By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Although he had a stellar 6-0 record with a 1.14 earned run average for NJSIAA Non-Public A state finalist St. Joseph of Montvale last spring as just a freshman, Nutley resident Devin Ortiz had no idea what to expect from being invited to the Team USA national 15-andunder trials in Cary, North Carolina last month.
“I didn’t think I had a chance,” Ortiz said. “Three weeks ago, I didn’t even know where I’d be. I just figured I’d be pitching summer baseball somewhere.”
But Ortiz did receive an invite to be among the 40 teenagers to try out for the national squad. He fared well, pitching well in a handful of appearances over the three-week trial.
Last Saturday, Ortiz’s wishes came true, as he was selected among the final 15 players for the United States U-15 national team.
Ortiz is the only representative from New Jersey on the squad, which will play in the World Baseball Classic tournament in Mazatlan, Mexico, beginning next week.
The team is currently en route to play exhibition games at Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, before heading to Mexico for the tourney that begins in 10 days.
Ortiz liked his chances to make the team once he got to the trials in North Carolina.
“I went in there pretty confident,” Ortiz said. “From the first couple of days, I knew it was not like any other tryout I had ever been to. All 40 kids there were very good players, so I just focused on being myself and focused on pitching like I knew I could. I just had to focus on myself and not worry about everyone else.”
While Ortiz both pitched and played the field as a freshman at St. Joseph of Montvale, he was strictly a pitcher for the Team USA trials.
“Everything felt fine,” Ortiz said. “I really felt better than I did pitching my freshman year of varsity. The competition was better, because the players make more contact. After all, these are the best hitters in the country. I didn’t want to put any more pressure on myself. I just had to trust myself and trust my stuff.”
Ortiz said that he relies on a two-seam and four-seam fastball, as well as a change-up and a curve.
But over the summer, Ortiz has also developed a cut-fastball, a la Mariano Rivera, that he has had success with.
“I learned the cutter over the summer,” Ortiz said. “One of the scouts saw me at the trials and said that the pitch had so much of a natural cut, that if I knew how to control it, it would become a good pitch for me. So for the last two weeks, that’s what I’ve been working on. It’s now a pitch that I can go to and use a lot.” Ortiz said that he was a still a little shell-shocked to be selected among the top 15 players his age in the entire country.
“It’s a very big honor,” said Ortiz, who was born in Belleville and played Little League baseball there before moving to Nutley a few years ago. “I’m very excited. I can’t wait to get there. Of course, it’s a big honor to be playing in Chase Field on a big league field. It’s all great for me.”
Ortiz said that he doesn’t think he’ll face undue pressure as a high school sophomore next spring, knowing full well he was a Team USA selection this summer.
“I don’t think it’s any added pressure,” Ortiz said. “I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s a great honor. It just makes me come back and work even harder, to pitch the way I did last season and maybe even better.”
Ortiz likes having the Team USA distinction.
“I’m going there to represent my country, represent New Jersey and of course, St. Joseph’s,” Ortiz said. “I also represent Nutley as well.”
The entire process has caught Ortiz by surprise.
“In June, I actually had no clue about all of this,” Ortiz said. “My dad heard about the tryouts, so I came. I just kept working and one thing led to another. It’s really amazing. I’m just happy to be here, happy to get the chance to make new friends here and have a little fun.”
And take in the sights of Mexico as well. Not a bad way to spend a summer vacation.