Larry Bird and '92 Olympics: Former K-State baseball star Craig Wilson recounts baseball experience

Craig Wilson and Larry Bird
Olympics Baseball Barcelona 1992
Craig Wilson President George H.W. Bush and Barbara
Craig Wilson
Craig Wilson helmet
Craig Wilson K-State baseball.jpg
Posted at 5:02 PM, Jun 20, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chris Gomez’s misfortune proved to be Craig Wilson’s gain — and led to an Olympic-sized adventure.

After Gomez broke his arm in the spring of 1991, Wilson, a junior baseball player at Kansas State, was invited to try out for Team USA ahead of the Pan American Games.

“A bunch of us went down there, we competed for the job and I ended up winning the job and ended up leading the team in hitting in ’91, so it kind of set me up for a return in 1992,” Wilson said.

That’s how, a year later, Wilson and the rest of the U.S. baseball team found themselves lined up in front of Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and the rest of the Dream Team for the Opening Ceremony at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

Olympics Baseball Barcelona 1992
USA shortstop Craig Wilson of Phoenix, Ariz., reaches to tag Cuba's Lourdes Guriel Delgado as he tries to steal second base in the second inning of a game at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, August 4, 1992. The Cuban was out on the play.

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“The Opening Ceremonies were amazing,” said Wilson, a four-year starter at shortstop and second base for the Wildcats. “You're getting ready to walk out the tunnel and you're just thinking to yourself, ‘Holy cow, I'm an Olympian.’ Then, of course, the Dream Team comes in right behind us to walk out.”

Turns out, Bird, who famously played a baseball doubleheader at Indiana State on a dare, was a fan of the baseball guys, too.

“He came out to a few of our games and just was interested in watching the games and kind of getting to meet the players and everything,” Wilson said. “I think he was a true baseball fan at heart.”

Wilson has a framed photo of him posing in the dugout in his USA Baseball jersey next to the 6-foot-9 Bird.

Craig Wilson and Larry Bird in hands
Former Kansas State baseball star Craig Wilson made the 1992 U.S. Olympic baseball team after another player was injured. Meeting the Dream Team, including baseball fan Larry Bird, and competing in Barcelona remains a thrilling experience.

Bird wasn’t Wilson’s only star-studded encounter.

“I remember going and getting something to eat in the cafeteria one time and (Canadian sprinter) Ben Johnson was standing in front of me,” Wilson said. “You just look at him and you're like, ‘Holy cow, that's an Olympic athlete,’ like you could tell that is what an Olympic athlete should look like.”

Wilson, who now works in IT in the Kansas City area, also marveled at meeting teenage tennis sensation Jennifer Capriati and four-time gold-medalist swimmer Janet Evans among others.

“As you said, 32 years — I have to take a step back and go, holy cow, that's been a long time. But it seems like yesterday. It really does,” Wilson said.

Wilson had all of his Olympic teammates — including Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Giambi, Phil Nevin, Jason Varitek, Charles Johnson, Wichita State’s Darren Dreifort and future Royals outfield Michael Tucker — sign the helmet he wore in the Olympics and an official Barcelona Games baseball among other things.

Craig Wilson helmet
Former Kansas State baseball star Craig Wilson made the 1992 U.S. Olympic baseball team after another player was injured. Meeting the Dream Team and competing in Barcelona remains a thrilling experience. He had all of his teammates sign his Olympic team helmet.

That team finished fourth at the Olympics, narrowly missing a team medal.

Wilson went on to play 139 games across three seasons with the Chicago White Sox.

He also spent time in the minor leagues with Kansas City, Detroit and the New York Yankees.

“The Olympics is definitely up there as one of the highest achievements,” Wilson said.

Originally from Chicago, Wilson — the 1992 Big Eight Player of the Year and a 13th-round pick by the White Sox in the 1992 MLB Draft — grew to love Manhattan, Kansas, after arriving on a baseball scholarship.

During his professional baseball career, which lasted from 1993 to 2004, Wilson settled in Kansas City out of convenience.

“It was a good middle hub,” Wilson said. “I never knew where I was going to be — whether it was going to be Birmingham, Prince William, Nashville — so it was just a good center hub to come back and basically start a family. My wife (Susan), I met my wife at K-State, she went to work for Deloitte & Touche downtown, so she was working when I was playing and it just seemed to work out pretty good.”

Baseball was an Olympic demonstration sport beginning in 1900, but 1992 was the first time it was an official sport included in each Olympic Games.

“It's kind of cool to be one of 20 guys to be the first ever team that was an official sport,” Wilson said.