BRISTOL – Wally Olson is one of those people that has you thinking maybe time kind of gave him a pass. At the very least for the octogenarian, age is truly but a number.
On a rather bone-chilling early Monday recently you could find the 81-year- old Olson at the Bristol Sports Amory helping former Thomaston High School three-sport legend Morgan Sanson prepare for her final season with the Eastern Connecticut State University softball team.
It was not a one-shot deal. Three times a week during the college semester break, the twosome has put their time in at the Amory which is co-owned by Thomaston High basketball coach Bob McMahon. Sanson was a focal point for four Thomaston BL basketball titles and two Class S state titles so getting access to the facility is not exactly a problem.
But here’s the deal with Olson. Sanson pitches, so at this stage of the game you might think the gentlemanly Olson stands to the side, watches and offers some tips while she throws to a friend or at some kind of backstop. Yeah, it doesn’t quite happen that way.
Olson is on the receiving end of Sanson’s tosses which rise and drop, dart in and out, and generally move in all directions particularly in the stretch run on their lightening journey to the glove. If you haven’t stood behind a hard-throwing college-level pitcher, know that you had better react and react quickly or you are going to be wearing DUDLEY complete with angry bruise somewhere on your body.
It is not for the slow moving or those who lack concentration. But here’s Wally at 81, mask firmly in place, deftly handling the left-handed pitches of Sanson, including the ones that might miss the mark (yeah, Morgan uncorks one once in a while). Believe me, Wally doesn’t miss much.
Impressive enough. But maybe even more impressive is watching Olson squat for all the pitches. I know a lot of healthy octogenarians. I don’t know a lot that can squat down to catch pitches. And for 45 minutes.
I’m not anywhere near 81 (enough with the cracks) but I know I can’t squat for more than a couple of pitches. And getting back up? Anybody got a crane? The knees hurt, the back hurts. But Wally has that ageless kind of spry. The kind we all had when we were out on the playground. Wally was last out playing tag and such when World War II was going on, Sinatra was crooning and grass was something people mowed instead of inhaling for medical purposes.
Yet, he keeps on keeping on. It makes you envious and causes you to admire.
“It must be good genes,” said the soft-spoke mentor. “I keep active in it and I work out a bit. Morgan is tough, her ball has movement on every pitch especially in the last foot and a half. You have to move quickly.”
Sanson marvels at Olson’s ability to handle it all.
“He dives for everything,” she said. “He keeps himself in great shape. He has done the Hit Club steps (four floors worth of stairs in a Thomaston facility located in the old Seth Thomas building). He enjoys it all.”
The Olson – Sanson connection started when Sanson was eight-years and has continued through present day. Olson moved to Thomaston in 2001 after working for 17 years as a volunteer coach with Danbury High where his two daughters went to school.
Along the way he began coaching pitchers at Immaculate, Abbott Tech, Brookfield and New Fairfield (Class M champs in 1999). Upon his arrival in Thomaston he began working for the Recreation department where he met Sanson.
You stick with a good thing. Olson began coaching with the Thomaston High program in 2011 and has worked with Sanson throughout. Along the way were two state titles appearances and championship in 2014 along with a couple of Berkshire League crowns.
It has always been a mutual admiration society.
“She’s become a top-level Division III pitcher,” he says with grandfatherly pride.
“Wally makes it fun,” says Sanson. “He jokes around, he says things like “that pitch broke nicely.” He loves to do it.”
The pair work together winter and summer (at Thomaston High). Olson has helped offering advice in field hockey and basketball. The two text frequently.”
“He’s really good at it (texting),” laughs Sanson.
Along the way his best advice has always been – “Just have fun.”
That Olson knows softball pitching is a given. But gee, the guy can still squat and catch Sanson at the age of 81. And he texts. There aren’t enough Wally Olson’s around.
It’s okay if you’re jealous. But be impressed.
You go Wally! You’re an inspiration.