John Ortega’s immediate impact as a two-way player is well-documented. But where his presence arguably was even more valuable was on the practice field and in the dugout, honing his craft and tirelessly advocating for his teammates.
The value he saw in them reflected back on the Cardinals star.
Ortega was one of four pitchers named to the first-team pitching rotation by District 32-6A coaches, and the Our Lady of the Lake University commit is the Valley Morning Star’s 2019 All-STAR Baseball Most Valuable Player.
“I just want to thank my coaches, my teammates, and my parents for giving me a bunch of support,” Ortega said. “Through everything, throughout all my years of high school.”
It was Ortega’s humility and eagerness to improve that fueled his work ethic.
“I just tried to push my teammates and myself to the max,” Ortega said. “Coming out (to the field) every day after school, during school, just working to get better. Not only to make my teammates better and to improve every little thing, even if I thought I had it down, or I thought my teammates had it down, just working on it, improving muscle memory every day.”
More notable still is Ortega’s deeply thoughtful approach to each and every teammate. The defenders behind the Cardinals ace were not merely bodies with gloves. They were sources of insight, information to be gleaned and applied in the pursuit of excellence. With that in mind, Ortega began to take sophomore second baseman and No. 2 starting pitcher Jacob Marroquin under his wing.
“Every player at a position is out there because he’s the best guy on our team at that spot,” Ortega said. “If they’re out there, why not listen to them? If you’re a freshman and you have to tell a senior something, do it, because we know it’s for the betterment of the team.”
Even though Ortega joined the team late after a playoff push with the Cardinals’ basketball team, he quickly asserted himself as one of the top starting pitchers in the Rio Grande Valley.
When he rejoined the baseball team following the end of the basketball season, Ortega wasn’t necessarily sold on what he saw around him.
Harlingen High rebounded after slipping into second-place in 32-6A following a heartbreaking loss to Brownsville Rivera on the final day of the regular season. It was Ortega who set the tone with a two-run home run during the first game of the Class 6A bi-district round against Edinburg North, and he tossed 6 2/3 innings in a 7-2 win.
The Cardinals went on to win the best-of-three series and advanced to the area round, where they were defeated by Laredo United South.
“When I came in, these guys really showed me what we were about,” Ortega said. “We were going to be a team that was willing to fight, that had heart throughout the whole year. And that’s what we did.”
As one of five Rio Grande Valley players headed to OLLU in the fall, Harlingen High coach Armando Rangel said Ortega still has untapped potential.
“John has a great opportunity,” Rangel said. “I’ve seen his ability, and he still has more ability (to unleash). There’s no limit to what he can do on the field when he dedicates himself to just baseball. I can’t say enough about that kid, he helped our program tremendously.”