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Lunkers’ Olinger enjoying almost surreal experience

Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers third baseman Dan Olinger threw to first against the

You apparently can take the boy out of Brainerd but you can't take Brainerd out of the boy.

In the 1990s, Dan Olinger and his family lived in Baxter for about six years. The Olingers moved to Moorhead and eventually to Great Falls, Mont., where Dan was a standout football, hockey and baseball player and was recruited by the University of Minnesota baseball team.

Olinger was red-shirted by the Gophers in 2010 before playing in 39 games this spring. After the college season he contacted a few general managers about playing in the Northwoods League and wound up returning to his roots, as the starting third baseman for the Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers.

“I didn't even call the Lunkers' general manager,” Olinger said. “I called the St. Cloud general manager and he said the Lunkers might be needing a couple players. At the end of the year, one of the last weekends, (the Lunkers) said they would sign me to a contract.

“It's pretty awesome to be able to come back to Brainerd. Ten years ago I never thought I would be back.”

Olinger indicated that returning to Brainerd has been an almost surreal experience.

“You see a lot of people you knew, a lot of good friends that my parents had,” he said. “The surreal thing for me is going to (Mills Field) because when I was young we always would go and watch my dad play softball at the fields right next to (Mills). There are so many families that I've gotten to see since I've been back.

“My sister said when she came into town to watch my first game she didn't know where she was. She's a few years older than me, and she remembers the layout (of the area) a little bit better. She said 'I was confused where I was, then I saw the lion

drinking fountain, and I knew right where I was.’

“I kind of have the same feeling. I have a lot of familiarity  with the city, even though it was such a long time ago.” 

Olinger remembers learning how to ski on Round Lake and attending kindergarten at Baxter Elementary.

“Colby Ring and I were best friends growing up,” he said. “Even after I moved to Moorhead we stayed in touch for a while. The other night after the game I saw his parents, I gave them both a big hug. It's crazy to see people you knew a long time ago and haven't had any contact with.”

Olinger leads the Lunkers in hitting (.338) and ranks 11th in the league. He has seven doubles, two home runs and 13 RBIs. He also has been solid at third base (.981 fielding percentage). He's one of the reasons this is the best of the three Lunkers teams, standing in second place in the North Division, one game behind Mankato.

“I think the team is playing great right now,” Olinger said. “With summer teams it's hard to get chemistry. I feel like this team has good chemistry. It's easy to play relaxed and loose out there. We all have bad days. 

That kind of happens when you play every day but everyone seems to pick each other up pretty well.

“I'm enjoying playing. It's awesome to play every day. I think it's almost easy when you play every day. When you kind of get into a groove, you start feeling good. That's how I'm feeling right now, just in a groove. Hopefully, I can keep that going for a while.”

At Minnesota this spring, Olinger batted .265 with five extra-base hits, 18 RBIs and no errors in 120 chances. He struck out in his only at bat on the Gophers' season-opening trip to Florida, then didn't go on the next two trips to North Carolina and Arizona.

“Then I went on the spring break trip (to California),” he said, “and our first baseman, Nick O'Shea, who just got drafted by the Reds, got hurt, so I came in and played. I played pretty well while he was hurt. 

“From then on I got to play quite a bit more. I kept getting hits and they kept me in the lineup for a while. It was a neat experience to be able to get a chance to play. At the beginning of the year it didn't look like I was going to see much time.”

The Gophers became interested in Olinger when another recruit decided to attend Michigan State. Olinger had sent a letter to Minnesota and assistant coach Rob Fornasiere called Olinger shortly after receiving it.

“I came on an official visit in the spring,” Olinger said. “Rob came out once to see me in the spring, and signed me that day. It was kind of a crazy thing how it worked out. It's definitely been the best experience of my life, coming back to Minnesota, going to school, playing for the Gophers.”

Olinger hopes to compete for playing time at first base at Minnesota next season with fellow Lunker and Gopher teammate Ryan Abrahamson.

“We're going to be roommates next year, which is going to be interesting to see how that works out,” Olinger said. “If they play lefty-righty matchups, there's a chance me and Abe will be splitting time, depending on who's pitching. 

“I just want to be in the lineup any way I can, whether it's DH or playing first base.”

Olinger polished his baseball skills while living in Moorhead and developed a passion for hockey.

“I wasn’t happy about (moving to Great Falls) at the time,” he said. “I thought my hockey career would suffer. (The move) really was a blessing in disguise because I met a ton of great people in Montana. 

