By Michael Huberman
While most players use the offseason as an opportunity to relax, recuperate, and spend time with family, newly signed Nationals pitcher Ross Ohlendorf spent one offseason doing what many Nationals fans do: he worked for the federal government.
In 2009 while a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ohlendorf spent a portion of his offseason serving as an intern at the United States Department of Agriculture. Ohlendorf, whose family has a cattle ranch in Texas, spent eight weeks at USDA studying the migration of diseases in cattle, goats, poultry, and swine. Like most interns in Washington D.C., Ohlendorf wasn’t paid for his work.
It certainly helped Ohlendorf’s cause that the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, is a Pirates fan. The former Iowa governor and presidential candidate is originally from Pittsburgh, and when he threw the ceremonial first pitch at PNC Park, it was Ohlendorf who caught for him. The two had a brief discussion where Ohlendorf expressed his interest in USDA’s work, a resume was sent, and the rest was history.
If Ohlendorf does spend time with Washington this season, he should fit right in with some of D.C.'s intellectual elite. Known for being one of baseball’s smartest players, Ohlendorf graduated from Princeton with a degree in operations research and financial engineering. While in college, he wrote his thesis on baseball’s amateur draft, analyzing the top 100 picks from the 1989-1993 drafts to determine each player’s value over a 12-year period.
The Nationals signed Ohlendorf mainly for organizational pitching depth. Last year Ohlendorf spent time with San Diego Padres, going 4-4 with a 7.77 ERA in 13 games. His best season was in 2009 with the Pirates, when he went 11-10 with a 3.92 ERA in 20 starts.
If he were able to make the team this season, Ohlendorf would be in the right place if he wants to continue his work in the agriculture field. According to Vilsack, Ohlendorf has a “standing offer” to return to the Agriculture Department.