‘Baseball families’ and a 14-year old catcher

Posted in Uncategorized on April 19, 2010 by tccsp

In Minnesota, we are a three-sport state: hockey, baseball, and football (with basketball a distant fourth). So like thousands of Minnesota boys, I grew up in a ‘baseball family’–playing baseball in the summers, cheering for the Twins, collecting Kirby Puckett baseball cards.
My wife, on the other hand, is from Birmingham, Alabama–land of football, football, and more football. There is Alabama/Auburn, Bear Bryant, Nick Saban, and your local high school football sports megaplex. Compared to football, everything else here is ping pong: quaint little competitions, but not serious sports.
Being a ‘baseball family’ in Alabama, then, is like being a Mormon family in Alabama. You are a stranger in a strange land.
Yesterday, I found out from my in-laws that a ‘baseball family’ lives down the street–and that they are, in fact, a friendly and helpful lot.
Their oldest son is in ninth grade, my father-in-law told me, and is already on the Briarwood Christian varsity team. He mentioned a second son, as well.
Excited, my wife and I strolled down yesterday afternoon to chat with them, to see if they had any ideas to help with my workouts this week.
I saw in the newspaper that Briarwood’s team was still in the playoffs–maybe it would help to have me throw to the team?
As we walked up the driveway, a younger 14-year old boy zipped past us wearing a baseball uniform and carrying a bag.
“I’ve got to get to a game,” he said breathlessly to my wife, whom he recognized.
The mother, apparently his driver, followed close behind, pointing us inside to talk with her husband and ninth grader.
Inside, they were also getting ready for some baseball, but seemed pleasantly surprised to meet another baseball player. I explained my predicament to them, and the dad agreed to check with the Briarwood coach on having me pitch. The team is apparently facing a tough lefty on Friday, April 23.
But then he mentioned that his younger son (who we already breezily met) is a catcher. He’d love to catch me all week, the dad said, regardless of what Briarwood says.
So this evening at around 7pm, I’ll most likely be driving out to a baseball field to throw a bullpen session to a 14-year old catcher. Apparently, he has quite a bit of practice catching more mature players: in the winters he catches for a pitcher on the class AA Birmingham Barons. “Baseball families” in Alabama are a tight-knit bunch, I guess. They–or shall I say ‘we’–find each other.


My Twins miracle and a forced week off?

Posted in Uncategorized on April 16, 2010 by tccsp

Wednesday was the second-ever game played in Target field. When the game started at 12:30pm, I was sitting in my office, preparing some documents for a board meeting. At 12:35pm, my boss poked his head in my office and said with a boyish giddiness, “Dan, we’re going to a Twins game!”
A donor had given four tickets a friend of ours, and so we grabbed a couple of lucky Hope students and waltzed out the door. Here’s me making a very strange face and snapping a picture of myself at Target Field.
Dan at Target Field
It wasn’t the most interesting game, but I can always say that I was at the first ever regular season Twins loss at Target Field (they lost 6-3).
Changing topics, tomorrow morning my son Charlie and I will be flying to Birmingham, AL to spend the week with family. For the last few days I have been e-mailing various high school baseball coaches in the Birmingham area–trying to find a team to pitch to a couple of times. Here’s what I’ve been saying:

My name is Dan Olson, and I’m a 32-year old lefthanded pitcher who is trying out for the St. Paul Saints on Thursday, April 29 (a semi-pro team here St. Paul, Minnesota). I’ll be spending the week of April 19-23 with my in-laws in Birmingham, and I was told you have one of the best high school teams in Alabama. Would you be willing to have me come pitch to the Vestavia varsity team on any two days next week? I see you’re prepping for games on Friday and Saturday, April 24-25. Let me know!

So far, I’ve had no luck. Two coaches have responded politely turning me down. This is my favorite response.

Dan, I truly appreciate you asking me, and I honestly wish that I could take you up on such a great offer. However, unfortunately, due to past incidents and liability issues, our Athletic Department/BOE will not allow us to use outside help unless they go through our state’s volunteer qualifications in addition to CPR/1st Aid. So, unfortunately I will not be able to take you up on this opportunity. Thank you for understanding, and good luck with your tryout.

Since getting this e-mail yesterday, I still can’t fathom what “past incidents” with a baseball volunteer would have led to this sort of draconian background check and CPR/1st Aide training. I’m glad that my alma mater hasn’t had such bad luck with baseball volunteers–or I’d still be stuck throwing baseballs into a net. Or maybe–after their experience with me–M.A.’s coach may use the same sort of excuse.

