summer, and the level of competition guys see day in and day out returns them to their respective schools each fall as better players.
Olmstead’s power has returned with him to Utica this summer, as he already has two doubles and four triples in 11 games. His four three-baggers are the most in the league; nobody else has more than one.
“These last two summers in Utica have given me an opportunity to get a lot better as a player,” Olmstead said. “I get to refine everything in my game every day, and I get to learn how to play in front of bigger crowds on a consistent basis. It’s awesome.”