Olney remains avid VU supporter

Sept. 24, 2008

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You can see him on television, hear him on the radio or read him on the Internet on a daily basis this time of the year. If you're a baseball fan, it is pretty hard to avoid ESPN senior baseball writer and analyst Buster Olney.

Whether he is working as an analyst on ESPN's Baseball Tonight, making appearances on SportsCenter, co-hosting Mike & Mike in the Morning or writing a story for ESPN The Magazine, the 1988 Vanderbilt graduate is a fixture in the media.

While Olney's climb up the proverbial sports ladder from his days at the Vanderbilt Hustler to ESPN has certainly been calculated over time, his decision to attend Vanderbilt was anything but.

Having grown up on a dairy farm in Vermont and then having attended boarding school in Massachusetts, Olney, 44, had never been to Nashville, let alone the state of Tennessee, when he decided to make Vanderbilt his college destination. It is a decision that still baffles him to this day.

"I must say, when I think back the idea that I would leave Central Vermont and go to school in Nashville sight unseen now seems nuts to me," Olney said.

"Now that I'm a parent and I have an 8-year-old and a 3-year-old, the idea that I would go to a completely different part of the country with no family connections, I sort of shake my head at that."

But why Vanderbilt? After all, it doesn't have a journalism program.

"My high school guidance counselor informed me of the Grantland Rice Scholarship (now the Fred Russell/Grantland Rice Scholarship) that is given to an aspiring sports journalist," Olney commented. "I applied for it, and I don't know this and never will know this, but the fact that I was in the final group (for the scholarship) probably helped get me into the school.

"I was aware that there was no journalism program, but it played no factor in me coming to Vanderbilt."

Even though Olney eventually decided to major in history, you would have thought he was majoring in the Hustler for as much time as he spent at the paper.

"If you knew my college GPA, then you would understand that I spent a whole lot of time at the Hustler," laughed Olney. "I spent a lot more time at the Hustler than I did actually at class."

When Olney wasn't at the Hustler, there was a pretty good chance he was playing pickup basketball at Memorial Gym.

"I suspect that I'm one of the all-time leading scorers in pickup ball history at Memorial Gym, which again is directly reflective of my grade-point average."

Olney first entered Vanderbilt in the fall of 1982, but because of financial reasons, was in and out of school for multiple periods of time before graduating in the spring of 1988.

Despite being in and out of school throughout his six years at Vanderbilt, he maintained his role with the Hustler even during his time of absence.

In addition to his time with the Hustler, Olney also interned with the now-defunct Nashville Banner for three years.

He didn't know at the time, but landing his internship with the Banner would turn out to have as much to do with where he is today than anything else.

"I was 21 hours short of graduating, and I ran out of money," Olney said. "The publisher at the Nashville Banner at that time, Irby Simpkins, made a deal with me that he would pay for the rest of my school if I promised to come work for him for at least one year. I'm getting emotional just thinking about it. It was obviously huge for me for him to have done that."

Olney graciously accepted the offer and worked with the paper full-time for two years, covering the Nashville Sounds.

Including his three years as an intern, Olney worked five years for the Banner before leaving in August of 1990 for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Olney covered the Padres for two seasons before covering the Orioles for the Baltimore Sun for two years and the Mets (1997) and Yankees (1998-2001) for the New York Times before moving to ESPN in 2003.

Although he now lives 45 minutes north of New York City, Olney still keeps close tabs on Vanderbilt. As a baseball analyst, Olney has been extremely proud of the growing reputation of Vanderbilt's baseball program among people from Major League teams.

"I don't know Coach (Tim) Corbin very well, I've talked to him a couple of times, but what is so neat is that I'll run into baseball people from major league teams and they will talk to me about Vanderbilt's baseball program.

"This is a classic example. John Cooper is the pitching coach for the Chicago White Sox, and I called him up to talk to him about one of his pitchers and he said, `You went to Vanderbilt, right?' He lives in Brentwood, and he just went on and on about what a great program it is and how great the kids are, and that is pretty neat to hear. I hear that all the time from people who know Coach Corbin better than I do. It is amazing to me, whether it's agents, coaches or managers, so many people know him."

Olney also has seen the impact Corbin has made on former players such as Jensen Lewis and David Price.

"Jensen and I have exchanged a bunch of e-mails," Olney said. "When I was going back to Nashville for a forum with the Sounds on April 15, I asked him to send me a couple of lines to say about Coach Corbin when I speak. I got like a 50-page e-mail and at the end he apologized about rambling. But that is just how great he feels about him."

Such recent success has not only given Olney something to be proud of as a graduate, it also has given him an opportunity to incorporate Vanderbilt into his work.

"This year, for instance, when (the basketball team) beat Tennessee, I did Mike & Mike the next morning just purely by coincidence," Olney said. "I wore my Vanderbilt jersey on air. I did a lot of jersey popping."

Olney also writes a popular baseball blog on ESPN.com where he occasionally will incorporate links to Vanderbilt stories from The Tennessean and Hustler.

However, as a journalist, he also understands that there is a line he must draw in the sand between his personal interests and the job he is paid to do.

"It is (fun), but I can't go overboard," Olney said. "I put the Vanderbilt stuff in the blog so much that I am cognizant of the fact that I don't want to go too nuts on that.

"Last year when David (Price) was going in the draft, I was privately hoping he went No. 1 and the same thing with Pedro (Alvarez) this year. That is part of me, but certainly I have to separate myself a little bit."

While Olney is certainly proud of the success experienced by the athletic programs, he also is excited to see how much the university has grown.

"When I went to school there, it was not as diverse of a place as it is now. Now when I go back to the school, that is what makes me most proud and seeing how it has evolved over time. I'm proud of the school."



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