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Pirates pitcher Ross Ohlendorf worked as intern for Department of Agriculture

"I was doing something useful with my time," says Ross Ohlendorf. (Jared Wickerham/getty Images)
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"That's not an easy thing for a non-lawyer to understand, much less somebody who throws a 90 mile per hour fastball for a living," Vilsack said of Ohlendorf, whose identity as a pro athlete eventually slipped out.

Spending most his time at work or at the gym, Ohlendorf arrived at the USDA each morning between 8 and 8:30. He lived in Southwest near L'Enfant Plaza, a 20-minute walk from his office. He usually took the Metro in the morning and walked home.

Between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., Ohlendorf retrieved his car and drove to a gym on River Road in Bethesda to train. Before he learned about Rock Creek Parkway, it would take 30 minutes to one hour to return from the gym.

His only extended time in Washington previously had been three-game series against the Nationals, so Ohlendorf immersed himself in the area when he had the chance. He visited the National Archives, the Air and Space Museum, the Library of Congress and took a tour of the West Wing. While the weather was still nice, Ohlendorf passed by softball games when jogging through the National Mall.

"I was impressed with the city in general," Ohlendorf said. "There were so many great buildings, a lot of stuff to do. And a lot of free things, too. A lot of money has really gone into the buildings. They're really pretty buildings."

The pitcher encountered fellow Princeton alums, including first lady Michelle Obama at Hollin Meadows Elementary, where Obama and Vilsack co-hosted an event to promote physical activity and nutrition. When Ohlendorf played basketball at the White House, participants wondered if the USDA had brought a ringer to the game, Vilsack joked,

Ohlendorf also met Sen. Robert P. Casey (D-Pa.) and Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), a Hall of Fame pitcher who once pitched for the Pirates. Vilsack believes Ohlendorf possesses the qualities to similarly transition from the pitcher's mound to politics.

He does not yet know if he'll return to Washington for a similar experience, but his mind continues to wander. Whatever he does, his teammates have not been surprised. And the USDA was happy to have him, with outsiders wondering who the intern was with the big league fastball.

"Folks in Washington might not always appreciate the breadth of what we do at USDA," Vilsack said, "and it was an opportunity for us to put the spotlight on USDA."


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