Gregg Olson dropped by CBS Sports Radio on his 50th birthday to discuss the great David Ortiz, who took his final hacks in Boston’s 4-3 loss in Game 3 of the ALDS on Monday.
Olson, a former All-Star and 1989 AL Rookie of Year, saved 217 games in 14 big-league seasons. He played with Ortiz, briefly, in Minnesota in 1997. Ortiz played in just 15 games that season, but Olson remembers facing Ortiz in spring training.
“Not very many guys really stick out in spring training,” Olson said on Tiki and Tierney. “Every once in a while you’ll see a guy put on a show and it kind of gets your attention. We were in spring training and I had blown out my elbow a couple years before, so I was doing the minor league contract. I got to make the team or I’m going home. Tom Kelly was our manager with the Twins and he’s telling all the pitchers, ‘Look, you’re going to throw batting practice to the hitters, but this is pitchers’ practice. I don’t want you up there just grooving balls to guys. I want you to work on what you’re supposed to be doing and not really worried about the hitter,’ which is completely the opposite of most every other camp I’ve been in. So I go through it and Big Papi gets in the cage. I had been playing for eight years. I really didn’t care about match-ups in spring training, let alone in a backfield somewhere in Fort Myers, Florida, that nobody’s even paying attention to. But Ortiz steps in and I’m kind of working fast balls away and not really spinning breaking balls or doing anything else. And he starts taking me deep to left field. So I go fast ball away and he goes deep opposite field, left field. I was like, ‘All right.’ Throw another one. He does it again. I was like, ‘Okay, now you’re making me look bad.’
This continued for several pitches.
“I’m going, ‘Dude, just quit taking me deep. Hit ground balls, hit a couple line drives, do what you’re doing – but quit taking me deep right now because you’re making me look bad,’” Olson recalled. “So that was my David Ortiz moment. Now I’m going to have to pound you in just to let everybody know I’m still in control of this situation here. I was just trying to be nice and get you some swings.”
Olson estimated he was throwing in the upper-80s that day. Low-90s would have been better, but Olson couldn’t get there.
“I had to be in a real game,” he said. “There’s no motivation, there’s no adrenaline. I was just getting in my work. I was just kind of muddling through my work and trying to make good pitches away and he kept making me deep. So here comes the fast ball in, I’m going to break your bat. Now quit doing what you’re doing. He was just a rookie. I don’t know if it was his first camp, but he’s just doing what he’s doing.”
Ortiz, 40, retires as a 10-time All-Star, a three-time World Series champion and a World Series MVP. He hit .315 with a .401 OBP, 38 homers, a league-high 127 RBIs and an MLB-high 48 doubles in his final season.
“The older you get, the more you have to make adjustments and the harder you have to work,” Olson said, amazed at Ortiz’s production. “He’s lucky enough to run through it all to where he’s still swinging well and he’s still physically in pretty decent shape to be able to do what he’s done, and now he’s smart enough to have all his routines down the way he wants them and knows exactly what guys are trying to do and is playing the mental game like a 40-year-old would and still being able to swing it like (he’s in his late-20s). That’s the ultimate goal of an athlete: to play long enough to get smart at what you’re doing, and then still be physically able to do it.”