By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Apr 15, 2003 at 5:49 AM

MARYVALE, ARIZ. -- Drew Olson is one of the names you know, mostly because sports fans have been reading his Brewers beat in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for almost 10 years. He's a rare breed of journalist who never had to leave his hometown to write about what he loves for a major daily paper.

With more than 200 bylines each year, Olson is an integral part of the paper's most popular section. We caught up with Drew this March in Phoenix, where he was covering a Brewers Spring Training game. In this latest installment of Milwaukee Talks, Olsen tells us why every game story is different, what life is like on the road and how he blew out his knee onstage playing guitar with Kevin Brandt.

OMC: You've been covering the Brewers as long as I've been following the team. How long has it actually been?

DO: I started covering the Brewers in the fall of 1994.

OMC: Was that your first job out of college?

DO: I'm a perfect example of what they say you can't do. They said I'd never get a job at a big paper right out of school. It was by junior year at UWM. My sister was working in the credit department at the Journal, and she told me about an opening for a messenger. Basically, I passed out mail. I was pond scum. I did it for five months, but the messenger's table was right next to the sports department. My big break came when this guy I went to school with, an agate clerk, graduated and got a job in Rugby, North Dakota. When he left, they had an opening in sports.

After six months of opening mail and stealing albums, it was great. They hired me in sports. I was answering phones, taking scores, and that led to one day when the sports editor said, 'A reporter's car broke down and we need you to cover a game.'

So I wrote a game story, and they liked it. I wrote another one and another one, and then told me they didn't want me to answer the phones anymore. I said, 'OK, great.' They wanted me to be a part-time guy covering games. But they made me find someone to replace me.

I went to (OMC columnist and UWM professor) Gregg Hoffmann's sports writing class and asked (current Brewers Director of Media Relations) Jon Greenberg. He replaced me on the agate desk, and I've been there ever since. That was in '86, back in the salty, competitive days of two daily papers in Milwaukee.

I covered high school sports, then the Admirals, the Wave and just floated around. I did a Packers sidebar one day and a Bucks sidebar the next day. I had my hands in everything, and then I graduated and it was my turn to start looking for a job in Rugby, North Daktota. I told myself that I would give myself a year as a part-timer at the Journal. With three months left on my deadline, they created this Waukesha Journal, which was an attempt to put the Freeman out of business. They made me the sports editor, full-time. I was in charge of preps for Waukesha County. I did that for a year, and then I went back to the Admirals and covered the Mustangs for two games. Then Gary Howard came over as the sports editor, and he threw me into all sorts of situations to see how I would do. After a while, he made me the Brewers beat writer.

OMC: Is it tough to just cover baseball now?

DO: I guess I'm identified as a baseball guy, because I've done that longer than I've done anything else. I loved covering the Admirals and floating around. Baseball is such as long season that it doesn't lend itself to doing anything else.

OMC: If you could pick what you could write about, what would it be?

DO: Ideally, I'd be a columnist at the paper. When Mike Bauman left, I applied for his job, but I didn't get it. I think I could do something fun with page two, but I'm not trying to push Bob Wolfley out. There's a short shelf life for beat writers. Guys used to do it for 20 years, but now the burn-out rate is so high.

OMC: Including Spring Training, you must write more than 200 game stories a year.

DO: Easily. Put it this way: in the last three years, I've had 1,702 bylines.

OMC: Do the stories start to look the same?

DO: Not really. If you cover City Hall every day, do those stories look the same? Every day is different, and every game is different. When you're this close to it, it's not the same every day. But the Brewers have been in such tough straits since I've been covering them. We've looked at all the reasons over the years. I would like to branch out but not do another beat.

OMC: Were you a Brewers fan growing up?

DO: I was, growing up in Menomonee Falls. I talked to Bob & Brian about that, actually. People complain about their jobs, but I've got the best job in the world -- watching baseball. But once you start working in the sports department, you have no more favorite teams. I now watch games that are interesting. I like good stories, but I don't like any teams or players more than the others.

