116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — He never considered the worst, which was a bit surprising considering everything he’d already endured in his baseball career.
Normal stuff, he thought. Had to be.
He’d already endured Tommy John ligament replacement surgery when he was in college, so maybe it was some scar tissue at work here, perhaps bone chips. Or simply it was just getting used to throwing again, since he hadn’t pitched in a competitive game since his surgery in 2018.
Nothing to overly worry about, he thought. Then doctors informed him otherwise.
“I get the MRI back and they were like ‘There’s no UCL,’” Olsen said. “It wasn’t even that I tore it again. I didn’t have a UCL.”
In Tommy John surgery, a tendon from another part of the body or from a donor replaces the damaged one. Holes are drilled in the humerus and ulna, with the new tendon threaded through them.
Olsen’s replacement tendon somehow gradually disappeared, a medical rarity, he was informed. He had pitched 16 times, made 13 starts and accumulated 67 innings for the Kernels, with no ulnar collateral ligament.
“I didn’t know that was a thing. None of us in the organization had ever heard of something like that,” Olsen said. “Basically, I didn’t have a re-tear, it was just gone. There was nothing connecting from either insertion site. The exact terminology was my body just absorbed the ligament.”
That Olsen threw 2 2/3 innings of hitless, shutout ball to earn the win as the Kernels beat Wisconsin, 1-0, Thursday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium was remarkable. It came about 11 months after his second Tommy John procedure.
“It puts certain things into perspective,” he said. “I feel a lot of times we get caught up in results and don’t really take the moment in. But when you have as many injuries as I’ve had, you can’t take any day for granted. I’m just feeling pretty grateful, grateful to be back out here. I feel myself getting healthier and healthier each day.”
The injuries the 25-year-old referenced go beyond multiple Tommy John surgeries. He was hit in the face by a line drive pitching for UCLA in a game at Dodger Stadium in March 2018 that caused multiple facial fractures and reconstructive surgeries.
He came back from that, only to blow out his elbow the first time. The parent Minnesota Twins liked his potential enough that they drafted him anyway that year in the 12th round.
Olsen rehabbed but suffered thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder that forced yet another surgery. He rehabbed again, only to have the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, canceling the minor-league season.
Olsen finally made his professional debut last June, almost three years to the date of getting drafted by the Twins. By the way, he theorizes part of the reason his body rejected his replacement UCL was because of all of his previous procedures.
“It has been a really good year for me to kind of just reflect on some things,” he said. “Where I am at in my life. I feel like I’m more grounded than I was before, feel really comfortable where I’m at.”
Olsen has a degree in psychology from UCLA, ironically having to put his studies to good use on himself throughout all of his setbacks. He’s getting married in December to his longtime girlfriend, Lauren, who has been a rock for him.
He said he also has become much stronger in his faith, which he said led him to decide to continue playing baseball and chasing the big-league dream when so many others, understandably so, would have stopped and moved on to something else.
“Why keep playing? I had that question, too, after everything happened,” he said. “Especially after each surgery, you’d think that it’d be ‘All right, it’s time to give it up.’ I kind of reflected on it, and I didn’t really know. Is this it? But I really felt that God was telling me to keep going, keep chasing after it. I feel that he’s still got a calling on my life with baseball, with whatever situation, he feels he still has a purpose for me.
“I think that’s the main thing. I think that God’s still got a plan for me with baseball, and my time is not up, yet.”
So he continues to toil, continues to work. His fastball consistently has been 92 to 93 miles per hour somehow, and Olsen believes there is higher velocity still to come.
Whatever happens in his multi-delayed career, he’s content. He took his shot, worked through unbelievable adversity to continue taking that shot.
“When I grew up, everything was centered around baseball. That was my purpose,” he said. “But my purpose isn’t baseball, that’s not the calling of my life. So I feel I can play with more freedom, I can live with my results because that’s not what my life is about anymore. That’s how it always was, everything was baseball, so everything I did, it was like a roller coaster. If I’m playing well, I’m on top of the world. If I play, my self worth was affected.
“Did I think this was the way I thought my baseball career was going to go when I was at UCLA? For sure not. I mean, this is just my second year playing since I was 21 years old. Not the way I thought this was going to go, but I’m truly grateful how it’s gone. I know there’s good things to come.”
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