But I still do hope to find a way to pitch a bit next week. We’ll see how it goes.

Target Field Trip

Posted in Uncategorized on April 13, 2010 by tccsp

This past Saturday, my son, Charlie, and I went took a pilgrimage to Target Field, the new Twins stadium. The field was closed off, but we meandered around the stadium–dreaming together. Charlie was particularly taken with the statue of Rod Carew. I snapped a photo.

Regarding pitching news, I threw again last Thursday to Minnehaha and it went well. My control was better–I only walked 3 in about 5 innings, one run scored but I struck out at least 9 guys. Only one ball was hit hard–a towering double over the center fielder’s head–and it was off a fastball. I’ll keep telling myself he got lucky.

Help from the Alma Mater… or striking out high schoolers

Posted in Uncategorized on April 6, 2010 by tccsp

The picture at the top of this blog is me as a high school sophomore, pitching for Willmar High School. Willmar is where I grew up–but after my sophomore year, my family moved to Minneapolis, where I attended Minnehaha Academy for two years.

Seeing as I still know some of the coaches at Minnehaha, last week I contacted them and asked if it would be helpful to have someone come throw live game-like situations to the varsity team. They liked the idea, and invited me to come work out as much as I’d like over the next month–to get ready for the Saints tryouts.*

*A friend of mine has also asked the Cretin-Derham Hall coach if I could come throw to their varsity team, and he is excited about it. Needless to say, pitching to the best high school baseball program in the city is an excellent idea–but I thought starting with my alma mater would be both easier and have more margin for error. Little did I know that Minnehaha is slowly becoming a baseball powerhouse as well.

Anyway, today was my first day pitching to the team.

I left work a little early and made my way to the field wearing shorts, a t-shirt, my cleats, and a glove. I forgot a change of socks, so I had to wear my dress socks; and I also forgot a baseball cap. But back when I played at Minnehaha, baseball practice was pretty informal–so I thought I’d fit right in.

Pulling up to the sports complex, I thought I must have the wrong place. Fort Snelling has four fields, and only one of them had players on it–but they were all decked out in full snazzy uniforms. I thought Minnehaha must have canceled practice, and some college team was getting ready for a game.

I was wrong.

This was the new-and-improved Minnehaha Academy baseball program–and here I was–to put it nicely–coming in both old, and looking old school. (Cue the nerves)

While warming up, I chatted with some of the players, who said this could be one of the better Minnehaha teams ever. Gulp, I thought.

When I was completely warmed up, the coach introduced me to the team as a former player planning on trying out for the St. Paul Saints. So now I was old, looking old school, and sounding crazy. (Cue nervous panic).

I took the mound, and the nerves began to subside. Much to my relief, I soon realized that (despite all appearances to the contrary) I did still have some pitching skill, and all of my hard work was having at least some effect.

I threw the equivalent of about four innings (with the count starting at 1-1), and did pretty well. I was still wild, but had small stretches of sharpness. Even though I walked three guys in the last inning, I think my line would have looked something like this.

INN H    R     ER   BB   K
4     1     1     1     5     7

And the hit was a little dribbler off a curveball.

So it was glimmer of hope. I’m going back on Thursday to give it a go again. If it goes well, bring on Cretin-Derham Hall and the Joe Mauers of the future.

Caricaturing and Calling the Saints Front Office

Posted in Uncategorized on April 2, 2010 by tccsp

Yesterday my wife and I went out for brunch at the Nicollet Island Inn–a very fancy and historic inn/restaurant. It was a date to celebrate Patience, and do something we haven’t had much time to do recently: talk.

Like many couples, I’m sure, there is a Mars/Venus dynamic to many of our conversations. We are often able to discuss two completely different topics simultaneously, separated by blank stares and polite nods–like the proverbial ships passing in the night.

On the one hand, my wife wants to constantly rehash her labor experience, asking questions like: “What was your favorite part?” and “Were you scared at any point?” and “Wasn’t it just wonderful?!” (polite nodding).

I, on the other hand, want to discuss the finer details of pitching mechanics, and strategize about this impending tryout.

We are sweet and tolerant of one another–and often can delight in each others’ obsession.

Take, for example, when I broached the idea of calling the Saints front office with a business proposition.

