Ortmeier learning the ropes at first base
Son of two teachers, former outfielder getting infield education
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Giants first baseman Dan Ortmeier holds home run and RBI records at the University of Texas at Arlington. He's the highest Draft choice (third round in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft) in school history, and he knows how to study, earning the school's Male Scholar Athlete of the Year.Until last year around the All-Star break, he was also exclusively an outfielder. The sudden change to the infield means it was back to the books for the Chattanooga, Tenn., native and Texas resident. "It all happened so fast," Ortmeier said before the Giants' game with the Diamondbacks on Friday. "[Triple-A Fresno manager] Dan Rohn suggested that I start taking ground balls. I thought, 'This can't be for real.' But J.T. Snow showed up and I knew they were serious. A couple of days later I get called up and I'm playing first base in the Major Leagues." This spring, things are being thrown at Ortmeier at a slightly slower pace. Snow, who won six Gold Glove Awards at the position, shadowed Ortmeier through the early part of the spring. "It's been fun and it's been a challenge," Ortmeier said. "Getting a chance to work with J.T. was great. I picked his brain, talked and learned. He's been great." Snow returned to camp for the weekend for a refresher course. Not that the two were ever out of contact. Someone in the crowded outfield had to be converted, and the timing coincided with the acquisition of Rajai Davis from the Pittsburgh Pirates, a player who represented the future of the Giants outfield. "I want to be here, and I want to help this team," Ortmeier said. "The more positions you can play, the more versatile you are. It's a chance to stay in the big leagues, and that's where everyone wants to be." Ortmeier is also somewhat of an oddity. He was a left-handed fielder and a right-handed batter until Clay Gould at Texas-Arlington, and his summer coach, Steve Adair, got hold of him. "What an incredible man," Ortmeier said of Gould, who passed away at age 29 with colon cancer yet remains a role model to him. "It was Gould's idea and Adair approached me with the idea of switch-hitting. They made me do it, and I don't think I would be in this position now if I hadn't made the change."
The Chicago White Sox drafted him in the 27th round out of high school, though there wasn't a chance he would forego college."Both of my parents are teachers, and while it was a compliment to be drafted, it really wasn't an option," he said. "It was always education first, and sports were down the list." His parents were much happier with his selection as Texas-Arlington's top Male Scholar Athlete than they were of him being drafted by the Giants. His mother, Lois, even wrote something that expressed her joy and sense of accomplishment that was read on Draft day. "Before I signed my first professional contract, I signed a contract with my mother," said Ortmeier, who owned a 3.85 GPA in college. "I promised her I would go back and get my degree. It's something I'll definitely do. School never came easy for me. I had to work at it and study a lot. I think that transferred over to my ability to work hard as a baseball player. My brother ... school was easy for him." Chris Ortmeier, three years younger, pitched at Texas Tech and graduated last May with a bachelor of science in horticulture with a specialization in turfgrass management. He's currently an assistant superintendent at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth. Dan Ortmeier's education -- cramming with the help of one of the top defensive first basemen -- is currently taking place at a position 180 feet closer to home plate than his outfield spot. "There's so much going on when you're at first," he said. "There are bunts, cutoffs, relays. ... It helps me separate my at-bats from defense. In the outfield, I had a tendency to take my at-bats with me. It's a little slower out there. There's not time to think about my swing at first. You have to be able to move quickly." He's not much of a conversationalist either. A quick hello to the runner is about as in-depth as he likes to get. "I try to stay focused and stay in the moment," he said. "There's just so much going on." Ortmeier owns up to a .189 batting average this spring, but his swing remains a work in progress and he's usually a slow starter -- even without having to make a position change. After all, he hit .287 in 157 at-bats with the Giants last season, giving the club some indication that he can hit Major League pitching.
Rick Eymer is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.