Jeff Pearlman

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Russ Ortiz

#4
The longtime San Francisco Giants right-hander explains what it's like to team with Barry Bonds, what it feels like to play in a World Series and how he hung up his mitt. POSTED April 14, 2011

 

Quite often, we sports writers are an odd lot. We watch games, we take notes on games, we report games–then we enter clubhouses afterward and, inevitably, speak to the same three or four people.

Take the San Francisco Giants of the early 2000s, for example. Back then, the buzz surrounded two players—the ornery Barry Bonds and the ornery Jeff Kent. Hence, we in the media did what we in the media do. We sought them out. Hunted them down. Surrounded their lockers, hoping either man would deem us worthy of five minutes of precious time. Believe me, I’m not pointing fingers here. Like most of my peers, I did the ol’ Pac Bell Clubhouse Two-Step—hovering, angling, pacing, waiting … waiting … waiting. Barry, do you have a minute? … Jeff, how about a few seconds for Sports Illustrated? Did I enjoy this stuff? Hell to the no. But I did it. Sorta had to.

The thing is, while waiting around for Grump and Grumpier, we often missed out on the genuine goods. I mean, we couldn’t totally help it—if an editor wanted Bonds, we had to give him Bonds. But I look back and wish I devoted more notebook space to the Pips … to David Bell and Ellis Burks and Shawon Dunston and J.T. Snow and, mostly, Russ Ortiz.

In case you’ve forgotten, Russ Ortiz was an absolutely terrific right-handed pitcher. From 1999-2004 he never won less than 14 games in a single season. Ortiz led the National League with 23 victories for Atlanta in 2003, and in 2002 his 14 triumphs helped carry the Giants to the World Series. In short, the man could pitch.

More important, he’s a genuinely decent fellow. Because Ortiz always struck me as quiet and reserved, I don’t recall actually approaching his locker for a few moments of jabber. Well, in hindsight I sure wish I had. Russ retired from baseball last season, and he opens up here on all things Barry Bonds, PED, College World Series, Norman, Oklahoma, Mr. T, Emmanuel Lewis, Hall v. Oates and the adjustment an athlete faces upon hanging up his glove.

It’s an honor for me to welcome Russ Ortiz to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Russ, this is going to sound strange, but I’m the sportswriter who hopes his kids never become professional athletes. And I’ll tell you why—the aftermath. When an athlete’s career ends, it seems eight out of 10 times there’s a very, very rough fall—one that’s often never fully recovered from. One year all your needs are met, you’re being cheered by thousands of fans, you get free meals, trips booked, first-class everything. Then, bam, you’re just another schlub. It strikes me as a very, very difficult thing to go through.

Now, you’re going through it. What’s the adjustment like? Is it harder or easier than you expected? And, even for a known level-headed sort like yourself, is it hard to leave fame?

RUSS ORTIZ: If I can say something on your comment first before I answer the question, I’d like to. I think the aftermath partly happens because we, as families, have lost the sense of responsibility of parenting. And then, the overflow from that, the legacy that’s left is adults who have no idea how to parent because they weren’t parented. The young athlete is sometimes the thing that keeps the family going. And so all the attention is poured on them, they feel like they are the center of universe, and now feel entitled about everything. Everything is about their schedule. Then you put some money in their pocket, some fame, if you will, and it gets magnified. So now, they get married and, again, the world revolves around them. Then the cheering stops, or their spouse actually sees them as a regular person—not as the athlete. The athlete misses all the attention and he/she wonders where it went. He/she now has to be a responsible adult, spouse and parent, but has no idea how. And then the cycle starts all over again. It’s sad.

The point is—it is a huge adjustment. You go from making big checks every two weeks to making no checks. Or, if you have to get a job, getting checks that don’t compare. To put it in perspective, at one point I was making more than $400,000 every two weeks. It’s for six months, but still, c’mon. It’s ridiculous. We’ve been fortunate to have saved wisely, so I don’t have to work. But the adjustment, at least for me, well, I believe for all retired athletes, is the responsibility. You are now in the real world. I have a theory that I can share another time about athletes, but it involves us going from a fantasy world to real world. You’ve been around long enough that you probably know athletes are a part of a fantasy world.

