When he’s not throwing his old-school windup or hurling a four-seam fastball from the mound, American professional pitcher Ross Ohlendorf is ranching.
“You can say it is in my blood. Our family has been farming and ranching in Texas since coming over from Germany in the 1830s,” Ohlendorf said. “I grew up in Austin, but visited my grandparents most weekends on the farm where my dad grew up. I also spent a lot of summer days out there.”
A Major League Baseball pitcher for the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres, Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers, and Cincinnati Reds from 2007 to 2016, Ohlendorf currently practices America’s favorite pastime in Japan as a pitcher for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, a Nippon Professional Baseball team.
But Ohlendorf is never far from his family ranch in Lockhart, Texas. When he’s not on the baseball field, he’s handling the online marketing for Rocking O Longhorns several times a week.
“We bought our first longhorns for Christmas in 1995. At the time, my brother and I were mostly interested in horses. Our dad’s dream though was to raise Texas Longhorns. He had felt that way since seeing a colorful newborn longhorn calf at one of our cousin’s ranches,” Ohlendorf said. “He provided the initial inspiration, but my brother and I soon got ‘hooked’ on the breed as well.”
Even after a lengthy successful career in professional baseball, a degree from Princeton University in operations research and financial engineering (the engineer was once voted the third-smartest professional athlete by Sporting News), and an off-season internship at the USDA working on the National Animal Identification System, Ohlendorf is still “hooked” on Longhorns.
In the offseason, he’s home helping his dad wean calves, fix and build fences, gather sold cattle, feed hay, vaccinate calves, and other similar chores. Ohlendorf is also the official photographer for Rocking O Longhorns, the home of “pretty and productive” cattle. While some market Texas Longhorn beef for its leanness and heart health, their ranch has focused its efforts on selling the registered cattle as pasture ornaments that are also good mothers and easy keepers.
The pitcher is also a passionate agvocate for raising the breed … giving interviews to the New York Times, Texas Monthly, and Sports Illustrated … to name a few. Even in Japan, Ohlendorf has been actively promoting Texas Longhorns. During his first day of spring training in Okinawa, he fielded questions from a group of Japanese reporters.
Even with all of these media opportunities, Ohlendorf still feels a picture is truly worth a thousand words when it comes to telling his ranch’s story.
“I feel the pictures in these articles have done more to promote the breed than anything I could say,” Ohlendorf said. “There is a lot to like about a flashy, speckled-up cow with a beautiful twisty horn set, which is why so many people have found enjoyment from owning Texas Longhorns.”
Traveling for baseball has given Ohlendorf the opportunity to see many of the top longhorn herds around the country and to meet many of the top longhorn breeders, which has led to important purchases and sales, but it’s also been very educational.
“Seeing other successful breeding programs and a variety of good longhorn genetics has helped us in making our decisions of which genetics to use in our own breeding program,” Ohlendorf said. “Two of our best herd sires, JR Laredo and Lots Of Flair, came from top herds in Colorado and Ohio respectively. My dad and I have visited the ranches where they were born on trips when he has come to see me play baseball close by.”
Ohlendorf said his baseball career has also been important in terms of marketing efforts. Rocking O Longhorns has many repeat customers, but many of their sales are to new breeders or established breeders who are coming to them for the first time.
“Not all of our customers know that I play baseball, but for those that do I think it provides them a level of comfort knowing that we are a reputable family who will care about our customers. I think this is particularly important when selling to people over the internet,” Ohlendorf said. “Most of our sales are within Texas, but we have sold our cattle to families in 13 other states, as well as Mexico. Rocking O Longhorns has grown into one of the premier herds in the country. I believe my baseball career has played a small role in that success.”
Both baseball and ranching have been physically demanding on Ohlendorf, but he feels the general strength he has gained from working on the ranch has been good for his health and performance as a baseball player. In addition to the physical benefits, ranching has taught him to focus on things he can control on the mound and to try his very best in every situation.
“There are many ups and downs in ranching, and they are often caused by things outside of our control such as the weather. Through my experiences raising longhorns, I have learned to embrace these ups and downs and to focus on the things I can control,” Ohlendorf said. “This mentality has helped prepare me for my baseball career. I can only control so much as a pitcher. There can be a lot of luck, both good and bad, involved in the outcome of any particular game. If I get distracted by things outside of my control, such as our defense or our offense’s ability to score runs, I will lose focus on my pitching.”
Ohlendorf said just like ranching, there can be a lot of ups and downs throughout a baseball season, however his second career in agriculture has taught him one thing for sure … resiliency.
“Farmers and ranchers need to be resilient to overcome droughts, bad choices, bad luck, or poor markets. I too have needed to be resilient to overcome bad games and bad seasons,” Ohlendorf said. “I feel my background in agriculture has helped give me the strength to be as resilient as I have been.”
Ohlendorf said overall the cattle operation has been a good decision for the family. The Longhorns have provided an enjoyable family experience that has developed into a family business as well.
It’s something Ohlendorf is proud to return to every year.
“I feel blessed to be able to play baseball professionally, but I feel equally as blessed to be able to raise Longhorns with my family and to share the gift of Longhorns with our customers,” Ohlendorf said.