05/15/07 5:48 PM ET
Ortiz tries to go from grassroots to glory
Pepperdine center fielder hopes to be taken high in draft
By Jayson Addcox / MLB.com
"He's almost like the mayor of Pepperdine because everybody knows him," said head coach Steve Rodriguez.
Now, Ortiz is one of the best hitting and fielding center fielders in college baseball. He is hitting .359 with five doubles, four triples and a home run this season and currently leads the Waves in hits (79), runs (49) and stolen bases (14).
"He can do some amazing things in the outfield," Rodriguez said. "Offensively, all he does is put the ball in play and cause a bunch of problems for the defense."
Ortiz, a native of Puerto Rico, had to make some adjustments along the way, but he quickly adapted to life away from home, both on and off the field.
"Everything back home was in Spanish, so yeah, it was rough at first," Ortiz said.
Five years ago, the Puerto Rican Baseball academy in Cuagas, P.R., sent out fliers and called residencies around the island announcing the grand opening of the first Puerto Rican all-baseball high school.
At the same time, a young 15-year-old native of the island, Ortiz, heard the buzz around town and figured he'd give it a shot.
"I just wanted to see what it is was all about," Ortiz said. "Actually, my friends were going, so I was like, 'Cool, let's play some more ball.'"
Ortiz attended the tryouts with about 700 other Puerto Rican teens with the aspirations of becoming the next Carlos Beltran or Ivan Rodriguez. The tryouts were conducted by Major League scouts and only 175 teens were selected to the high school.
"It was fun because I knew I was going to be playing baseball every day. What else can you say, baseball all the time," Ortiz said. "I mean, there was no basketball or volleyball, just all baseball. I was just excited."
The Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and high school is a non-profit organization that combines a strict academic curriculum with a rigorous baseball education. The school's main goals are to prepare its students for a degree in higher education, opportunities for college scholarships and the Major League baseball draft.
Ortiz went from a young kid from the coastal town of Bayamon to an instant prospect as one of the 175 teens selected to attend the 10th-through-12th grade academy
"It was just a huge opportunity, it basically opened doors for me," Ortiz said. "Honestly, I wasn't thinking about the draft or college. I was going into the llth grade, I didn't even know about the draft."
The school immediately taught Ortiz and the rest of the players selected what it would take to get a scholarship and how to prepare themselves mentally and physically for the big leagues.
"I always knew I wanted to be in the big leagues, but I didn't know what steps to take or how to go about it," Ortiz said. "Being there, they taught us about college eligibility and what it was going to take for us to be selected -- it was a great experience."
Ortiz immediately excelled, and as a 17-year-old he was selected in the fifth round of the 2004 draft by the Chicago Cubs.
"When I got drafted I was like, 'Wow, wow,'" Ortiz said. "It was a reality check, you know. It was like, 'This is real.' I could feel it."
The joy and exhilaration quickly turned into reality as the young man faced the most important decision of his life to that point. Ortiz also had scholarships from various top-notch universities including USC, Santa Clara and Pepperdine.
"At the time, I wish my parents would've just made the decision for me, but they just sat me down and pointed out the pros and cons and left the rest up to me," Ortiz said. "Now, I'm happy they let me choose, because it made me mature and I'm happy where I'm at."
Ortiz was named second-team All-West Coast Conference last season after hitting .340 with 28 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. This season he's a lock for All-WCC first team and scouts have projected that he will be drafted somewhere in the first four rounds of this June's MLB draft.
Until then, the hard-working, humble kid from Bayamon has plenty work to do as mayor. His first order of business? Getting the Waves into the College World Series.
"I do all this for the game, hard work, dedication, perseverance, it's all for the game," Ortiz said. "I'll always give 100 percent and I'll always respect the game."
Jayson Addcox is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.