Former Marlins pitcher Scott Olsen considered himself unprepared for the head baseball coach position he had just been offered. Dr. Krop High principal Dawn Baglos argued otherwise.
Olsen had turned down the same offer months earlier, opting instead to join the team as an assistant.
A dozen games into his coaching career, Olsen still did not expect the opportunity to come this quickly, but Baglos gave him time to mull the offer.
Ultimately, Olsen decided he could not tell the kids no.
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Senior Ian Santana and the Lightning baseball team had endured a string of beginnings; they deserved a storybook ending.
When Santana came to the school’s field last fall, weeds covered the diamond — on the mound, around the infield and in the bullpen.
Santana struggled to find any grass on the field.
And there was no coach to solve the problem.
Former coach Jason Sullivan had just left the team before the school year. Joe Milbury would not be hired for several months.
So Santana took charge.
One of three seniors, Santana guided the group through offseason workouts, hitting sessions and practices. But first he started with the basics — landscaping.
“There was a point where our field wasn’t grass, it was just weeds everywhere,” he said.
Most of the green invaders required shovels to remove. When the players were done weeding the infield, patches of dirt popped up because there was not enough clay. They had to wait for a coach to buy more.
Players also tried to deal with an outcrop of anthills in the outfield and an iguana that had taken up residence under their shed.
“It was a rough time,” Santana said.
Getting his team to landscape was not the most difficult aspect of Santana’s new after-school job, though.
“The hardest part was trying to keep their hopes up,” he said. “We kept hearing stuff around the school and around the administration. I had to keep their heads up — keep pushing forward, keep pushing, stay the course — just motivating these guys every single day.”
Players discussed transferring to a more stable situation — one teammate did — but Santana said everyone else ultimately “rode the roller-coaster all year long.”
“We had to stay close; we didn’t have a choice,” he said. “It was either we stay close and pull this thing together or we tear it apart and go our different ways.”
END IS NEAR?
When Milbury was hired in November, Olsen came on as an assistant, and the players thought their ordeal was over.
Then they started 0-10.
Despondency spread through the team, Santana said, and it showed in practice. Midway through one practice, the seniors and coaches stopped everything and gathered everyone in the dugout.
He reminded his teammates about all of the effort they had gone through in the fall just to ensure there would even be a baseball season.
“It can’t end like this,” he told them.
The only constant through the coaching turnover was the players — for a while it was just the players. He reminded his teammates of that.
“I poured my heart out and let tears pour down my face,” he recalled.
The emotion spilled over into the next game, when Milbury was ejected from his last game as coach at Krop.
He was suspended and left his post two weeks later. Baglos declined to comment on the nature of his departure.
Then, Olsen took over.
“It’s not the way I wanted things to go down, and I feel bad for the kids that they’re going through it again,” Milbury said, “But I think they are in good hands with Scott and I think things happen for a reason.”
NEW OLD GUY
Olsen would become the fourth coach in four years at Krop — the fifth if you include Santana, the player-coach.
Olsen, an Aventura resident, played for the Marlins from 2005 through 2008 and had often thrown on the Krop field after being connected with Sullivan through a mutual friend.
In 2006, his first full year in the majors, Olsen set the Marlins’ rookie record with 166 strikeouts, but injuries kept him from finding consistency thereafter.
Olsen also struggled with a string of off-field incidents starting with run-ins with then-teammate Miguel Cabrera and then-manager Joe Girardi during his first two seasons.
In 2007, he was fined for making an obscene gesture and suspended for “insubordination.” Olsen, then 23, also was arrested in 2007 for driving under the influence after a brief police chase.
“I was young and stupid,” Olsen said.
He went through a pretrial aversion program and the incident is no longer on his record, but it received newspaper coverage and followed him to his interview for the assistant job at Krop.
“They were concerned with how parents would view it,” Olsen said.
Milbury lobbied for Olsen — he could tell the former pitcher missed the game and wanted to make sure he could return to it.
“I knew through the hiring process it was going to come up, but he was nothing but great with the kids,” Milbury said. “I knew that and I fought for him.”
The school administration determined that Olsen, seven years wiser since his incident, could be trusted with the team.
Now he just had to prove it.
‘HEART OF KROP BASEBALL’
To rising senior Wes Foster, the midseason coaching change was another hassle.
Players again had to adjust to a new routine, new instructions, a new person.
But this time, they were optimistic, Foster said.
To the players, Olsen signaled a break in the cycle of arrival and departure, coach after coach.
“It was very inspiring to see somebody at that level get all the way to the top and then get back to my high school — back to our age — to help us evolve,” Santana said. “It definitely lifted our spirits after going through all of that.”
Olsen quickly settled in, cracking jokes during team stretches and asking players about their lives. He also asked Santana for help adjusting to the team and school community.
Assessing the state of the team’s waterlogged baseballs and worn helmets, Olsen bought new sets of each. He even brought a rake to help with the weeds.
Then he helped the team win.
Krop earned its first victory March 13 against Norland, 13-3. Two weeks later, the team put together a three-game winning streak.
The Lightning finished 6-16.
With only three seniors leaving, Santana said he sees a bright future for Krop with Olsen in charge.
Olsen wants to be a minor-league pitching coordinator one day, but that is “years and years away,” he said. For now, Olsen can often be seen out on the Krop field, tending to the dirt and pulling weeds.
Santana’s baseball career will continue at ASA College, where Milbury helped him land a roster spot.
Before Santana left Krop, though, the team’s parents, led by booster club president Ellie Bates, gave him a surprise award during the end-of-season banquet.
“Ian Santana, the Heart of Krop Baseball.”
“I know there is no ‘I’ in team,” Bates said. “But without this ‘I,’ there wouldn’t have been a team.”
Santana appreciated the award, but said the moment he will remember most fondly came in his final game with Olsen.
Santana had pitched deep into the previous game, so he could not start the season finale. But before the final inning, he walked up to Olsen and asked for the ball.
Olsen had already been planning on giving it to him.
The two were on the same page — coach and former player-coach, pitcher and former pitcher.
After the inning, Santana returned to the dugout with tears in his eyes. He and the former Marlin he once watched on TV shared another emotional moment on the bus ride back, Olsen telling Santana he wished he could have coached him longer.
But before Olsen sent Santana to the mound for the last time, he had only a couple of words.
“Go out there and finish what you started.”