Keith Russell, Doug Olkein and Daniel Samson said softball has always been a part of their lives — they practically raised their daughters, now seniors at Occidental, on the field. Olkein said the Occidental softball team has always taken parental pre-game rituals seriously, with die-hard traditions and onboarding processes led by the senior parents each year. While their friendship originated at Bell Field, it has extended far beyond the dugout and metal stands to Zoom happy hours, family vacations and hopes for life-long friendship.
“The [families of] outgoing seniors, when we were freshmen [families], took us under their wing and showed us how a typical Oxy softball day goes,” Olkein said.
According to Samson, the three stumbled upon a new routine of grabbing a breakfast burrito at Delia’s Restaurant on Avenue 47 based on a winning recommendation from his daughter, Drew Samson (senior), and her teammates.
“We heard from our daughters that Delia’s was the burrito capital of Occidental,” Samson said. “We all try to meet about 10:30 in the morning, and have breakfast and then we relax and talk. Like Doug was saying, we look at the team and because we’ve all had our coaching experiences with our daughters, we know what to look for and what we can expect.”
Olkein said that having 18 years of coaching softball under his belt gives him the game-sense to scout out other teams. Similarly, Samson has also coached for 14 years and is now a current coach for the high school softball team at the Sierra Canyon School, which his daughter attended.
Russell said the dads’ friendship continued during the pandemic, even without the ability to watch their daughters play softball or coach their respective teams.
“As the pandemic went along, the three of us as a group, with the wives included, we would have Friday happy hours every other week,” Russell said. “We weren’t actually playing and during the summer we would get together and just hang out as parents and develop the relationship. Not necessarily softball stuff, we were just learning about each other and developing a good friendship.”
Russell said that the softball dads’ constant line of communication has made their daughters’ senior seasons even more special, because they get to spend time with good friends while also cheering on the team.
“We love hanging out with the Russells and the Olkeins,” Samson said. “It’s been — unfortunately — only a two-year experience, rather than a four-year experience. But, we were trying to pass on what we learned to some of the freshmen parents this year.”
According to Olkein, imparting team culture traditions has been a bit more challenging since the 17 new underclassmen players outnumber the five remaining upperclassmen. But despite the mismatch in numbers, Olkein said the responsibility of passing along team traditions, like sideline support and post-game tailgate meet-and-greets, is all the more rewarding for him as a parent of a senior.
Samson, Olkein and Russell said for them, the hardest part of seeing their daughters graduate from the softball team — and Occidental — will be not getting to watch their daughters succeed on the field anymore.
“I’ve been doing this with Drew since she was 5 years old,” Samson said. “She’s 22 now. So for me, I’ll miss the just being able to do stuff with her every weekend.”
Additionally, Russell will miss cheering on his daughter, Delaney Russell (senior) after she has remained a consistent four-year starter for the team, while also setting a record for the most innings pitched in a season.
According to Olkein’s daughter Aly Olkein (senior), her parents’ support at games has been unwavering throughout her years of playing softball.
“All throughout my softball career, my parents have been engrossed in my softball career — more so my dad because of his role as a coach when I first started playing,” Aly Olkein said. “So because of that, I fully expected my dad to be fully engrossed in my college career. It means a lot to me to have my dad’s support; my dad and my mom come to pretty much every game and I look forward to seeing them almost every weekend.”
According to Olkein, the Samson family has been especially cognizant of teammates who may not experience that same family dynamic of support around sports, or may be hindered geographically with coming out to games. To counteract this, Olkein said the Samsons always make sure every single player is fed and able to get game-specific advice, should they want it.
“I think the biggest thing is that if you invest the time — which we did — we got friendships for the rest of our lives,” Samson said.