You see, my wife knows that in high school and college I used to be a cartoonist/caricaturist. Sure I’m rusty, and haven’t drawn a caricuture in 3-4 years–but recently I have begun to wonder whether this talent could help make my professional baseball dream become a reality.

As some of you may know the St. Paul Saints have the reputation of being very marketing savvy. Formerly owned by Bill Veeck (and Bill Murray, I believe), Saints games are popular because they are so much more than just a baseball game. There are entertainers in the aisles, haircuts being given above dugouts, and a panoply of entertaining craziness.

So I had begun to imagine that the Saints just might be interested in a relatively useless left-handed relief pitcher, but one who would draw cartoons of fans from the bullpen. Not just that, but this is the same working, married, father-of-three, 32-year-old, lefthanded pitcher who has overcome an 11-year hiatus, changed his mechanics, worked out like a dog, and went to professional baseball tryouts–and who also became a wildly popular blogger (between 20 and 50 hits every single day) in the process.

It just seemed like a business idea too good to pass up.

My wife smiled politely, and suggested it might be worth making a call.

So yesterday I called and left a winsome message in the voicemail of a promotional director in the Saints front office, and then waited for a return call. Would they come begging? I wondered, or just ready to talk business?

Today, he called back.

He left a message, and was very polite–but he has clearly not had his eyes opened to the cross-promotional brilliance of the idea.

He said he’d be willing to talk about the caricature stuff–and thought I could go through their process of merchant approval.

He also wished me good luck at the tryouts–but said he would not be talking to the coaching staff about me.

I was left to wonder: What person in their right mind, desiring a caricature, WOULDN’T bypass the Mall of America’s talented caricaturists, and instead pay $8 to come to a Saints game, sit for three hours, and then pay another $10 to have a 32-year old, 84-mph throwing, father of three, who hadn’t pitched in 11 years, draw a mildly recognizable caricuture of them? And, relatedly, how in the world would the Saints hire a promotional guy whose awesomeness-meter clearly doesn’t work?

I will certainly call him back tomorrow to set him straight.

Comparison to Cliff Lee’s Mechanics

Posted in Uncategorized on March 27, 2010 by tccsp

Below are some stills of Cliff Lee’s mechanics from Chris O’Leary’s site, side by side with stills of me. At the very bottom you can watch both of us in slow motion. I’ve put a little commentary on the early slides. I am pleasantly surprised by my mechanics, but see lots of things Lee does that help him throw 10-15 mph faster than I do.

I look okay here at the leg lift.
Here’s where I see four clear things that Lee does that I should.

1) His back stays vertical–he’s keeping his weight back (I’m a little hunched over)

2) Loading up on his back leg–see his knee flex? I’m not loading up much.

3) Flexing his foot–this is something that helps keep ones hips closed. I’m better now than when I started, but I clearly don’t do it like Lee does.

4) Keeping his front arm strong–my front side is looking lazy.

Still some of the same issues.

A weekend of (Mary) Patience

Posted in Uncategorized on March 22, 2010 by tccsp

This weekend was a weekend of patiently waiting for two life-changing events.

First, we had a baby. But there was a LOT of waiting.

My wife started having contractions at 2am Saturday morning, and we were in the hospital by 10am.

Then we waited.

Saturday was a long day of laboring–and Sunday night we continued. The contractions made sleep difficult for Lucy (despite narcotics) and me (despite a laboring wife).

After waiting most of Sunday, at 5:26pm my heroic wife finally pushed out our new beautiful daughter: Mary Patience Olson (6 lbs., 14 oz.; 19 inches long).
The second life-changing event I’ve been waiting for is “The Call.”

As you all probably know by now, Joe Nathan decided yesterday to have Tommy John surgery. Before the announcement, Twins coach Ron Gardenhire was quoted as saying they might be looking “outside the organization” for a replacement.

It just seems to be a perfect fit:

Nathan is 35, I’m 32.

Nathan throws his curveball 84 mph, I have thrown a ball 84 mph.

Target Field is opening, I live three miles from Target Field.

The Twins like signing local baseball players to huge contracts, I’m a local baseball player willing to sign a huge contract.

So I’ve got my phone with me at all times, waiting for “The Call”. I don’t know if it will be Bill Smith or Ron Gardenhire–or maybe they’ll even have Hometown Joe call me up. Either way, I’m ready–but I’ve got lots of Patience.