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His name is Robert Stanbury Olney III, but to millions of baseball fans who hang on his every word and every tweet, he is known as Buster. Now one of the best known Baseball Insiders in the country, Olney started his career in Nashville as a beat reporter for the Triple A Nashville Sounds. After stops covering the Padres, Orioles, Mets and Yankees, he landed at ESPN in 2003. Today, Buster Olney can be seen, read or heard across all platforms at ESPN and he’s one of the best. The Overhead Compartment was lucky enough to run a few bases and share some peanuts and Cracker Jacks with this talented baseball expert, and learn if he will be right….again….about who will win the World Series.
The Overhead Compartment with Buster Olney starts now….
OC: Was this the most dramatic World Series you ever covered?
BO: The 2016 World Series was incredible, with the Cubs and Indians forced to a rain-delayed extra inning in Game 7 with so much history on the line. But what we saw in 2001 between the Diamondbacks and Yankees was surreal, largely because of the context – after 9/11, the Yankees became America’s Team, and despite being outplayed for about 95 percent of the World Series, they mounted comeback after comeback and had the lead in the ninth inning of Game 7. And the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history, Mariano Rivera, gave up two runs in the bottom of the last inning. I was working for the New York Times at that time and was told throughout the coverage that fall to separate 9/11 from the baseball, and yet I realized after it was over how intertwined it all was, with the recovery teams at Ground Zero literally taking breaks to watch was happening just a few miles away – a respite from tragedy and horror.
OC: Do the Cubs have the most passionate fan base in the sport?
BO: The Cubs’ fan base is different than any other, I believe, because I’ve never seen the team’s followers overrun by bitterness. Even through the worst moments, like the Steve Bartman game, it seemed like Cubs fans still found enormous joy in the team, no matter how bad it was. Yankees fans are passionate, but they are enraged by failure, and the same is true with Red Sox fans.
OC: Are the Cubs the favorites to win again next year?
BO: Absolutely. The team is incredibly deep, versatile, and I’ll pick them (again) to win the World Series. (Sorry, immodesty overwhelmed me: last January, I picked the Cubs to win the World Series, a rare case of a prediction turning out well for me).
OC: What’s the best part of traveling all over the country covering Baseball?
BO: I am graced by the opportunity to be able to talk to folks who are the very best at what they do about their work – the challenges, the adjustments, the great moments and the moments they hate but, as competitors, can never forget. I’ve been lucky enough to talk about hitting with Tony Gwynn and Derek Jeter, to talk to Mariano Rivera about his cut fastball, to Clayton Kershaw about his curveball, to Kris Bryant about his first homer. I look forward to these types of conversations even more than I did when I started working as a reporter.
OC: The worst?
BO: The time away from my children. They understand that I have to travel and are good about it, but there are days when I can see in their eyes that they’d prefer I not be away every weekend, and that’s excruciating.
OC: Who is the most interesting player you ever interviewed?
BO: Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. He was a knowledgeable and exceptional hitter, but he also loved to talk about his work and he spoke anecdotally, which, for a young reporter trying to learn as much as possible, was a gift.
OC: What is your favorite city to visit for work?
BO: Baltimore. I worked at the Baltimore Sun for two years, as the beat writer assigned to the Orioles, and have very soft spot in my heart for the best ballpark ever, Camden Yards.
OC: What do you do when you have down time in that city?
BO: There is an amazing running trail north of the city, Ashland Trail, that stretches for miles and miles into Pennsylvania, hugging a river and passing horse farms, and I plan that run (slower now, for sure) weeks and weeks in advance.
OC: What ballpark has the best food?
BO: I’ve always loved the garlic fries in the Giants’ AT&T Park. But I have to load up on mints for the postgame interview. Max Scherzer once told me about a miserable experience of being interviewed after a game by a reporter with bad breath from a foot away – a good professional tip.
OC: Favorite place for leisure travel?
BO: Washington, D.C. I feel like I could live there and I wouldn’t have enough hours in the day to see everything I want to see with the kids. We have family in Maui and have been there six times, and for time on the beach – in the water, getting rolled by waves – that’s the best.
OC: First thing you do when arriving at a hotel in your room?
BO: Unpack the suits and shirts.
OC: If you weren’t covering Baseball, what would you be doing for a living?
BO: My Mom wanted me to be a lawyer, but I think I would’ve preferred politics, to be in the arena.
OC: Complete the following sentence: I never leave home without:
BO: An extra computer adapter. Because through the years, I’ve lost so many.
Buster Olney, please use care upon departure as items may have shifted in The Overhead Compartment during our journey. Thanks for choosing us for your travel tips! Have a wonderful day!