Aspiring journalists and sports enthusiasts alike gathered together to see iconic baseball reporter Buster Olney, senior writer and baseball analyst for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com, speak about the realities of beat writing and life as a sports journalist.
The event, held in Lancaster Lounge last Friday evening, was set up by the Career Planning Center (CPC).
Fifty students attended, according to Associate Director of Career Planning Dighton Spooner, and were able to ask Olney questions on a variety of sports-related topics.
Olney traveled to Bowdoin to introduce Susan Leonard Toll '85, a lifelong friend who was inducted into the Bowdoin Hall of Honor on Saturday.
To begin his presentation on Friday, Olney showed a short documentary produced by PBS in 1999 that followed his journey as a beat reporter covering the New York Yankees for the New York Times. Olney then gave a short speech on the value of writing.
"Write. Write as much as possible," Olney said in an interview with the Orient. "People are confusing columns and actual gathering of news information. If I were a young journalist that is how I would distinguish myself."
Olney said a key to success was the ability to write, "stories about people, using anecdotes about people, using...different things that happen and observation."
"Despite the fact more people are writing, I don't think that demand is being satisfied," he added.
Spooner, who was the main organizer of the event, was very impressed with Olney.
"Sports writing, as you can imagine, sounds like a terribly romantic and fun job," Spooner said. "But when you see that he spends a third of the year on the road, living at hotels, knocking down a Big Mac as he goes into another stadium and writing against deadlines like he does, you realize how hard he works. You have to be impressed with the creativity that he has."
Olney proved to be quite a captivating storyteller, recounting countless tales of quirks he has seen inside the world of baseball.
Roger Clemens would cover his entire body in heat balm before he pitched, Olney said, so much so the "infielders could smell it from their positions."
Sports Information Director Jim Caton said he thought it was a good thing to see so many students at a CPC event.
"It's a career planning event, so you want to have kids there who are interested in what he has to say professionally, not just an edition of Baseball Tonight brought to you by the Career Planning Center," Caton said. "Hopefully, he inspired kids to go to the CPC for another event."
Senior Oliver Kell, who attended the talk, agreed with Caton.
"I mean, hearing a guy like that talk was awesome," Kell said. "I usually don't do things like that on campus, and I had a great time. I think it's great for the school to bring people who specialize so much in the field and who are well known."
Students also felt Olney was a great resource from a career standpoint.
"He was happy to give information about how to get internships not only in sports journalism but also in sports," Ben Stein '12 said. "He was a really nice guy, very helpful."
After his short speech on writing, Olney took questions regarding baseball and journalism.
During the question and answer session that lasted over an hour, Olney predicted the New York Yankees to win the World Series, said he would be voting players into the National Baseball Hall of Fame regardless of steroid accusations, and spoke about a number of individual players, both positively and negatively.
"Cal Ripken, Jr. was without a doubt the most selfish player I ever covered, and it wasn't even close," Olney said.
Prior to speaking on Friday night, Olney ate dinner with Spooner, Caton and three students.
"It really was one of the coolest experiences I have had here," Caton said. "Not only to talk shop, but to hear some of his off-the-cuff stories. For a baseball nut, it was like Christmas in October. It was really a treat."
According to Associate Director of Alumni Relations Rodie Lloyd, Toll was selected for induction last April for her excellence as a goalie for the field hockey, ice hockey and lacrosse teams.
After being informed of her selection, Toll asked if Olney would introduce her at the ceremony. Not knowing who Olney was, Lloyd told Caton that Olney would be coming to Bowdoin in October to introduce Toll.
"He almost fell out of his chair," Lloyd said.
Lloyd said that when she spoke to Olney, he offered on his own to speak to students for the CPC, something she thought to be extremely generous.
Olney and Toll were friends in elementary school in Vermont and then again in high school when they both attended Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts where, "She was a three-sport star...and I worked on the newspaper," Olney said.
Olney said that he remained close to Toll and her family.
"Her parents are basically the ones responsible for me finishing college," Olney said. "After my sophomore year...her parents basically lent me the money for my last two years of College."
Olney's book, "The Last Night of the Yankees Dynasty," is dedicated to Toll's parents.
At the induction ceremony, Olney spoke about great chess games between Toll and himself, and incorporated comments from Toll's former teammates in his remarks.
Olney almost always had ambitions to become a sports journalist.
"When I was 15...I was slowly coming to the realization that I wasn't going to play for the Lakers," said Olney. "And I loved to write and I was ridiculously enthusiastic about sports."
After graduating from Vanderbilt University, Olney began his journalism career covering high school sports for a local paper.
Olney moved on to cover the San Diego Padres, Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets and New York Yankees before joining ESPN in 2003.
While Olney said he is no longer a fan of every team, Yankee outfielder Paul O'Neill once asked him if he roots for the Yankees.
"I said, 'You know, I do. Because if you win, that's the best story. But you know what would also be a great story? If you guys lost every single game next year.'"
While he acknowledged the tough climate newspapers are currently facing, Olney felt the field of journalism was changing rather than deteriorating.
"I don't know what the answer is, but you feel the demand for the information," Olney said. "The fact that on a daily basis we get 20 million hits on ESPN.com tells you there is an incredible thirst for the knowledge."
Olney said that while he does know people who are in favor of undergraduate journalism degrees, he is very happy to have gone the liberal arts route as a history major at Vanderbilt.
"I found it was valuable to be a history major because I wrote, a lot," Olney said. "I didn't wake up as a Hawthorne, and I always felt it was important for me to grind."
Now, having written one book, Olney is working on two more, one of which is on Don Meyer, the coach of the Northern State basketball team.
His second book is about Michael Jacques, a Vermont resident who has been charged with raping and murdering a 12-year old girl. Jacques was Olney's childhood best friend. Olney said that he believes Jacques will be the first Vermonter to face the death penalty in 50 years.