When Russ Ortiz retired from major league baseball in 2010, he decided to follow his two passions in life: Golf and helping others. And by starting a golf apparel company called 2nd Guy Golf/2nd Girl Golf, Ortiz has the opportunity to do both at once.
His "passion" -- a word he used several times in conversation Thursday at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando -- didn't come to the forefront until his career as a pitcher began to wane. But Ortiz said he always loved playing golf, right from the time he learned as a kid growing up in Van Nuys, Calif.
"It really wasn't until I was in the major leagues that I began to really get serious about golf," Ortiz said. "So after I retired, I tried to golf as much as I could. It really became a passion of mine."
"When I was with the Braves, John Smoltz took us to some unbelievable places," Ortiz said. "Pine Valley on multiple occasions and Aronimink, Butler National in Chicago, Whistling Straits, Galloway National in Atlantic City. In Houston, we played the Houstonian.
"It was incredible. I look at the top 100 courses in the country, and through the Braves and John Smoltz, I've hit at least 30 of those. It was definitely fun."
So why does Ortiz think so many baseball players -- particularly pitchers -- are so good at the game?
"As pitchers, we have more time to play golf because we're not playing baseball every single day," he said. "That's one of the things. But it is true there is a correlation between pitching mechanics and golf swing mechanics.
"If I was having trouble locating my pitches, I always reverted back to my pitching mechanics. And it really does help. It helps me understand the mechanics of the swing better -- not only the balance, but the turn, the torque and the fluidity. I can always relate to the pitching mechanics when I had issues on the mound."
Interestingly enough, Ortiz feels his short game is his strength, although he can also drive the ball well.
"Anywhere from 120 yards in, I've gotten good at that," Ortiz said. "I need to work on my putting -- I need more one-putts.
"I've always known how important your wedges are because they give you a chance at birdie. But you have to get off the tee first. Now that I'm a better golfer -- and a wiser one -- I realize I need to work on putting more. But my wedges are my go-to."
Eventually, Ortiz became a scratch golfer through his frequent playing at Alta Mesa in Mesa and Superstition Mountain in Gold Canyon. But he still felt like something was missing -- and that's why he formed his golf apparel company.
"When I retired and decided I wanted to get my hands dirty with something after a couple of years, I wanted to make sure I did something I was passionate about, something that I could enjoy," Ortiz said. "I didn't want to start from scratch in business and work my way up, so I had the financial ability to start my own business if I wanted to.
"The idea of this came up during my playing years. I researched a bit on how to pull it off, I felt like I could do this and be great -- and it all started with my passion for golf and wanting to help others."
There are dozens of golf apparel companies represented at this year's PGA Merchandise Show, but Ortiz's may be unique in that 100 percent of the net proceeds goes to charity. Proceeds from the sales of men's apparel goes to Feed My Starving Children, which packs 50 million meals a year for distribution world-wide. And women's apparel sales help Josie's Angels, a rescue home in the Phillipines that serves more than 100 girls living in an impoverished community.
"If we sell a shirt online, it allows us to feed a child for two months," Ortiz added.
Ortiz said the company's No. 1 goal is making great quality products.
"We're very serious about making the best product we can," he said. "And right behind that is the giving-back aspect. We do it through golf apparel.
"That's the cool thing for me. We're a very young company but we're working on making a difference, and hoping to look back and see how many people we've impacted with our products."