For me, when I had elbow surgery and missed all of 2008 I got a taste of retired life. It was great. But it was hard. I had learned the year before that I wasn’t focused on what really matters. For me it is my relationship with Christ, my wife, my kids, and everyone else—in that order. I was too focused on myself and getting back to where I used to be … with pitching, with notoriety. I had hurt my rib somehow after I signed a big deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, I got released by them the next year, had to prove myself again, hurt my elbow, had to prove myself again, got released during the year, had to prove myself again, and got released. Every time I went to camp as an invite I made the team, so I was proud of that. But the first time I got injured and barely pitched. The second time, I got tossed around the pitching staff and got released. The third time I sucked in the beginning and got released. So, I knew I could pitch, but it never worked out the way I had hoped. Up until my surgery on my elbow I put a lot of energy in the hopes that it would work out because I wanted to feel like I always had. I was chasing a fantasy that I got to live out.

So, me getting hurt helped me to focus on what really matters in life. And I realized that those relationships are genuine and real. What I chased after wasn’t going to be around for the long haul. I had to grow up and I did. I had to learn to be responsible in my walk with Jesus, in me loving, protecting, and caring for my wife, for loving and parenting my kids, and to be a genuine son, brother and friend.

I honestly gave it 100 percent every day of my career, which sounds great. But when it’s all said and done, that can be detrimental to a marriage and parenting. It’s about knowing how to balance all that. How do you do that? With help from the people you are involved with. It depends on where their hearts are. I am aware of where you are, belief-wise, but I have to tell you that without trusting in Christ for strength, guidance, patience, how to love, etc., I wouldn’t be able to write this to you. One of my favorite Bible verses, which I had stitched on my glove is Second Timothy Chapter 1 Verse 7—”God did not give us a Spirit of timidity, but a Spirit of power, love, and sound mind.” I don’t think I would have turned into a husband who can truly love his wife, a father who truly is responsible for raising his kids, and a friend who truly would love to help and encourage people. I did things on my own strength, wisdom, etc., and it didn’t work. Looking at my career, for the most part, I believe people would say that it worked out pretty well. But that’s the surface stuff, not the real deep stuff. Money can’t buy you love (Patrick Dempsey movie, remember?). Notoriety can’t make you responsible. Love is an action, that takes time to learn and grow. But we have to work at it. Being responsible takes action, too.

Our natural desire is the complete opposite. What is more popular is taking care of No. 1? Well, No. 1 makes a lot of bad choices and those choices have consequences. The consequences aren’t something you think about at the time. So when you ignore your child too many times, or don’t find out what makes them tick, that’s a decision No. 1 has made and the consequence could be that you lose your kid, from an emotional standpoint. Your kid shuts down, confides in others, keeps all kinds of secrets. If you have a daughter—and this is my worst fear—she looks to a boy to show her love at too early of an age and then has to deal with the consequences that can come from that.

This is all heavy stuff. But it’s real. What I find is that all too often we don’t want to deal with it. I never really did. But, from that injury in 2007, I had to deal with real stuff. And it forced me to grow up. I got a taste of retired life and it was great. Now that I’m actually retired from baseball, it’s still great. Is it hard, yes, but it’s worth it.

J.P.: I think fans—especially baseball fans—have this belief that being a major leaguer is the ultimate dream; that it can’t be beat; that it’s an amazing world where unicorns prance through fields and everything tastes like ice cream. I covered the game for SI for many years, and often thought the lifestyle seemed, potentially, boring and repetitive. What’s your take?

R.O.: Ha-ha. See, you understand the lifestyle better than your average fan. It does get repetitive—but never boring. For me at least. The road trips are hard. I would hear some teammates say they couldn’t wait to go on the road because they could sleep or they needed a break. Are you kidding me? Having to be away from my wife and family that much sucked. I learned to deal with it, but it sucked from the first day. That thought never entered my mind.

But boring? No way. I’ve dreamed of playing in the Bigs since I was 5. How many people can say that they had a dream of doing something at 5 and actually got to do it? And for a long time? I don’t mean this in the wrong way, but I highly doubt you dreamed of writing at age 5. Baseball was it for me. It was, is , and will be my only real skill. I honestly believe that. Is that sad? Ah, I don’t care really. It was a blast. I loved every bit of it. Even the hard times on the field. I’ve completely closed the book on my career and my stats. Now I get to be a true fan of the game.

I will say, every team I was on did actually have a pet unicorn in the back room. It was great. It served us our favorite ice cream too. Mine’s mint chocolate chip.

