TA Grad Now Has Second Outdoor Career

By David Driver
Daily News Record

Turner Ashby graduate Ian Ostlund collected 26 saves during a pro baseball career that left him on the cusp of making the Major Leagues with the Detroit Tigers.

Now the Rockingham County resident is recording more important saves — through a second career with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

After a pro baseball career of nine seasons, Ostlund spent two years as a stay-at-home father before joining the Virginia DGIF in 2011 after six months of academy training.

“I’m a bit of an adrenaline junky; I love adventure, I love being outside,” he said. “It was right up my alley.”

He was based in Shenandoah and Page counties before taking an assignment based in his native Rockingham — he grew up on a farm in Singers Glen — about two years ago, also as a Conservation Police Officer. A few weeks ago he became a K9 handler with the DGIF.

“Almost daily, I consider myself to be very fortunate to do something I love to do it and get paid for it,” said Ostlund, 41, an avid hunter and fisher. “We also spend a lot of time on waterways.”

“He brings that same drive and work ethic” like a pro athlete, said Lt. Rob Ham III, his former supervisor.

Ostlund, who pitched at VMI and Virginia Tech, was working as a Police Conservation Officer in 2013 when he helped rescue a 7-year-old girl and her uncle on the rain-swollen Shenandoah River in Page County after their kayak had capsized.

“That is the most scared I have ever been,” he said this week.

With the guidance of other rescue personnel, Ostlund was able to take their kayak to get close to the two family members who were from out of state.

“I heard the girl scream; her uncle was getting pulled under the water,” he recalls. “The girl had a life jacket but the uncle did not. They were maybe 70 feet offshore. They tried to throw lines to them and they were unsuccessful with that.”

Eventually, Ostlund was able to get to shore with the girl and her uncle in the kayak.

“It was what needed to be done. It was really pretty amazing no one was injured,” Ostlund said. “That was one of my prouder moments. I realized I was entering into a very dangerous situation.”

After that, Ostlund was able to spend time with the family. “I got to play catch with the kids. They were big baseball fans,” the TA graduate said.

Teammate Reese

These days, Ostlund spends a lot of time with Reese — the dog he is assigned to as a K9 handler.

The duties are varied for Ostlund, who is licensed to carry a gun and did six months of training before joining the Virginia DGIF nearly nine years ago.

“Each K9 team receives specialized training in human tracking, evidence recovery, and wildlife detection,” according to a Virginia DGIF blog. “These elite K9 teams assist law enforcement personnel by tracking violators, detecting concealed wildlife and firearms, and conducting area searches for evidence recovery. Additionally, the K9 teams assist other enforcement agencies by tracking fugitives from justice, recovering evidence at crime scenes, and locating missing or lost persons.”

Being outdoors — just like he was playing baseball — is just one of the appeals of his job.

“There is no average day as a Conservation Police Officer,” he noted. “We don’t know exactly what is going to happen. We work such large geographical areas as well.”

Ostlund said COVID-19 has taken away some of the personal interactions he has with the public.

Since he and others wear a mask, Ostlund said he has to look closely at the eyes of those that he comes in contact with. He also misses the handshakes that were once taken for granted.

“Establishing rapport with the public is very important,” he said. “One way I can establish rapport with the citizens is extending my hand and offering a handshake and a smile. Due to social distancing, I am not able to shake people’s hands. It is very difficult for people to read my facial expression.”

Handshakes are a big part of baseball as well, and the big lefty received many post-game greetings during his career.

Ostlund played at TA under former coach Tim Clary and a memorable outing was when the lefty fanned 21 batters in seven innings against Harrisonburg as a senior.

As a sophomore, he was 3-0 with an ERA of 1.08. He went 7-1, 2.26 as a junior and then 10-1, 0.53 as a senior as the Knights advanced to the state quarterfinals in 1997.

After high school, he spent three years in Lexington with the Keydets and was a closer for part of that time.

“He really flourished in that role,” said Hampden-Sydney Coach Jeff Kinne, the pitching coach for Ostlund at VMI. “Great work ethic and a great teammate.”

After a coaching change, Ostlund pitched as a senior for the Hokies in Blacksburg in 2001. Ostlund, who studied history at Tech, also played for the Harrisonburg Turks of the Valley Baseball League while in college.

Pro Career

He was drafted in the 34th round in 2001 by the Tigers and began his pro career in Oneonta, New York, in the New York-Penn League.

Perhaps his best season was two years later when he was 3-0 with an ERA of 1.59 with with low Single-A Western Michigan in the Midwest League. He finished 40 of the 44 games he pitched out of the bullpen and had a career-high 19 saves while making a post-season All-Star team.

After Tommy John surgery — performed by the notable Dr. James Andrews in 2004 — Ostlund moved up the Tigers’ minor-league ladder and reached Triple-A Toledo for the first time in 2007.

He was back at Toledo in 2008 and throwing well out of the bullpen during a stretch when the Tigers needed a lefty reliever in Detroit. But Ostlund didn’t get the call, with the promotion going to a pitcher who had been with Double-A Erie.

“That was the first time I felt truly really close” to the majors, he said. “I was being looked at hard by the big club. I knew I was on the shortlist” for a promotion. He would have been the first TA grad to make the majors as a pitcher — Alan Knicely and Brian Bocock made The Show as position players.

After that season, Ostlund signed with St. Louis and was invited to spring training with the Cardinals and manager Tony La Russa in 2009. He still pinches himself that he did fielding drills that spring in Jupiter, Florida with Albert Pujols, the Cardinals’ All-Star first baseman. “It almost seemed like a dream,” Ostlund said.

He was competing for a lefty spot in the bullpen but didn’t make the Opening Day roster.

Ostlund ended his pro career at Triple-A Memphis that year, pitching in 23 games with one start. He ended his minor-league career with a record of 30-23 with an ERA of 3.49 in 325 games, with 11 starts — and those 26 saves.

Now the saves are even more important — like the one on the Shenandoah River. He worked for the Dayton Police Department before returning to the Virginia DGIF a few years ago.

“He is very dependable in everything he does,” said Lt. Ham, a Bridgewater College graduate. “He is very courteous to the public.” And sometimes way more than that.