During the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, USA pitcher Don August was so sure he would not pitch a third consecutive day that he left his cleats, cup and fielding glove in his locker.
After all, the righthander out of small Chapman University already had pitched the previous two days, entering in the ninth inning each day – a 16-1 blowout over Italy and a 12-0 win over the Dominican Republic. “I was asked to hold the leads,” he says with a laugh.
So before the USA’s semifinal game against South Korea, August was just preparing to take it easy on the bench. “I thought they had some other guys they wanted to use,” August recalls. “And I thought, hey, I had already gotten to pitch in Dodger Stadium in front of my family, and had already appeared in two Olympic games.
“I was just going to sit on the bench and root for the team.”
But head coach Rod Dedeaux and the U.S. coaching staff had other ideas. The coach told August he would be the first used in relief that day. “I remember thinking, whoa, I didn’t expect that.”
So off he went back into the clubhouse and emerged with cleats on his feet and a fielding glove in his hand.
During the third inning, August was told to begin warming up. By the fifth, he was inserted into a 2-2 game. So much for entering games with a big lead. “This one mattered,” August says. “When I came in it was tied, a man on third and two outs.” After falling behind 2-0 in the count, to the first batter he faced, August eventually coaxed the out needed to get out of the inning.
South Korea never threatened after that.
August tossed up zeroes the remainder of the game, earning the win when the U.S. pushed across three runs in the bottom of the sixth in what wound up a 5-2 win. That earned August the win, and sent the U.S. into the gold medal championship game against Japan. “I pitched in three of the five Olympic games,” he says. “I just wasn’t expecting to pitch that day.”
The U.S. lost in the championship game, but the team did experience having MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth – the organizer of the L.A. Olympics – place silver medals around their necks.
The Olympic experience just furthered what had already been a great year for August up to Los Angeles. He was dominant at Division II Chapman College as a junior, earning an invitation to try out for the U.S. Olympic Team. But August initially wasn’t going to attend the tryout at Cal State Fullerton in the fall of 1983. “It was on a Saturday morning,” he says. “I was a lazy college kid who wanted to sleep in.”
Chapman head coach Paul Deese would have none of it, telling August, “Oh, you’re going.”
August attended, and impressed. The next May, he received an invitation to attend a smaller tryout in Louisville consisting of the best players USA Baseball had seen at the various area tryouts like the one at Fullerton. It also didn’t hurt August’s profile that, even though pitching for a D-II program, he was consistently beating major D-I programs such as Cal State Fullerton and USC – the school he had hoped to attend in high school, but which inexplicably stopped recruiting him despite posting an outstanding senior season that spring.
USC’s loss was Chapman’s gain.
August said throughout the entire Olympic Team Tour across the country during the summer of ’84, Dedeaux – the legendary USC coach – never said anything to the pitcher about the snub. “We never talked about it,” August says. “He never brought it up and neither did I.”
During the Team USA tour across the country in preparation for the Olympics, August was drafted in the first round of the 1984 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros, who selected him 17th overall. It was validation that he was among the best pitchers in the country.
“It started that year with the Chapman season,” August says. “I got a lot of recognition. When I pitched, there would be 15 scouts with radar guns on me. Even in the bullpen when I was getting ready to take the mound they would be watching my bullpen session. Everything just worked out that year.”
Two years after the Olympics, August and another pitcher were traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for veteran pitcher Danny Darwin. Houston was surrendering one of its top pitching prospects for a veteran that could immediately help the team’s playoff push.
In 1988, August made his major league debut and finished the season with an outstanding 13-7 mark and 3.09 ERA. His last game in the majors came in 1991. “I kind of battled a couple years in the minors trying to make it back,” he says. Stints in the Mexican League and a five-year run in Taiwan followed. He closed out his playing days in Italy in 2000.
Upon his return to the States, August secured his teaching license and worked fulltime teaching Social Studies and U.S. History to junior high and high school students. Today, he works as a substitute teacher handled all grades and assignments. He also has spent the last 14 years as the head JV baseball coach at Menonomee Falls (Wis.) High School, where he also assists the varsity team. The team won the Wisconsin state title last season. “That was almost as big to me as a lot of other stuff I’ve done in baseball,” he says.
But nothing will be as big as the 1984 Olympics, when Don August was pitching near home, in front of friends and family, and wearing the red, white and blue while at the top of his game.
“That was great, that was awesome,” he says of the experience.
He’s got an Olympic silver medal to prove it.