While living in a hotel across the country from his California home and studying the Ravens playbook as an undrafted rookie vying for a spot on the opening-game roster, Ricky Ortiz hasn’t had much time to explore Baltimore.
Or the area’s guacamole.
It’s something the avocado-orchard-owning fullback plans to do. But Ortiz is too invested in preparing for reporting to training camp Wednesday in Owings Mills with the rest of the Ravens’ rookies and pushing to make the team as the only player listed at a position being phased out of NFL offenses.
So, Ortiz has turned his focus from the avocado business he’s developed since middle school to the grind of rookie life, building on the versatility and patience he developed amid myriad position switches and a near medical retirement at Oregon State.
“I forget sometimes that I’m a Raven,” Ortiz said. “I just put on a jersey and come out onto the gridiron and I play football. You forget how big of a stage you’re on.”
Ortiz’s football journey has long had an influence from the heart-healthy superfood that’s surged in popularity. According to a 2015 article by The Washington Post, nearly 1.9 billion pounds of Hass avocados were sold in the United States in 2014, more than double the amount in 2005 and nearly four times the total in 2000.
In seventh grade, Ortiz and his friend, Adrian Contreras, made a plan to one day open an avocado orchard. They continued to execute the details — using Contreras’ dual citizenship in Mexico and his dad’s sugarcane business acumen — as Ortiz emerged as a top linebacker at Mater Dei High in Southern California.
He deferred a full ride to Kansas State to walk on at Oregon State, later earning a scholarship, and pursue the university’s agricultural sciences program. He expected that would benefit him and Contreras as they developed what’s now their 150-acre orchard in Jalisco, Mexico, with about 200,000 trees that produce about 40 to 50 million avocados a year.
While Ortiz earned his degree, his efforts on the field weren’t as straightforward. He started at least one game at three positions.
Ortiz was a tight end on the Beavers’ scout team his first year. As a redshirt freshman and sophomore, he played fullback and special teams.
The arrival of coach Gary Andersen’s staff, which installed an offensive scheme without a fullback, before the 2015 season prompted Ortiz to work at tight end in the spring and move to linebacker in the fall. He returned to offense as a halfback in 2016.
“He never complained, never said anything like ‘This isn’t for me, and I’m getting screwed in the process,’ ” said Oregon State tight ends coach Dave Baldwin, who remembered how Ortiz’s study habits often helped mask coaches’ play-calling mistakes. “It was just, ‘How can I get on the field, and what can I do to help you guys?’ ”
Ortiz faced more obstacles than the uncertainty of his positions.
As a redshirt junior, Ortiz had trouble breathing and “foggy” vision that often left him lightheaded and dizzy. Doctors struggled to determine the problem. After a sinus surgery before the 2015 season, he had another surgery to remove a cyst.
The problems persisted, and Ortiz wasn’t sure he’d play his final year.
But as he returned to his weightlifting regimen during the 2016 spring workouts, he discovered the cause: The carpet in Ortiz’s apartment had mold.
“I was breathing that in every night,” Ortiz said. “So it was a big turning point in football for me. It helped me realize that it is just a game, but it helped me realize that I have so much going for me, so right then and there, I decided to put my head down and start working even harder.”
The Beavers gained a new perspective on Ortiz after a newspaper published a story about his agricultural ambitions.
Ortiz told Baldwin about his orchard, and the coach chided him for not delivering him avocados. Baldwin said teammates also teased Ortiz about being a farmer.
“But he’s a tough guy on the field, so they don’t kid him too much,” Baldwin said. “He’ll take care of business.”
He’s continued that balance of football with entrepreneurship since joining the Ravens in May, competing with running back Lorenzo Taliaferro to earn a spot as a run blocker in the backfield, a role NFL teams have strayed from using as offenses have focused more on passing.
Ortiz feels he’s improved on making reads and is working to develop a niche on the four special teams units, earning praise from coaches and an unprompted mention from coach John Harbaugh after an organized team activity in June.
“If we have that mentality of getting better every day, then good things tend to happen,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said during mandatory minicamp. “Those things are happening for him.”
Ortiz has left the farming to Contreras in Mexico, where they have a staff that ranges from 20 to 50 people who live on-site and care for the trees.
Throughout the process of harvesting the property, named “Imperio” (Spanish for “Empire”), Ortiz has learned that deformed avocados are unfit to sell. They can also get sunburned. About a month ago, the orchard lost a few trees in a fire when the heat became oppressive.
Ortiz takes the business’ lead in marketing and analyzing consumer habits, and predicts the next step is a foray into guacamole production.
He wants to create a twist — maybe adding some form of spice and habanero or turning avocados into a salsa — but for now, his priority is mastering the Ravens’ playbook and making a good preseason impression.
If that happens, Ortiz imagines a successful blend of his two passions.
“Think of an NFL stadium, the Super Bowl,” Ortiz said. “Think of it just filled to the top with guacamole.”