J.P.: I have to ask you about Barry Bonds–A. Because I wrote a book about the man; B. Because you were his teammate for five years. OK, so we’re now both removed from that world, and I really want to know: Were you guys genuinely OK with him having the four lockers? The reclining chair? The entourage? Because, while I understand the “It doesn’t bother us” quotes at the time (y’all needed to survive, and he was the star), I don’t see how it didn’t irk you guys. I mean, baseball is a team game, no? And, along those lines, how did you guys—and you, specifically—tolerate the attitude. I’m being serious Russ, because I’m fascinated. I know Barry had random OK moments, but he was a very selfish, very dismissive man—to writers, to teammates, to everyone.

R.O.: How did I know this was coming? Ha-ha. OK, the locker/chair/TV/recliner deal—I could care less how many lockers he had. I think it was two, though. He bought his chair and TV, so good for him. It was out of the way and fit perfectly in his spot. Naturally he is going get treated differently … that’s kind of understood. If a rookie, or someone who is not the player Barry was expected to get the same treatment, they were just stupid. That said, the entourage bugged me a bit because I felt it was an entitlement thing. Meaning, we’re with Barry, we have the right to whatever. That I didn’t like at all. The locker room, dugout, our workspace, is ours—the players, coaches, etc. Not friends of the players. I felt sometimes there was some entitlement issues. I did wonder, however, what it would be like to have an entourage. It would be a helluva lot of work. Not for me.

I never had a problem with Barry. We actually had some real talks. Especially when I went back in 2007. He’s smart. He was somewhat moody. You knew when he walked in if he was in a good mood or bad mood. No so different than rest of us. He had a microscope on him. I liked being known, but I would never have wanted to be at that level. I think there were some writers that exaggerated a bit, but all I’ll say is that most weren’t too far off. I never really considered him a big part of the team chemistry. Almost like it was 24 guys and Barry. Let him do his thing on the field, we take care of our thing, and there was a good chance we’ll win. He treated me fine, though.

 

J.P.: Did you, Russ, ever use any sort of PED? Did you ever consider using any sort of PED? And, in the name of honesty, how aware were you of the usage in baseball during your career? And, one more part: Why weren’t active ballplayers who were clean more angry about what was going on? Seriously, Russ. If I know someone is plagiarizing to make more money than I do, I’m enraged. Yet ballplayers seemed to have a “ho-hum” dogma.

R.O.: I tried something from GNC a couple times, from the shelf. I can’t remember name. It had Ephedra, but I didn’t know what that was. I just heard it helped you lock in, to concentrate better. Sometimes in mid-season, especially when it’s hot and a different time zone, it can get hard to concentrate. Ephedra wasn’t a substance I heard about. I never heard about it in talks about what’s illegal to take. I was a player rep for Players Association at the time. I took a pill for a bullpen in Houston and I was locked in. So I tried it for the next game. I felt locked in. Then tried it for the next game. During that game my heart was beating super fast, too fast. So I said, “No more.” It wasn’t a fun feeling. That’s when I discovered Red Bull, I think. That’s my PED experience. I was fueled by Morton’s Cajun Rib Eye and Godiva Chocolate Cake mostly. I always ate that on the road the night before I pitched, if I could.

I never considered taking anything else. And later in my career, that was never an option. I wasn’t buying into the, “I have to keep up with everyone” or “So many are doing it, I have to in order to compete.” That’s where hard work and effort come in. I prided myself on working as hard or harder than the next guy. With training, game knowledge, all that. You know my pre-game meal, so looking in shape wasn’t high on my list either. But I was strong and in shape every year.

I would say I knew that PED was going on, but I never knew who. I would have never guessed at the level everyone said, though. Naive I guess. You had your guesses of guys, but no evidence. I had no evidence. I never saw anything. That’s a world I knew nothing about, nor did I want to. Like anything in the Bigs, if you go looking for it, you’ll find it.

I was pissed, because it waters down baseball. It made it look like we needed to take something in order to be that good. Of course you’re not going to get a 100 percent clean sport. No sport is like that. I would dare to say, no profession is like that. But you have to expect that a little bit of it would be tainted. That is a so-what, no-biggie, something-you-can’t-be-surprised-by thing. But when it came out how many guys were supposedly—or unquestionably—taking PEDs, it made baseball a joke. I think respect took a huge hit. From the time I was a little kid, up until the whole scandal came up, I think baseball players had a lot of respect for what is done on the field. That diminished greatly after that.

