Padres' Olabisi engineers innovation

Outfielder spending time off creating life-saving technology

Wande Olabisi is taking time off from baseball this offseason to hone his engineering skills. (Jeff Nycz)

By Benjamin Hill / | November 11, 2010 5:00 AM

Even within the increasingly global context of professional baseball, Wande Olabisi has a life story that stands out.

The 22-year-old San Diego Padres outfield prospect was born in Lagos, Nigeria, to a royal tribal family. His first name, Babawande, translates to "My father has come back through you" and Olabisi means "The heritage is multiplying."

The Olabisi family moved to Saudi Arabia when Wande was 5, and it was there that he fell in love with baseball. The next stop in his continent-hopping childhood was the United States, with Olabisi attending high school in Texas and continuing his education -- and baseball career -- at Stanford University.

The Padres, intrigued by Olabisi's raw talent and considerable speed, selected him in the 30th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. This season, he suited up for the Class A Fort Wayne TinCaps, hitting .256 and stealing 15 bases over 70 games.

But athletic and intellectual pursuits need not be mutually exclusive. Olabisi spends the offseason back within the confines of academia, engaged in tasks that require equal measures of creativity and pragmatism. Having obtained an undergraduate degree in biochemical engineering, he has returned to Stanford to pursue a master's in management science and engineering. This line of coursework will further Olabisi's goal of creating, producing and distributing economical and efficient medical devices for developing countries.

"The master's degree is geared more toward the entrepreneurial side of things, learning about finance and business strategies," Olabisi explained. "It's important because in engineering it's easy to get cornered into one mentality, working on the developmental side of things but not knowing what to do from there."

And Olabisi certainly isn't lacking for inspiration when it comes to product development. His current project involves cricothyrotomy, a life-saving surgical procedure designed to provide oxygen to the body in the event of a blocked or failed airway.

"[Cricothyrotomy] is something that all surgeons can perform but that is difficult to practice," said Olabisi. "We're working on creating a low-cost device that surgeons anywhere can practice with, so that when the time arrives [to perform the procedure], they're not rusty."

Olabisi also has worked extensively toward creating a more effective "prosthetic donning aid" for above-the-knee amputees, helping to develop a portable motorized device that provides a secure suction fit between flesh and prostheses. He's also spent significant time developing an insulated vaccine apparatus (commonly called an IVA), designed to safely transport and store temperature-sensitive vaccines regardless of external climate conditions.

What it all adds up to is a body of work that flies squarely in the face of the self-absorbed athlete stereotype.

"A lot of this comes from my upbringing, because my family placed a priority on finding a way to help others," Olabisi said. "When you make a device that helps people and can see them use it and love it and get that kind of feedback immediately, that's something I really enjoy."

Despite Olabisi's passion for engineering, he remains strongly committed to his baseball career.

"I'm playing baseball because I want to make it to the big leagues," he said. "If I didn't see myself as being able to make it there, then I wouldn't be playing. But I can't play baseball forever, and when I step into the real world I want to be prepared."

Until then, Olabisi is confident that the sport he loves will help, rather than hinder, his academic endeavors.

"Playing baseball, you really have to keep at it and stay motivated because the failure rate is so high," he said. "That's similar to engineering. A lot of times you'll do something that just doesn't work, but the issue is to not let it affect you. Don't dwell on it, get over it. Do it again and make it better."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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