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Auburn Kev

Gregg Olson Returns to Finish His Degree

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Outstanding story on Gregg Olsen returning to Auburn to finish his degree.

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AUBURN, Ala. – Gregg Olson's robust resume includes impressive accomplishments - running a baseball academy and an apparel company, pitching 14 years in the big leagues, the 1989 American League Rookie of the Year Award – but there's one thing it doesn't include.

"As I was trying to see what was available in the operations world, everywhere I looked, it was, 'Bachelor of Science degree required,'" Olson said. "So no matter what I've done the past 10 years of running a company. I'm automatically eliminated."


That's why Olson, who starred for the Tigers from 1986-88, is back in school at Auburn University. A 52-year-old junior.

"I tried to get in, slide out, not be seen, and hide in the back of classrooms, and I still got noticed," said Olson at Plainsman Park, where his name is featured on the outfield wall alongside fellow Auburn legends Bo Jackson, Frank Thomas and Tim Hudson.

At family gatherings, if someone asks, "What's your favorite class at Auburn?" four Olsons might answer. Three of Gregg and Jill's four children are also Auburn students: Brett, a senior on Auburn's baseball team, is working on his master's in mechanical engineering, Brooke is a senior and Ashley is a freshman. Ryan is a ninth grader at Auburn Junior High.

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'Seemed like a really good place'

One of the country's top high school pitchers in the class of 1985, Olson wanted to play college ball somewhere warmer than his native Nebraska, narrowing his finalists to Arizona, Mississippi State or Auburn. 

On his recruiting visit to the Plains that April, the Tigers swept Mississippi State.

"I really felt like the best team in the SEC was probably going to be Auburn," Olson said. "They needed some pitching, and I'd fit in right away. It seemed like a really good place."

Opening Day of his senior season further reinforced Olson's choice to head south.

"That was solidified by the first game I got back my senior year and it snowed," he said. "I was pitching and I was thinking, 'Everybody's eliminated.' Those three teams, really easy decision, and I came to Auburn."

A pitcher and first baseman in high school, Olson played exclusively on the mound as a freshman, serving as Auburn's No. 2 starter.

Noting the success Cris Carpenter was having at Georgia as a reliever, Auburn coach Hal Baird and Olson decided to move Gregg to the bullpen, where he could impact more than one game a week.

"He was closing out some games and it was kind of interesting, because I've played every game of every day of my life, and sitting around for a week between starts was killing me," he said.

As a closer, Olson twice earned All-America honors, in 1987 and 1988, going 18-4 with 20 saves and a 1.62 ERA, striking out 209 batters in 150 innings.
 
"It kind of took on a life of its own," he said. "I laugh about it. I was a short reliever in college and my last collegiate game was in the SEC playoffs and I threw seven innings. I came in in the second inning of a nine inning game."
  

Gregg Olson
A two-time All-American, Gregg Olson starred for Auburn from 1986-88, before being named American League Rookie of the Year in 1989.


'Comfortable with him at the helm'

Olson views Auburn's baseball program from multiple perspectives: former star player, dad and broadcaster. He's scheduled to serve as an analyst for several Auburn games on SEC Network next spring.

"I think Butch has his eyes on what this program was and what it should be," Olson said. "And how do we get back to that level in today's game with where we're at and with this great school and its great facilities? 

"He's the right guy for it. Southern guy, he's recruited. He's been at Mississippi State, he's been here. I'm comfortable with him at the helm."

Being in the press box comes easily for Olson, who got his start as an analyst calling Little League regionals for ESPN.

"Love the broadcasting," he said. "I've been coaching Brett and I've been coaching my youngest for 15, 16, 17 years. When you're the third base coach and your team's the home team in the dugout, and you're explaining exactly what's happening and why it's happening. 

"I've gotten really used to explaining it. I've gotten the mindset of just like I'm talking to my team. 'Here's what's happening,' and I'm hoping that ESPN for Little League next year gives me one of those telestrators where I can start scribbling, and do the John Madden. 'He should have gone here and then, Bam!'"  

Olson hopes moving to Auburn will position him for more broadcasting opportunities.

"What I really want to do is I want to announce," he said. "The Baltimore Orioles gave me a dozen radio games this past year. Maybe it will lead into the SEC Network, maybe it'll lead into the Braves, who I played for. I just felt like it opened up some doors."
 
Living in Southern California, the Olson's home for the better part of the past two decades, afforded Gregg the opportunity to get a taste of Hollywood. He served as the adviser in 2016 for the Fox show, "Pitch," about the first female pitcher in the majors.

"Every play, all the extras, I'm moving them in the dugouts. Little things," he said. "They would give me the scripts a week in advance, and if you said something that wasn't baseball right, I'd send a text to say, 'No, they would say this.'

"It was an absolute blast. I wish it would've lasted longer, but paying $90,000 every day you're using Petco Park in San Diego, it takes a budget up." 

Overlooking Hitchcock Field, Olson reminisced about how much Auburn's baseball venue has changed since his last pitch in 1988.

"It's a fond memory of a ballpark but it's not quite the same one that I played in," he said. "We had metal bleachers. We didn't have people come to the games. We had our locker rooms in the Coliseum. 
It's just different."

'I had a heartbeat'

Planning to graduate in December 2019, Olson embraces the technological advancements today's Auburn students enjoy, like submitting assignments online, which allows him to stay ahead of the syllabus.

"It's due in a week, but I might as well kick it out, because I'm going to get behind at some point," said Olson, an interdisciplinary studies major focusing on psychology, sport coaching and history. "It's a lot more efficient."

All of those years as a big league closer taught Olson how to manage his emotions.

"It takes a lot for me to get a heartbeat," he said. "I was laughing this morning, because I had a quiz, and I had a heartbeat. 

"It was kind of comical because I was looking around going, 'Man, I could walk into Yankee Stadium, one run lead, guy on second base,' and I'm nervous going into it, but once I get out there, my heartbeat's down to what it's supposed to be, nothing. And

I'm sitting in a quiz today going, 'Man this feels like the eighth inning when I know that everything's going to be a mess by the time I get into it,' and so I'm getting nervous."

The adrenaline rush caused by that quiz brought back for a moment those old feelings that come with being a professional athlete.

"Nothing has carried over," he said. "It's been a rush, or an intensity that you can't explain, you can't duplicate. And a lot of guys continue to search for it. I tried to play golf on the PGA Tour. Never got even close. I was looking for something. That same rush, it's just not around."

 

Edited by Auburn Kev
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