I will say, if I can toot my own horn (and the horn of others), those of us who had our best years during that time should feel pretty good. If all those guys were taking PEDs, and you pitched well all those years, that should mean a lot more.

J.P.: In 1994 you were a part of the Oklahoma Sooners team that won the College World Series. In 2002 you were a part of the San Francisco Giants team that made the World Series. Which part of your career evoked greater joy? And what was a kid from Van Nuys, California doing in Oklahoma?

R.O.: Up until 1994, the back-to-back titles in high school [Editor's note: Russ attended Montclair Prep] was the highlight. Then in 1994, being on the team that won the College World Series easily trumped that. That was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me in baseball. We helped break attendance records that year. We crushed Georgia Tech to win it all. Me and two other guys even made the College World Series blooper reel when we got knocked down as we rushed field, and tumbled and got trampled right outside the dugout. It was hilarious. There’s no playing that off.

I ended up at Oklahoma because of my high school pitching coach, Tim Montez. I wanted to go to Pepperdine, but they didn’t offer enough scholarship money for my mom to afford the rest. He knew some people at Oklahoma and they took me on his recommendation. I don’t believe they ever saw me pitch. They were supposed to come watch me throw and it rained that day. But they took me anyway and gave me, basically, a full ride. Three years later, and dating my future wife, I got drafted in the fourth round. Crazy.

Then the 2002 World Series came and every bit of that was—and still is—the highlight of my career. I was never a personal stat guy. I was a team stat guy and that’s the closest you can get to the ultimate. To be on one of the only two baseball teams still playing games—it’s is a cool feeling. I remember thinking that exact thought during the first game. The end was horrible, but everything about the experience was awesome.

Winning the National Championship, my first pro game, my first day in Bigs (Opening Day 1997), the 2002 World Series, playing in 2003 All-Star Game, and winning my 20th game in 2003—those are my favorite baseball highlights, post high school.

J.P.: Speaking of the 2002 World Series …  You started Game 6 against the Angels, and went 6 1/3 masterful innings, allowing only two hits. When Dusty Baker, your manager, came out to remove you, the Giants were leading 5-0 and he handed you the baseball as you walked off the mound. It was thought by some to be presumptive and, in a way, offensive to the Angels—especially when you guys wound up losing the game and the World Series. What do you recall from that moment, and did Dusty deserve the heat he received?

R.O.: OK, here is my take on the whole thing. That was one of the few games in my career that I didn’t notice anything going on around me or hear anything. It was probably the most focused I’d ever been. When there was one out and runners on first and second, I was looking forward to facing Scott Spezio because I thought what I brought to the table was perfect to get him out—specifically, to get a ground ball. So when Dusty came out of the dugout, I saw his arm go up and the next thing I know guys are telling me “Good job.” I was still in the moment when Dusty said the same and put his hand out. I just gave him the ball and started to walk. It was robot-like. He sticks out his hand, I hand over ball, and walk. Then I feel him grab me and he said, “Here, this is for you. I want you to keep this.” Or something like that. I said “OK” and left. No big deal.

Well, later I heard that it fired up the Angels. I later asked Tim Salmon and Darin Erstad and Bengie Molina and they said they had no idea that it even happened. So that was a myth that grew big. If we win, Dusty gets praise for his decision. We didn’t so he gets slammed. Not right. He called on the three best relievers in the National League, if not all of baseball. Spezio’s at-bat went, like, 12 pitches. It wasn’t one or two pitches, then—BOOM!—three-run homer.

Dusty said he took me out because he thought I was tired. I wasn’t at all. He and I talked about the whole deal later. He wanted me to have the ball I pitched with in a World Series. Who can say that they have the actual ball they pitched with in a World Series? He wanted me to remember the moment. I think we all thought we were going to win. So that would have been cooler. It still is a reminder of that great moment though. Now it’s become a big ice-breaker.

I still have the ball. Where I am typing, if I look to my left I will be staring at it. It’s hanging on my bonus-room wall. I had it in a random box until last year … just never unpacked it

J.P.: What’s it like to dominate a baseball game? Specifically—you’re on the mound, everything is working, you’re cruising along, just owning the other team. Can you describe the feeling as it’s taking place. And did you ever have one insanely great moment as such?

