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Updated: 3/12/08
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Young Yankees Pitcher Has Love for Ranching
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Curtis Ohlendorf, the father of the Yankees rookie pitcher Ross Ohlendorf, on their ranch near Austin, Tex. The Ohlendorfs have about 250 longhorn cattle on a 2,000-acre property.


By TYLER KEPNER
Published: March 12, 2008
TAMPA, Fla. — There are 52 players in the Yankees’ camp, winnowed from 69 at the start of spring training. By the end of the month, more than half of those remaining will be farmed out to the minors. At any time, the team could bring in better players through a trade.

In baseball, it is called fielding the best team possible. In longhorn ranching, the equivalent is called improving the herd. In either domain, it is really one big cattle call. Ross Ohlendorf is involved with both.

Ohlendorf is a hard-throwing right-hander from Princeton University who hopes to stand out in the Yankees’ crowded pack of relievers.

He is also a rancher, raising some 250 longhorns with his father at the Rocking O Ranch near Austin, Tex.

When he cannot be in Austin, Ohlendorf runs the ranch’s Web site, posting photos and information about the herd. He gathers information about market prices and decides with his father which longhorns to breed or sell.

“He has a lot of natural cow sense,” Curtis Ohlendorf, Ross’s father and partner, said in a telephone interview. “He can read cattle really well, and he knows how to handle them.”

When Ohlendorf is home, his father said, he is ready by 7 a.m. to help manage the 2,000-acre property. The family owns 200 acres and leases the rest, and although the business does not make big profits, it has grown steadily for a dozen years.

It started with horses, Ohlendorf said, but his father soon turned to longhorns, perhaps a natural fit for a family with ties to the University of Texas. Ohlendorf’s mother, Patricia, is the vice president for legal affairs at the university, and Curtis is a retired information technology manager of the university’s libraries. The longhorn is the Texas mascot and a passion of the family.

“In the end, they’re going to be eaten,” Ross Ohlendorf conceded. “But I guess the hope is that people get enjoyment out of them. Most people find them more attractive than other breeds of cattle, because of the horns, and the color patterns are different. A lot of cow groups are solid color, all red or all black.”

It is not so with longhorns, as Ohlendorf displays on the home page of the Web site, where pictures of more than two dozen — Ginger, Lolly Pop, Edna and the rest — gaze out at the visitor. Many of the longhorns have been branded by Ohlendorf.

“Some of them don’t like it at all,” he said. “Well, I’m sure none of them like it. Some will jump up and down, others just stand there and moo. But we put them in a squeeze chute so they can’t move around. It only takes a couple of minutes.”

Ohlendorf, who also vaccinates the cattle, says he loves being outdoors and trying to make the herd better. He said he was also challenged intellectually by the business side of the job.

Despite the seeming appeal of enrolling at Texas — even his high school coach, the former major leaguer Keith Moreland, attended the university — Ohlendorf did not give it much thought. He had a better chance to play as a freshman at Princeton, and he wanted an Ivy League education.

“I don’t know if people around him quite realize just how intelligent he is,” said the former major league catcher Scott Bradley, the baseball coach at Princeton. “This young man was one of the top students here.”

Ohlendorf would often talk with Bradley about the herd back in Austin, the pricing methods and the new calves coming in. Bradley, who still keeps in close touch with Ohlendorf, could tell quickly that his star pitcher did not like idle time.

“When you put him in front of a computer and he’s able to do research, that’s what makes him go,” Bradley said. “He doesn’t want to just sleep or walk around the mall.”

Ohlendorf graduated with a 3.75 grade-point average and a degree in operations research and financial engineering. His curiosity extends widely. Someday, Ohlendorf said, he may want to try investment banking or entrepreneurship. He has also thought about pursuing a front-office job in baseball.

“He seems to have a real interest in people from all walks of life,” Curtis Ohlendorf said. “He’s always been pretty active. He needs to be involved in something.”

For his senior thesis, Ohlendorf studied the value of draft picks for major league teams. His conclusion — which the Yankees now embrace — was that teams generally double their investment in the draft based on the production of players in their first few major league seasons.

Ohlendorf, 25, was drafted in the fourth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004. He came to the Yankees in the Randy Johnson trade, and last September he became only the third major leaguer from Princeton in the last 45 years, with Chris Young of the San Diego Padres and Bob Tufts, a reliever for two teams in the 1980s

The Yankees considered Ohlendorf a starter, but after the trade, Bradley told General Manager Brian Cashman that he might be best suited for relief. Bradley compared Ohlendorf to the veteran reliever Mike Timlin, who is also 6 feet 4 inches and has late life on his pitches.

Ohlendorf struggled as a starter early last season, when he missed time with a lower back strain. Later in the summer, the Yankees converted him to the bullpen and his power sinker jumped to 97 miles an hour. He appeared in six games in September, with a 2.84 earned-run average, and made the postseason roster.

Ohlendorf tried to learn a splitter from Roger Clemens and Shelley Duncan, who threw it in college, and he worked on it extensively in the Arizona Fall League. A reliable splitter, slider or changeup will refine Ohlendorf’s repertory, and Bradley says his mental makeup is strong for a reliever.

“He loves to talk about what hitters are thinking, what the pitching coach is thinking,” Bradley said. “We thought he sometimes overanalyzed, because he’s so smart.

“As a relief pitcher, he doesn’t analyze as much. He just attacks with his best two pitches and gets guys out.”

Ohlendorf has pitched three times this spring, allowing a run in two and two-thirds innings, too small a sample size to determine where he stands. The Yankees like his ability to induce ground balls, and they are hopeful his splitter will continue to improve.

Whether they will brand him with an NY and ship him to the Bronx at the end of camp is not yet known. The cattle call continues for 18 more days.






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