OMC: At this point, you know more about the Brewers than most people. As an objective journalist, watching 10 years of bad baseball, how is this team now?

DO: Matt Vasgersian asked me the other day if Ned Yost is really different. He's full of energy. I told Matt that Ned's forgotten more about baseball than I ever dreamed about knowing. He says the team is going to play hard. But I've seen it before. Yeah, you may play hard, but until you get the players, it not gonna happen. But you have to say that. What manager sits down in Spring Training and says they're going to tank this year? But I will say that with Ulice Payne and Doug Melvin, they seem to be headed in the right direction. They've changed the culture a little bit. I really like their ad campaign; it's very honest and contrite.

OMC: What's life on the road like, covering a team fox six months straight?

DO: It's not digging trenches, but it's not as easy as it was. You get to unpack, spend three days in a city, but once you've been to Cleveland 15 times ... well, I've been to the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame 10 times. But it's almost worse at home, because you're not really home with all those distractions. On the road, you just have baseball. It's just relentless. You miss a lot of cookouts and first communions. I've been married five years, and I have a 2 1/2-year-old daughter. But my wife knew what she was getting into.

OMC: But can you picture yourself doing anything else?

DO: No, I knew early on I wanted to get into this. When I was four or five, I'd threw on a suit and pretend I was a weatherman or something. I always did well in writing in school. I also wanted to play basketball, which I ended up playing at UWM. I'm a former Panther! In '84, the team was really bad. My freshman year, I tried out, but the school didn't have enough money for a JV team. But I became friends with the team, and some guy flunked out, another quit and one went into the Navy. So the team was down to nine guys. But they needed a guy, and I was in. I was on the team second semester, and we were horrible. I got in one game at the end of the year, but they gave me a letter.

OMC: What do you do for the other six months out of the year?

DO: The job never ends. I go to the post-season and the winter meetings in December. Next thing you know, it's time for Spring Training. But it's not bad. However, it's the most demanding beat in the newsroom, I think.

OMC: But it's pretty high profile.

DO: It is. A guy from Green Bay told me that when he thinks of baseball in Milwaukee, he thinks of my name. Some people recognize me from my picture in the paper, and I do the Bob and Brian show, too.

OMC: How did that come to be?

DO: I had a friend who worked for WQFM, so I became the station's sports guy. Bob and Brian's producer was their overnight guy. But when Lazer switched format, my roommate at the time, who worked there, introduced me to them. We were hanging out then, and they came down to Spring Training and had me on the show. Now I'm on every Wednesday around 8:30 a.m. Milwaukee is a small media town. Kevin Brandt is one my best friends, and I think it's amazing we didn't meet sooner, hanging out in the same social circles that we do.

OMC: Have you played with his band, kbsmidlifecrisis?

DO: All the time. I have an open-ended invitation. I blew out my knee on stage ... I was drunk. I don't remember exactly what happened, but it was funny.

OMC: What do you do in your little remaining free time?

DO: I spend time with the family. I play a little golf. I consume the media. I read your site. I watch TV.

OMC: Does it ever seem weird that you write stuff that thousands of people read every day?

DO: I was at Yankees Stadium with Greenberg and 50,000 fans, and I said to him, 'Can you believe a couple of shmucks like us have these important jobs that people would kill for?'


OMC: Does your job ever come between your friendship with Jon Greenberg? Sometimes, you have to write some negative stuff about the team.

DO: Greenie and I are professional guys, and we always keep that separate. I see the players every day, and I do develop relationships, but I have to be able to separate it. When you're young, there's a temptation to go drinking with the guys, but I don't get too close any more.

Sal Bando was a nice guy, but I had to write that he was doing a bad job. Readers don't realize that these are people's jobs. Like when people wrote that Davey Lopes should be fired. If you're in a restaurant and a waiter makes a mistake, do you scream that he should be fired?

You get numb because it's sports. I always say that this the same job as people who cover politics, but they don't interview their sources naked, and I do.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.