R.O.: What’s it like to dominate a game? Hmm. Well, let me see if I can describe it. First, you don’t hear the crowd. You feel like you’re on autopilot. You know, like when you drive home from somewhere. You take off, and you know you’re driving a car, but you seem to make all the turns without thinking, or noticing what’s going on around you. Like you’re feeling your way around in the dark. Then—BAM!—you’re home and you think, ‘How did I do that?’ That’s what it felt like for me. I know I stretched and warmed up. I know I pitched. Then—BAM!—I’m being interviewed after the game with ice on my arm thinking, “How did I do that?”

I wish I could have been in that mindset more often. You know what you’re made of when you’re not in that mindset and can still dominate a game or do real well. When you dominate, you feel like you know exactly what the hitter is thinking, looking for. And it’s set up perfect for your game-plan. You don’t worry about execution, you just do it. It’s an amazing feeling. That’s why, especially pitching, is so mental. There are a lot of great arms, but if the mental part’s not able to deal with it all, you won’t last.

The three moments I remember most are Game  of the 2002 World Series— only when I walked off the mound in the seventh did I really hear the crowd. I was so locked in that game it was ridiculous. I was probably more focused than I had ever been. The second memory is the first time I threw a complete-game shutout and drove in the only run of the game. Won 1-0. The third is the second time I did that, but it was for my 20th win.

J.P.: In 2003, you were traded to Atlanta for Damian Moss and Merkin Valdez. I’ve never been traded. My wife has never been traded. My kids have never been traded. I’m fascinated—how does it feel, at that very moment, to learn your team no longer wants you? Obviously, another team does want you—which is good. But the franchise you’ve known for years is saying, “Nah.” Does it hurt? Sting? Can you not take it personally?

R.O.: When I got the call that I was traded I was floored. I was devastated. I thought, “Why, what did I do?” I was naive and thought that, as long as I pitched well, I would stay with the Giants forever. I thought I was doing well. When I found out the team I was traded to, I was like, “Oh, wow, ok, this is turning out just fine.” To be a Brave, with the history the franchise had, especially for pitchers … I was super excited. Moving to Florida Spring Training and Atlanta for the season was a bit overwhelming, but I got in that baseball mode of, “I’ve got to do my job and deal with it.” But I did think that the Giants didn’t want me rather than thinking that the Braves wanted me. My agents made me realize the positives.

I took the trade personally for a tad. Then I had to realize it was business. I always hoped it wasn’t personal.

J.P.: You’re known as a devout Christian. I’ve seen m-a-n-y people pray for the outcomes of sporting events to go their way. On the one hand, some religious people do feel God has his hand in everything. On the other hand, could God allow, say, the Kennedy assassination and World War II and also care whether the Padres beat the Brewers?

 

R.O.: I do believe God either makes things happen or allows them to happen. I believe He created all and is in all, except for sin. God wants no part of sin. You’ve heard “God does things for a reason,” or more popular, “Things happen for a reason?” Well, I firmly believe that, but maybe not in the way you would think. In scripture, it says, “God works out things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” A lot of times you will hear only part of it. Many times the, “… of those who love Him … purpose,” doesn’t make it in there. The reason I bring that up is, God called me to Himself to be in relationship with Him. By His prompting of my heart, I accepted Him as my Lord and Savior in 1993. Before that I was dead spiritually, spiritually bankrupt—Biblically speaking. I was an enemy of God because of sin. God has no part in sin. Therefore, I could have no part in Him.

Because of sin, bad things happen. God does allow it, but we have to remember, God causes things not to happen. If someone were to ask why doesn’t God just stop bad things from happening, I would say then, that we wouldn’t feel that there is any need for a Savior. Even though God would stop a Tsunami, which I’m sure He has, or stop a murder, which I’m sure He has, there would still be sin in the world. And we would still be enemies of God. So there would be no hope for heaven or eternity with the Creator. If God allowed no sin, we would all be robots. And I don’t think there is anyone in their right mind that would want to be a robot.

So, yes, God could allow the Kennedy assassination and WWII to happen. But I seriously doubt He cares about one baseball game. When people pray for wins, you have to look at the heart of it all. Is it for them, or for God’s glory? I think that is where you will find maturity of faith. When you praise God for the good and do nothing for the bad or hard, I think that lacks maturity. When you water down the gospel of Christ and make concessions in your belief, that is a lack of maturity. I would say that I am a more mature Christian than years past. I don’t like devout. To me that has a legalistic connotation to it. I mess up. My faith has never been shaken, but I mess up daily. The thing of it is, I never prayed for wins, or for me to get praise, or anything like that. I prayed for focus, for God to get the glory, and for my effort to be strong. I had scripture on my hats or glove as reminders that it’s not about me. But my identity wasn’t fully in Christ. A lot of my identity was being a ballplayer. I know my identity now. It’s a follower of Christ, even though I mess up.

