Unassuming shortstop Joey Ortiz fits right in with fellow 2019 draftees

A sizable contingent of Baltimore sports media descended upon Ripken Stadium on July 29, 2019 for Adley Rutschman’s debut with the Aberdeen IronBirds.

A crowd of 4,403, some already donning Rutschman jerseys, packed in to see the No. 1 overall pick play pro ball in the state of Maryland for the first time.

Rutschman, who had recently recovered from a bout of mononucleosis, struggled. The 21-year-old went hitless in five plate appearances.

Seven spots lower in the batting order, shortstop Joey Ortiz, playing in his 27th game as an IronBird, collected four hits, including a double and two RBIs.

Ortiz’s performance was perhaps a footnote in the stories written by the Baltimore-based writers that night. But it was an evening to remember for the 2019 fourth-round pick.

Joey-Ortiz-Screenshot-Sidebar.jpg“That was probably my best game of the season, so of course I remember that,” Ortiz said, laughing, during an interview with “MASN All Access.”

A former standout at New Mexico State, Ortiz raised his batting average by 33 points that night. He finished the season with a .241 average and one home run in 56 games.

“Playing at a smaller Division I school, a smaller conference, you don’t see that kind of talent every single day,” Ortiz said of his introduction to pro ball. “It was definitely easier to play ball once I figured that I belonged there.”

Ortiz was preparing to take a leap in his second year, but when the shutdown in March put the sport on hold, he constructed a makeshift gym in his garage at home to stay in shape.

“You have to make sacrifices. It was one of those things where I need to work out so I gotta buy the stuff to be able to stay ready,” Ortiz said.

Without the ability to see live pitching, Ortiz took almost all of his swings off a tee during the summer. But despite the limitations, the Joey Ortiz that showed up at fall instructional camp in October was stronger, faster and sharper than the one the Orioles had last seen.

“He came out and was just hot right from the start. It looked like he’d seen live pitching all of quarantine,” said first baseman Andrew Daschbach, who played with Ortiz in Aberdeen. “I asked him, ‘What was your training like during quarantine?’ He said, ‘Well, I had a net and a tee in my backyard. That was it. I didn’t see any pitching. I didn’t do anything but hit off the tee.’ And it looked like he was in midseason shape, so whatever he’s doing I need to start doing as well.”

Both Daschbach and Ortiz were members of the Orioles’ 2019 draft class, which also included former collegiate center fielders Johnny Rizer and Zach Watson.

“It was a lot of college guys, and I think that’s why we got along so well really fast,” Ortiz said. “We had all been through college. We understood what it took to get to pro ball. It was just kinda easy to mesh, to hang out and grow closer.”

The group didn’t just bond over baseball. In Sarasota, Ortiz, Rutschman, Rizer and Watson combined their talents to produce a viral TikTok, lip-syncing Aly & AJ’s “Potential Breakup Song.” The 13-second video has garnered more than eight million views.

“I had a lot of people actually reach out to me and say, ‘Wow, you guys are getting whatever millions of views.’ I had a high school coach text me, ‘Is this you?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s me,’” Ortiz recalled. “It was kind of a cool experience.”

With a potential reunion set for February, Ortiz and his fellow 2019 draftees are excited to be practicing, and perhaps TikToking again soon.

“Definitely wanna do more,” Ortiz chuckled. “Hopefully, it’d go viral too.”

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