The still-tall (6-foot-one-inch tall), athletic-looking former first baseman never made it to “The Show” himself, what with his .273 career average playing in the minor leagues. But Olsen, now soon to be 84, listened and began to learn from managers and coaches who were former stars in the big leagues, and ended up a coaching legend at Grossmont College and El Capitan High School.
The process all began at age 13, in early 1949, when the future Viking first baseman saw an article in the San Diego Journal, “Why do you want to be a Padres bat boy?” The Padres, then in the AAA Pacific Coast League, were a minor league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.
“I have fairly nice handwriting,” says the heavily-tanned former coach, a member of the California Community College Baseball Association Hall of Fame for his 516-373-7 record over 22 years at Grossmont. “I wrote down, ‘Abide by the rules set down by the manager, coaches, and trainer.’ We were under the trainer.”
Olsen confesses, “I only wanted to be a baseball player.” This was part of the method toward his madness. The courtesy was drilled in by his Marine Corps father. (The son went on to serve in the Marines, like dad.) The Viking player of 1951-52-53, who went from ball boy to clubhouse boy to bat boy, attended school during the day, then in the late afternoon after practice and games rode the bus--”I had three transfers; our family didn’t have a car until I was in high school”--to old Lane Field, on the bay near were Petco Park sits now.
“I was one of 10 finalists,” he relates. “There were three sportswriters there. Great people, and professional: Ken Bogins. He was a class individual. He wore a coat and tie. One of the nicest guys you’d ever meet. Stu Bell. And Earl Keller. It was down at Lane Field. My dad made sure I put on a coat and tie. I was the only one [all boys] wearing a coat and tie.”
Olsen was one of two boys chosen, and served one week with the home team Padres, then switched to the visiting team’s dugout.
The minor-league Padres at that time played seven games a week in six days. After an off-day Monday, there were night games Tuesday through Friday. Saturday’s game was at 2 p.m., then a doubleheader Sunday, with the first game beginning at 1 p.m. The second game of the twin-bill was shortened to seven innings.
“That’s when I really got to know the players,” recalls Olsen, a major fan and collector of memorabilia in his day. He relates the joy of sitting with the coaches and managers, learning from their stories. Bucky Harris, a Hall of Famer, was the Padres manager in 1949. Rogers Hornsby, Mel Ott, and George “High Pockets” Kelly all served as managers in the PCL. Johnny Vandermeer, the only pitcher to throw back-to-back no-hitters in the majors, was a coach. To hear Olsen, a wide-eyed young teen, tell it, he soaked up all the lore he could at the feet of these greats.
Meanwhile, living with his family in Pacific Beach, the first baseman enrolled at La Jolla High and played on the varsity three years. “You introduced yourself, ‘Ed Olsen, from La Jolla.’ Everybody would react, ‘Ooh, the rich kids.’ The good players at La Jolla High were from PB, Bay View Terrace, Bay Park and Mission Beach. The kids from Ocean Beach went to Point Loma. The athletes (at LJHS) were from the beach area—only a few from La Jolla.”
He grew to be 6-feet-two-inches tall, weighing 200 pounds, by his senior year. He parlayed his baseball ability into playing in the professional minor leagues, but never got a cup of coffee in the majors. “I played eight positions in the minors,” he says proudly.