J.P.: Now that you’re done, I would love to know how you and other ballplayers truly feel about the press—and specifically the baseball media. I’ve wasted soooo many hours of my life standing around a clubhouse, waiting … waiting … waiting for a ballplayer to put down his Maxim and give me five minutes. Do you guys hate us? Loathe us? Find us annoying? Did you regularly hide in the clubhouse kitchen to steer clear? And it’s always seemed to me most ballplayers would rather talk to the TV boob asking three inane questions than the print journalist seeking out depth and insight. True?

R.O.: How do I feel about the press? Ha-ha, that’s an interesting one. I liked most everyone. I’d like to say that I respected what you all do, and that I showed you respect. I don’t think I ever ditched an interview because it’s all part of the game. I learned that my first year. The only time I had an issue with anyone is when a reporter didn’t know when to come over, the timing of it all. Or when I said I had to go to field or whatever, and I would get grief about it rather than understanding for that particular time. Or when a reporter would try and create controversy. One instance I can remember was one time a rookie reporter came in and was very low key and respectful. He explained he’s new at this and to cut him some slack if he does something wrong. Cool stuff. Then the next year, all of a sudden he knows everything and is talking crap about my teammates. That in one year’s time he learned everything I guess and was now making all these assumptions and printing them, for what, to sell papers? I got real peeved at the fact that what people wanted was gossip or assumptions, or controversy in order to sell newspapers. It never bothered me until I was one of the older guys on the team.

J.P.: You went 0-1 with a 10.29 ERA in six appearances for the Dodgers last year before being designated for assignment. And that was that. I’m wondering, was there an absolute moment when you thought, “I’m done. I can’t compete at the highest level anymore?” And how did it feel, finally accepting the end of something you’ve done for so long?

R.O.: Here’s my “I’m done” story. This is absolute truth: My wife I and specifically prayed to go to spring training with a team that was close to home here in Arizona. That was our desire, but left it up to the Lord. Well, the Dodgers called, the only team that called, and invited me to camp with a great opportunity. I had always said that I would love to play for Los Angeles because I grew up there. My family and friends there would love it, too. Most of them are Dodger fans. We had made a ‘Most Desired’ list and Los Angeles was No. 1. When they called it was a no-brainer. I believed in my abilities and they gave me a great opportunity. I made the team, as you know. You pointed out the stats, so it clearly didn’t go well. I didn’t pitch horribly—I gave up 10 hits, and nine were singles. But I walked give. No bueno in relief. They gave me plenty of opportunities, but I didn’t do my job. It wasn’t stuff, it was execution. So on a Saturday during BP the pitching coach grabbed me and said, “Joe [Torre] wants to see you”. Well, I knew immediately what was going to happen. What went through my mind was, “Is this it? Am I done?” I stopped thinking so much and just went to Joe Torre’s office. When I saw the general manager and assistant general manager there, too, I definitely knew. They thanked me for the hard work I put in and I thanked them for the opportunity. They asked if I would consider Triple A. I said I wasn’t sure right now. When I walked out of the office, I immediately prayed—”O.K. Lord, if you are leading me out of the game, than I am O.K. with that. But if you aren’t, show me.” I packed up, called my wife, and drove to my mom’s house. I stayed the night and drove home the next day. We hadn’t signed a lease for a rental place, so that was a good thing. I prayed a lot for God to show me if I was done or not. I got released on a Saturday, I was to clear waivers on Wednesday at noon eastern time. I spent those days praying, talking with my wife and trusted friends about what I was thinking, what they were hearing. I asked God to keep that desire in my heart to play, like I always had, and I would know then that He wants me in the game somewhere. Even if it was in Triple A. I was fully ready to accept that. Well, at about 2 o’clock on Wednesday morning I woke up. So I figured I would pray again. I went to sleep and woke up at 6 am. I had made a tee time with my best friends so I could be busy until noon eastern time. I woke up at 6 to get ready and I asked myself a question—“Do I have the desire to be away from my family whether it’s in the Bigs or Triple A?” The answer was, “Not fully.” I had always told myself that if I couldn’t give this game 100 percent—especially on the days I don’t pitch—then I need to be done. Well, I knew I couldn’t do that. I had no desire to do that. So right then and there I knew I was done. When my wife woke up, almost tearfully, I told her, “If I clear waivers today I’m done.” I was absolutely sure. The tricky part was that I had to wait and see if I got picked up for some reason. So I couldn’t shut it down quite yet. That wasn’t too hard, though. If I got picked up I knew it was from the Lord. And that was exciting. If I didn’t then I was done. And that was exciting.

