David Ortiz

“They pick me [to be tested for steroids] every time. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a big guy, or what, but all I know is all they are going to find is a lot of rice and beans.”
– David Ortiz in The Boston Globe, March 11, 2005

I’ve been a baseball fan my entire life, and my favorite (non-Cub) player for many years has been David Ortiz, the designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox. Prior to their World Series win in 2004, the Red Sox were my American League club of choice, simply because, as a Cubs fan, I empathized with the long, long history of painful losing moments that Red Sox fans witnessed. Ortiz’s playful attitude and amazing performance in the 2004 American League Championship Series cemented the guy in my heart.

Another big reason I’ve always been able to identify with Ortiz is his background. How could a white guy from the rural Midwest identify with someone who grew up in the Dominican Republic? We both grew up poor. We both were blessed with some great opportunities in our lives and we pushed ourselves to make the leap to do something we dreamed of. We both keep big parts of the way we grew up in our hearts.

That’s why I loved that quote from Ortiz that starts this article. When I first read it, I printed it out and posted it on my desk at work. At the time, it made me think of the value of keeping in touch with your roots.

I love going back to my hometown. Wandering around the pasture behind my in-law’s house, eating fried catfish my father cooks, and going to the hometown festival each September are wonderful. Time and time again, I see some of the good lessons I learned pop through. I see it in my actions, my values, and my personal choices, and whenever I go back there, it still feels in some ways like it fits like a glove.

As time went on, that quote began to change for me. I went through my financial meltdown and started to come out clean on the other side, and one day I looked at that quote again.

“They pick me [to be tested for steroids] every time. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a big guy, or what, but all I know is all they are going to find is a lot of rice and beans.”
– David Ortiz in The Boston Globe, March 11, 2005

Here was Ortiz, earning millions of dollars a year, and he was feasting on a diet of rice and beans. Ortiz could afford any food he wanted, but a sack of rice and a bunch of beans were good enough to fill his belly.

For me, that quote became a symbol of the idea that you don’t need to spend money just because you have it. Instead, focus on what you actually value in your life. I don’t need to go out to an expensive restaurant when a big old plate of beans and rice at my dinner table with my family all around me will do the trick.

I carried this throughout my life. I severely cut spending in every area that I didn’t feel was vital to my life. I focused instead on my key values – my family, my writing career, and learning and growing as a person.

I didn’t need a shiny BMW in the driveway, even if I could afford it.

I didn’t need to go golfing at a great course every weekend – instead, I went when it was really fun, with my father-in-law and my wife at a local nine-hole golf course.

I didn’t need to buy new books every week – instead, I started using the library and PaperBackSwap.

I didn’t need to do all these things to enjoy my life, and by scaling back in those areas, I found that I had plenty of room to focus on the things that really did matter to me.

Life goes on. I make a big career switch and become a writer. Then, suddenly, in late fall 2008, I have something of a health scare. I got a virus that left me feeling tired all the time and suddenly I really thought about my own mortality more than I thought.

And then I saw the quote again.

“They pick me [to be tested for steroids] every time. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a big guy, or what, but all I know is all they are going to find is a lot of rice and beans.”
– David Ortiz in The Boston Globe, March 11, 2005

Ortiz plays professional baseball – he’s in pretty good shape. He goes out there every day, takes batting practice, stretches out, gets his sweat up and his metabolism going, and he plays the national pastime.

The fuel he uses to do this is nothing special – just staple foods without lots of additives. Rice and beans and exercise.

The recipe was simple for me. Just cut back on the fatty foods – the cheeses and the soda – and replace them with healthier options – water and, yes, rice and beans. It’s a simple choice that’s also an investment – it improves my health now and it extends my lifetime and period of quality life later.

The next step: add some exercise. I don’t have to go out there and kill myself, but I do need to go out there and move. Just go take a walk three to five times a week. Get the fluids moving in your body. Stretch your muscles. Raise your heart rate a little.

The end result? I’ve lost about forty pounds in 2009 and I feel quite good. I have more energy than before and some days I feel completely on top of the world. My values, my career, my money, and my health seem to all be falling in line.

Sometimes, you find the inspiration you need from the most unexpected places.

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