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Playing with pros

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A two-sport star for Henry County, Steve Olsen was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 1991 and played with superstars like Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan

By Greg Woods

 

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Few athletes in Henry County have made it as far in the professional sports world as Steve Olsen who played football and baseball at Henry County from 1984 to 1988.

Olsen  — a high school pitcher and quarterback — played baseball for the Eastern Kentucky Colonels from 1988 to 1991 and was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 1991.

In high school Olsen played on some of Henry County’s best football teams ever. “I actually enjoyed football more than baseball in those days,” he said. “Football teaches you a lot about life, in a way, because you have to depend on other people to succeed.”

In baseball Olsen was known as much for his hitting as his pitching. He won many awards and accolades but two of the awards stand out to him. “I won the Robbie Bryant Award and the Ross Wallace Award,” Olsen said. “Those are the two that I’m most proud of.”

The Robbie Bryant award, ironically, was for best slugging percentage and was named for a teammate of Olsen’s who died in an auto accident Olsen’s sophomore year. The Ross Wallace Award is given annually to an all-around athlete who is considered to have outstanding character.

At Eastern, Olsen was thrown into the varsity mix as a freshman pitcher. That team won the Ohio Valley Conference Championship. During his sophomore and junior years he was named first team All Conference.

Olsen played for the White Sox organization from 1991 to 1995. During that time Olsen was pitching well for an organization that had a lot of great young talent.

“The White Sox were rich with pitching while I was there so moving up in the organization was tough, but I did learn a lot about the game being around all that talent,” he said. “I suffered a serious ankle injury late in the ’92 season while in Birmingham. At the time I was 17-5, shooting for 20 wins and one of their top prospects. After the injury I just wasn’t the same. I still had success but was never 100 percent after that.”

In the 1993 season, he was part of the Birmingham Barons team that won the Southern League Championship.

In 1994, Olsen had the privilege of playing with basketball superstar Michael Jordan when Jordan was trying to become a two-sport star. “I played with Jordan in 1994 during spring training and in Birmingham until June of that summer,” he said. “Then I was called up to AAA Nashville.”

When asked about the media attention Jordan drew, Olsen shrugged it off. “The media circus was not really an issue,” he said. “We had media around pretty much every day before he joined the team, so it wasn’t too bad. It was not a distraction at all. We just embraced it. I would just block it out and do my job.”

After reaching AAA with the White Sox, Olsen was traded to the Kansas City Royals’ organization in 1996. He played with that organization until 1998 at both the AA and AAA level.

Olsen looks back fondly on his playing days. When asked about his best memories of playing in the minors Olsen said, “I think the people I met along the way and getting a chance to play with the best – some of which I grew up watching on TV; Bo Jackson, George Brett, Frank Thomas, Wilson Alvarez, Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez and Bobby Thigpen.

“Carlton Fisk caught me in a game during a rehab assignment. We won 2-1. It was pretty cool.

“Also, I really enjoyed the travel. I got to play in several places and a few other countries. I played winter ball in Venezuela ’94, and in ‘95 I played winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Winter ball is huge in those countries.”

Olsen found it hard to talk about retiring. “Leaving the game in ’98 was tough – hard to put into words,” he said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it. I am very thankful to have had the opportunity I had.”

After retiring from baseball Olsen returned to Kentucky. “After baseball I moved back to Louisville and started working for Ford and I am still there today’” Olsen said. “I have a beautiful wife, Karen, and two beautiful daughters, Shelby 15 and Hayle 6.”

With two active daughters Olsen finds it difficult to stay involved in baseball. “I try to stay involved with baseball but with two daughters it’s kind of tough as you can imagine,” he said with a laugh. “Shelby plays volleyball for Assumption and Hayle plays just about everything.”

Olsen attributes most of his success to his family. “Growing up I had a lot of support from my parents (Stan and Mary), they were always there. I don’t think I ever played where one of them wasn’t there at the game,” he said. “I would not have been as successful in sports if not for them.

Having an older brother (Mike) really helped to make me a better player also because we were so competitive. He was 3 1/2 years older than I was and if I went out and played with him and his friends it toughened me up. They used to beat the heck out of me. Eventually I caught up with them in size and that changed. My brother was probably a better athlete than me but I could just throw harder than him.”

Olsen still holds fond memories of his days in Henry County. “Growing up in Henry County was a great experience,” he said. “Not just the sports, but the people that were in my life — coaches, teachers, friends. I wouldn’t trade it for anything if I could go back in time. There are so many good memories that I will keep forever.”