When my agents called and said I cleared waivers, I immediately told them I was done. I’ve only been absolutely sure about a few things. This was one of them. As soon as I made it final, it was such a good feeling. I felt blessed beyond imagination to have done what I got to do for so long. And to realize the really important stuff is what I get to focus on more—that was really cool. I truly feel that God took that desire away because it was time to be at home.

I’m not positive, I’d have to check on this, but I think I shot 1 under that day, too.

 

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH RUSS ORTIZ:

• Celine Dion or a flat tire: Celine Dion. She can sing. And sadly, I’ve only changed one tire—ever. And I forgot to put on the emergency brake. Almost a disaster.

• Most talented ballplayer nobody really thinks about all that much: Wow, that’s hard. Ellis Burks. Amazing athlete. Awesome ballplayer. Don’t hear his name all that often.

• Favorite American Idol contestant: Tie between Carrie Underwood and David Cook.

• Hall or Oates?: Hall. He’s the one with the stach right? [*Writer's note: Russ Ortiz has entered the dog house.]

• A weird talent you have: I can bite my fingernails further down without bleeding than anyone I know.

• Could an openly gay MLBer survive in 2011?: Sure. There seems to be plenty of acceptance. If he was good, he’d be a media icon.

• Better vacation spot: Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or Norman, Oklahoma?: I love Norman. Only saw the field and mall in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and the mall was bootleg. So I go with Norman. Especially during football season.

• Best concert you’ve ever attended: Janet Jackson in San Francisco. Dusty Baker invited me and my wife. Great concert.

• How’d you meet your wife: I met Stacy at Oklahoma in 1994, my sophmore year. Her senior year. Yes, I said her senior year. She was cradle robbing. We had a sociology of the family class together. She played volleyball at OU. Athletes knew each other. Sociology was my major, she was taking a low-level elective she had to take and she picked that.

• Did you attend the Montclair senior prom? If yes, what do you remember?: I did attend the Montclair Prep Senior Prom. I remember we could barely afford to rent a tux and get a limo. We had it at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills I think. First time in a fancy hotel.

• You can have lunch with either Mr. T or Emmanuel Lewis. Who do you pick?: Mr. T. I loved the A-Team. I watched Webster, but not as much as the A-Team.

  • Arnold

    Good interview. Russ always seemed to be one of the Giants underrated stars because of the outsized star egos on those teams. I like Dusty Baker, but have always thought he made the wrong move removing Russ from Game 6 of the 2002 Series.

  • farfel

    this is awesome

  • http://www.hagenhoopla.blogspot.com Wendy Hagen

    Once again Jeff, great interview. Great, varied questions. Russ had thoughtful, thorough answers. I really appreciated his last story about getting out of the game. I didn’t know the details of that one.

  • chris

    praise to Ortiz and you for finding him, Jeff.

    VERY interesting.
    best thing I’ve read here, or anywhere, in a while.

  • Ryan

    Jeff, I do want to thank you for your choices so far with this new feature. I understand your feelings about Christianity, but to allow people of faith to share fully on this site does mean a lot.

  • http://oriolesupdate.blogspot.com BrianS

    I see Russ scrupulously avoided any mention of his time with the Orioles. Why does everyone do that?

    Fascinating read. Thanks for the great answers and best of luck in the next phase of your life, Russ.

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  • Casey

    I’ll echo Ryan’s thoughts. Jeff, I’m glad you’re getting a chance to speak with Christians who really show we’re not all Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson/Glen Beck crazies.

  • jmw

    Good read

  • Ted

    Excellent. A thoughtful, intelligent athlete. Now an ex-athlete, and one who is not broke. An anomaly.

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  • blmeanie

    Jeff- first off, great stuff, thanks.

    Secondly – your next book project- compilation of interviews with athletes on the post career changes like you asked Mr. Ortiz. A full book of it would be great and see different perspectives and outcomes for different athletes.

  • Rod Gajewski

    Russ Ortiz is a quality individual who succeeded in the professional sports world. His life should be an example to all athletes and people. He has class.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life