'Back on Track
Arizona Diamondback Russ Ortiz is looking for a fresh start in 2006
By Jill Ewert

Russ Ortiz pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

If God’s will is a highway, Russ Ortiz doesn’t want to spend anymore time on the side roads.

After tearing through his first seven seasons in the majors with outstanding numbers, Ortiz found himself in unfamiliar territory in 2005. Not only did he make his first trip to the disabled list with a stress fracture in his ribs, he also experienced his first losing season at the major-league level. As a result, Ortiz, who came to Christ at an FCA Huddle meeting at the University of Oklahoma, found himself struggling with new challenges and frustrations. And what he learned was that God’s way is always better than man’s way.

Before the start of the 2006 season, Ortiz talked with STV Editor Jill Ewert about the injury, the lessons and how he got ’Back on track.

STV: Let’s talk about last season and the injury. When you got hurt, did you question God at all?

RO: When I was first on the DL, I thought, “This stinks, but obviously God has a reason, so I’m okay with it.” I considered myself blessed that He had allowed me to be healthy for such a long time. At least it was a stress fracture, and not an injury to my arm. But then as time went on, that was when it got really hard. After a couple of weeks I started thinking, “This really stinks. I can’t help the team. I can’t go out there and compete, which is what I love to do.” The end couldn’t come fast enough to my time on the DL.

So, when I finally started pitching again, and things weren’t going so well, I didn’t have a great attitude, by any means. I wasn’t much of a teammate. I was very impatient, and I showed it. I wore everything on my sleeve. Normally I get a lot of comments about my not showing emotion, but it became so obvious that something was going on that people started making comments about my frustration. And that’s when I started to learn from everything.

Name: Russell Reid Ortiz
Born: 06/05/1974
Birthplace: Encino, Calif.
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 220 lbs.
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
College: University of Oklahoma
MLB Debut: 04/02/1998

STV: Talk to me specifically about what you learned and what you went through.

RO: Man, I learned a ton. And it’s weird because I’d never been injured. And the first time I got hurt, I learned more than I had in my entire life.

I went through a period of trying to do everything myself. I got pretty egotistical in the first couple of weeks thinking that I could deal with it on my own. But over time I realized that I was really going to have to rely on
God to get me through, because how I was going about it wasn’t working. It was making things at home tough, and I wasn’t being a very good teammate. Basically, there wasn’t a lot of good coming out of the way I was trying to do things.

Finally, toward the end of the season I realized that I had just needed to trust God the whole time. After that, when I would start to get frustrated, He would basically tell me, “I’ve always been here. You never used Me, but I never went away. And now that I have your attention, let’s do this together.”

It’s like the “Footprints” poem. I went through the whole thing and at the end there was only one set of footprints. When it got really hard and I finally stopped trying to do things on my own, that’s when He picked me up and carried me and said, “Let’s do this together.” And that’s when I really started to learn what God was telling me throughout the whole deal.

But it’s interesting when you’re going through it to see just how ugly and dirty you can be. Then when you come out of it, you see how God has cleaned you off and shined you up. But you had to go through all of the trials to look like that.

Dave Ortiz Trivia

Who would play him in the movie of his life? Andy Garcia or Ralph Macchio

Cats or dogs? Dogs

Favorite stadium outside of Arizona? San Francisco’s AT&T Park

Favorite pizza topping? Pepperoni

Favorite cartoon character? The Jetsons*

Super power of choice?

STV: What did God teach you through those trials?

RO: First, I really gained more respect for people who go through trials and are able to praise God and honestly feel joy through it. I don’t know many people who can do that—it’s so hard. But I have a huge respect for them because I realize now that all they’re doing is fully trusting God. I also realize now just how hard it is when you try to do things on your own without God. If you’re trying to do everything on your own, it’s not going to work out.

I look at it like this. Before the injury I was on a certain path. But once the injury hit, I got off God’s main road and started going down my own path. After I started down my own road, I made one turn going somewhere else. Then I kept making turns, but they were all taking me away from the main road. I was trying to find my way back to that road, but I was trying to do it myself without asking for directions. And I kept going farther away from that road, which was my walk with Christ. I was getting lost and confused and mad and impatient, but I didn’t care to ask God for directions. I didn’t care to ask anyone for directions. Finally, I just got to the point where I said, “Fine. My way isn’t working. This has been brutal. I have to ask for directions.” But I had to be humbled and broken to do that. And this situation did that to me. Once I finally asked for directions, I was able to get back to God’s main road.

Now I’m truly, truly glad that I went through it and that I did get hurt. I was able to see God work and also see how much better I’ve been since I’ve come out of that situation. I didn’t just go through it so I could get back to playing baseball. I came out of this trial so I could grow closer to God.

STV: You mentioned that you finally got to the point where you realized you had to stop and ask for directions. What helped you come to that decision?

RO: I started to ask for directions after my third rehab start. I wasn’t getting anybody out. It was almost like I didn’t know how to pitch. I went to A ball and just got lit up. I gave up something like six runs before I even got out of the first inning. After the game, I left the ballpark as soon as I could and called my wife on the way home. I don’t even remember what I said, but she knew just how bad it was. That’s when I started to ask for directions.

It was a slow process because there was still some part of me that was resisting the idea that it was the best thing to do. But I realized that if I wanted to get back to playing baseball I had to try something else.

STV: Now having been through that situation, how would you encourage another Christian who is going through the same thing?

RO: If I were around someone who was going through the same thing I did, I think the first thing I’d tell them is that no matter what happens, I’d always be available for them. Because I realized how important that was for me.

The Christian guys on the team had a good study group, and that really helped me. In that group was the first time I was able to really share that I was broken, and that I was humbled. Without those guys praying for me and having people to talk to, I don’t know what I would have done. I did have my wife, but I also needed my teammates.

STV: So you have a solid group of believers on the team?

RO: Yeah, last year we had a great group. This year, again, we should have a good group. Guys like Tony Clark, Andy Green, Damien Easley, Jason Grimsley, Jay Bell and a few others.

Last year we tried to pray together every day, every game. And on a 162-game schedule, that’s a lot of days. That’s a rare thing. Hopefully this year will be another one in which we say that we have something special spiritually in Arizona.

Photo courtsey of the Arizona Diamondbacks.