Over the next few weeks Talking Chop will be interviewing former Braves Fantasy Camp, January 25-30, 2011 at the Braves Spring Training facility at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex at Disney. Today we bring you our interview with former Braves catcher Greg Olson:players who will be participating in the first ever
Talking Chop: Since you retired from playing baseball, what have you been doing? Have you stayed connected to Major League baseball in any way?
Greg Olson: The first three years after I retired I managed an independent minor league team called the Minneapolis Loons. It gave me a chance to stay in baseball and see what the other side of baseball -- the managerial side -- was all about, and that was a lot of fun. After that I got my broker's license, and I'm currently a broker with Bearpath Realty, a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course community.
Talking Chop: The Braves got Kerry Ligtenberg from your independent league team. Did any other players from that team make the Major Leagues?
Greg Olson: I did not have any other players make it to the major leagues from that league. It's very rare that an independent minor league player gets the chance to play. Most of these guys have not been as sought after but they just want to play. Kerry Ligtenberg had 3 intangibles I think any major league player needs to have... physical talent, tremendous work ethic, and mental toughness. I called up the Braves, got him a tryout, and the next thing you know he's playing for the Braves and has a 7 year major league career with 30 saves one season.
Talking Chop: What do you miss most about playing the game?
Greg Olson: I really don't miss the actual game itself, it's just that when you play 162 games, you're with your players, your teammates more than you are actually with your family -- or just as much. So for all those years you're playing baseball and you're with your teammates that whole time... it's being around the guys, the clubhouse that you miss. And in the majors they take care of your bags, your hotel rooms, where you're going, how you're getting there, you just follow everyone else, and everything is taken care of, so that's nice, and it certainly helps when you win. But really it's just missing the guys.
Talking Chop: Could John Smoltz still catch you if you tried to jump in his arms?
Greg Olson: John and I are really good friends, we've stayed connected all these years, we're both very competitive people. After I retired we made a $100 bet. He said that I was going to gain at least 20 lbs over the next 4 years. I said I'll take that bet. Well, I'm still the same weight as when I retired in 1993. And John's still in good physical shape, so yes, I think he could do it.
Talking Chop: How much influence do you think a catcher has on the game, from the standpoint of handling pitchers? Has that influence changed since the days when you played to now?
Greg Olson: The catcher has a lot of influence. I always tell people - catchers suggest pitches, pitchers get last say on what pitch they're throwing. But there's a lot of pregame preparation that goes on that the fans don't know about. Every game I'd meet with my starting pitcher, go over the other team's roster, so we'd have a pretty good idea going into each game, knowing how we were going to attack each batter. It's very important that the catcher is in tune w/ the pitcher.
Talking Chop: Did you know you were catching three Hall of Famers when you were catching Glavine, Maddux, and Smoltz?
Greg Olson: At that time, you just never know - you don't know how durable a pitcher is going to be. All those guys are 30+ start guys, and you just have to continue that for so many years... but without question anytime those guys were on the mound we had a really good chance to win.
Talking Chop: Were they easier to work with as a catcher, or harder?
Greg Olson: All 3 of them were very professional - worked very hard. They all had those 3 intangibles I mentioned before (physical talent, tremendous work ethic, and mental toughness). I really enjoyed each of the pitchers I caught because they were really so different. I had a different personality on the mound for each pitcher I caught. Glavine for instance - he shook me off all year only one time which is incredible - he let me call the game and he just wanted to pitch. Smoltz - I knew he'd shake me off 2 or 3 times an inning. Maddux, he is such a student of the game, he knew what pitch he was going to throw in every situation before he took the mound. Glavine I wouldn't have to ice after. Smoltz - I was going to take a half a dozen hard sliders and I'd have monstrous bruises on my thighs every fifth day because John was pitching. Every guy was different.
Talking Chop: How does the Phillies new rotation stack up to the Braves rotations you caught in the 90's?
Greg Olson: Their rotation right now is pretty good - any one of the 4 Phillies starters would be a legit #1 starter on basically any team. If they are as durable as they've been in the past and they can all start 30 plus games for the Phillies this year, they're going to be tough to stay close to.
Talking Chop: Who has been your favorite Braves catcher in the years since you retired?
Greg Olson: No question: Brian McCann. I've been fortunate to come back to a lot of Alumni Sundays and other alumni events... Brian has always been very respectful. He has all the talent a catcher should have - power, hits for average, and can handle pitchers. One time Smoltz, Francoeur, McCann and I played with Tiger Woods in Orlando... every time I've encountered him, he's just very considerate. Without a question, it's Brian.
Talking Chop: When you played, how often did people ask you to sign baseball cards for Gregg Olson, the pitcher?
Greg Olson: To this day I still get cards - I probably get 8-10 letters from fans with baseball cards each week and one or two of the 10 will always be for the other Gregg Olson. The only difference between the pitcher and catcher is that he has 2 g's at the end of his first name. Believe it or not our middle names are the same: William.
Talking Chop: Have you participated in a baseball fantasy camp before? What do you hope to get out of the Braves fantasy camp?
Greg Olson: I have not, and I am tickled pink to go to this fantasy camp. I'm fired up. We're still 30-40 days away and I'm fired up. I've heard about other players going - they've had great experiences not only with former teammates but having a chance to hobnob and talk and have some fun with campers that are enthusiastic about the game and who want to learn things they might not learn watching TV. I've always been a guy who liked to talk to media, talk to and sign for fans, so this is right up my alley.
Talking Chop: What's your favorite Bobby Cox story?
Greg Olson: There are just so many stories. My favorite Bobby Cox story - I'll go out of the box on this one. When I was playing in the early 90's Bobby's knees were weren't very good, and he is old school as old school. He probably wrote the old school book. Till the day he retired he wore cleats. Twice a year we'd see Bobby walk back w/ the team physician and Bubba, the trainer, and they'd go back to the office and shut the door and we knew Bobby was going to get a cortisone injection. Here's this very stoic, stern manager that we never see wince or show any displeasure, and he gets these cortisone shots - those needles are really long - and we'd hear him yelling and screaming, and about 10 minutes later he'd come back out and he'd have the same face as he does when he manages and the guys just couldn't believe Bobby'd go back there screaming and come back out like it never happened, stoic as ever and go back on the field, "Let's go get em, guys."
Many thanks to Greg Olson for taking the time to answer my questions. Now that the Greg's are out of the way, coming up on Friday is our interview with Otis Nixon.