“Every year it's like I can’t wait to get back (to Montana) after the (school year), and when I'm out there I can't wait to get back here”

Olinger was a three-time academic all-state honoree and four-year starting goaltender at the Midget AA level.

“We went to a national tournament when I was a junior and senior, almost by default,” he said. “Because our region didn't have lot of teams, we ended up going. 

“My first year we lost all three games. The second year, our first game went into a shoot-out, and we won 1-0. That was pretty exciting for me. I was the goalie, and it meant a lot to me to be in a shoot-out and shut them down.

“Hockey was always a big part of my life. For the longest time I wasn't sure if I wanted to play hockey or baseball. It came down to getting to play (baseball) at your dream school, and getting back to Minnesota. It's been awesome.”

Olinger would love to play another season for the Lunkers but will wait to decide after the 2012 season with the Gophers.

“I would like to say yes, there's a chance I'll be back here next year, but I don't know,” he said. “I'm just trying to take it one day at a time. That's how I had to approach it (at Minnesota) because if you get too far ahead of yourself in this game it's going to bite you in the butt. 

“I take it one day at a time. I'm just trying to focus on tonight's game. After tonight I'll worry about tomorrow.”

That kind of happens when you play every day but everyone seems to pick each other up pretty well.

“I'm enjoying playing. It's awesome to play every day. I think it's almost easy when you play every day. When you kind of get into a groove, you start feeling good. That's how I'm feeling right now, just in a groove. Hopefully, I can keep that going for a while.”

At Minnesota this spring, Olinger batted .265 with five extra-base hits, 18 RBIs and no errors in 120 chances. He struck out in his only at bat on the Gophers' season-opening trip to Florida, then didn't go on the next two trips to North Carolina and Arizona.

“Then I went on the spring break trip (to California),” he said, “and our first baseman, Nick O'Shea, who just got drafted by the Reds, got hurt, so I came in and played. I played pretty well while he was hurt. 

“From then on I got to play quite a bit more. I kept getting hits and they kept me in the lineup for a while. It was a neat experience to be able to get a chance to play. At the beginning of the year it didn't look like I was going to see much time.”

The Gophers became interested in Olinger when another recruit decided to attend Michigan State. Olinger had sent a letter to Minnesota and assistant coach Rob Fornasiere called Olinger shortly after receiving it.

“I came on an official visit in the spring,” Olinger said. “Rob came out once to see me in the spring, and signed me that day. It was kind of a crazy thing how it worked out. It's definitely been the best experience of my life, coming back to Minnesota, going to school, playing for the Gophers.”

Olinger hopes to compete for playing time at first base at Minnesota next season with fellow Lunker and Gopher teammate Ryan Abrahamson.

“We're going to be roommates next year, which is going to be interesting to see how that works out,” Olinger said. “If they play lefty-righty matchups, there's a chance me and Abe will be splitting time, depending on who's pitching. 

“I just want to be in the lineup any way I can, whether it's DH or playing first base.”

Olinger polished his baseball skills while living in Moorhead and developed a passion for hockey.

“I wasn’t happy about (moving to Great Falls) at the time,” he said. “I thought my hockey career would suffer. (The move) really was a blessing in disguise because I met a ton of great people in Montana. 

“Every year it's like I can’t wait to get back (to Montana) after the (school year), and when I'm out there I can't wait to get back here”

Olinger was a three-time academic all-state honoree and four-year starting goaltender at the Midget AA level.

“We went to a national tournament when I was a junior and senior, almost by default,” he said. “Because our region didn't have lot of teams, we ended up going. 

“My first year we lost all three games. The second year, our first game went into a shoot-out, and we won 1-0. That was pretty exciting for me. I was the goalie, and it meant a lot to me to be in a shoot-out and shut them down.

“Hockey was always a big part of my life. For the longest time I wasn't sure if I wanted to play hockey or baseball. It came down to getting to play (baseball) at your dream school, and getting back to Minnesota. It's been awesome.”

Olinger would love to play another season for the Lunkers but will wait to decide after the 2012 season with the Gophers.

“I would like to say yes, there's a chance I'll be back here next year, but I don't know,” he said. “I'm just trying to take it one day at a time. That's how I had to approach it (at Minnesota) because if you get too far ahead of yourself in this game it's going to bite you in the butt. 

“I take it one day at a time. I'm just trying to focus on tonight's game. After tonight I'll worry about tomorrow.”

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
(218) 855-5889
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