Ross Ohlendorf: Will Work for Free

The Pirates' ace has one up his sleeve.



Pittsburgh Pirates/Dave Arrigo

Last summer, a famous Pittsburgher returned home to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before a game at PNC Park. Pirates pitcher Ross Ohlendorf was so excited about the chance to meet the honored guest that he asked catcher Jason Jaramillo if he could substitute for him behind home plate for the opening pitch. So who was this Pittsburgh-born celebrity—Dan Marino? Donny Iris? Try Tom Vilsack, U.S. secretary of agriculture. Ohlendorf didn’t want an autograph. He wanted an internship.

“I wanted to do something productive in the off-season, and I thought an internship with the federal government would be a great way to my spend time,” Ohlendorf says. “The Department of Agriculture [USDA] seemed like a great fit.” Typical jock.

At first, Vilsack couldn’t believe that a major-league baseball player was interested in the unpaid position. Then he looked at Ohlendorf’s off-the-field résumé. It includes a degree from Princeton University in operations research and financial engineering, and membership in Sigma Xi, an exclusive, international scientific-research society. Plus, Ohlendorf achieved a college grade-point average (3.75) nearly higher than his 2009 earned-run average (3.92).

Those impressive credentials scored him a two-month internship at the USDA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., to study the economic effects of the National Animal Identification System. “The program is designed is to keep better records of animal movement and location, which aids in responses to disease detections in livestock,” Ohlendorf says. See, the man is smart. So smart that he reads history books during downtime in the clubhouse. So smart that his teammates (calculators in hand) try to stump him with rapid-fire questions about square roots and probabilities. But the 6-foot-4-inch right-hander isn’t your typical Ivy League egghead.

“I grew up working on my grandparents’ longhorn cattle ranch near Austin, Texas,” he says. “I’d repair fences, feed the calves and vaccinate cattle.” Ohlendorf even maintains the ranch’s Web site (rockingolonghorns.com) during the baseball season. In exchange for his tech support, the pitcher gets to name some of ranch’s 250-plus cattle—like Cindy Crawford, Yahtzee and Kickapoo.

Ohlendorf had to rely on his blue-collar work ethic when he reported to D.C. in the fall. By day, he worked on cost-benefit analysis—by night, he kept in shape for the baseball season by hitting the running paths around the capital. Fortunately, Ohlendorf isn’t a stranger to working overtime. After being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004, he returned to the grind of economics classes each off-season until he finished his degree in 2006. And what about his 144-page senior thesis that used advanced statistical formulas to calculate the value of major-league rookies? “Oh, I finished that during my second spring training,” Ohlendorf says. Surprise: He aced it. “My parents taught me to work hard and take pride in what I do.”

He aced the internship, too, and was even asked to accompany Secretary Vilsack and first lady Michelle Obama at an event celebrating the HealthierUS Schools Challenge, a competition that promotes healthy nutrition and physical activity in schools. While mum on his post-baseball career plans, Ohlendorf is a man of many hats. The Pirates just hope that he will keep wearing the one with the “P” on it for many years to come.

By the Numbers:

109  >>  Ohlendorf’s strikeout total in 2009; second on the team.

1520 >> SAT score (out of 1600).

9      >> Number of pitches he needed to strike out three batters last season.

Hot Reads

Made in Pittsburgh

Made in Pittsburgh

The city of steel always has been known for its industry – what we make. Today, that defining characteristic expands beyond manufacturing into every aspect of modern life.
Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Comic-book artist Ed Piskor continues to win critical acclaim and international fame with his “Hip Hop Family Tree” series of graphic novels.
Review: Sienna Mercato

Review: Sienna Mercato

Matthew Porco, one of our Chefs of the Year, designs the menus at Sienna Mercato's downtown establishments.
Film Noir Fall Fashion

Film Noir Fall Fashion

Fall into autumn with a fashion landscape awash in black, white and nifty shades of gray.

The 412

All That You Need to Know about the Pirates’ Wild Card Game

All That You Need to Know about the Pirates’ Wild Card Game

Think you’re ready for Wednesday? You will be after reading our rundown on the matchup.
Does Pittsburgh Have the Nation’s Best Riverfront?

Does Pittsburgh Have the Nation’s Best Riverfront?

Then help the Steel City to earn that title by voting in an online poll.
Watch: The Cooking Channel Goes Inside Pittsburgh Kitchens

Watch: The Cooking Channel Goes Inside Pittsburgh Kitchens

Several restaurants along Penn Avenue will be featured in tonight’s episode of “Chuck’s Eat the Street.”
Get Moving With Our Insider's Guide to Lyft and Uber

Get Moving With Our Insider's Guide to Lyft and Uber

Downloading the app is just the beginning. A real-life ridesharing driver shares some insider tips for making the most of the ’Burgh’s new car services.

Hot Reads

Made in Pittsburgh

Made in Pittsburgh

The city of steel always has been known for its industry – what we make. Today, that defining characteristic expands beyond manufacturing into every aspect of modern life.
Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Comic-book artist Ed Piskor continues to win critical acclaim and international fame with his “Hip Hop Family Tree” series of graphic novels.
Review: Sienna Mercato

Review: Sienna Mercato

Matthew Porco, one of our Chefs of the Year, designs the menus at Sienna Mercato's downtown establishments.
Film Noir Fall Fashion

Film Noir Fall Fashion

Fall into autumn with a fashion landscape awash in black, white and nifty shades of gray.
An Open Letter to Local Sports Reporters

An Open Letter to Local Sports Reporters

PittGirl has had enough of the criticism of fanatics and asks the media to stop labeling everyone.
8 Foodie Day Trips (and a Few Weekends, Too)

8 Foodie Day Trips (and a Few Weekends, Too)

Hoping to take a leaf-peeping road trip? Keep food at the top of your priority list and consult our lineup of eight destinations, most within 150 miles of the city.