The Other Side of Sports (Too)

By on July 30, 2010

DUNEDIN, Fl. (RSE)–He had a four year playing career then a twenty year plus career serving his country.  Now former Army SFC E-7 (Sergeant First Class) Luis Ortiz is combining the two as a successful minor league manager with the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Braves.

A native of the Canal Zone, PA Ortiz really didn’t wait long to trade his baseball flannels for the Army’s OD Green fatigues.

“I had finished playing in May of 1980 and by May of 1981 I was in the army,” said Ortiz, but his reasoning might surprise some.

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“It was the right thing to do,” said the 51-year old Ortiz, “I always saw soldiers growing up in the Canal Zone close to the Jungle Operation Training Center.  I saw them during the Vietnam War; I always saw the soldiers when I was a kid.  It was a way for us coming out of the Canal Zone to do something for America.”

Ortiz hit a number of bases in the states and overseas serving in the army.

“I was all over,” said Ortiz, “My first unit was at Ft. Knox, Ky. then the Seventh Corp. in Germany, Ft. Bliss, TX. then to Panama.  I was serving there right before the invasion then got picked as an instructor at Ft. Jackson, SC.  Ironically because it was my MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) 75Z and here I was eight years later teaching where I went to school and it was great.  Now I was standing in front of students teaching for three years where I had been a student.”

Then his service took him to the other side if the world, “Korea, Camp Casey and the Second Infantry Division before returning to Ft. Meyer, Va.  and then ran the Causality Center.”

Surgery did cut Ortiz’s military career a bit short.  He had wanted to serve and rank to attain but he was still keeping his eye on professional baseball.

“When I was stationed at a medical battalion at Ft. Sam (Houston, TX.) I started scouting for the Texas Rangers, I was scouting and in the army.  I would take my leave and go scout in Panama.”

Ortiz, his 21-year Army hitch up, because of his surgery in 2002 came to the Braves as a coach in 2003.

“I managed in the Dominican for a summer and now that is it, I am here.”

Braves Farm Director Kurt Kemp likes Ortiz’s blend of baseball knowledge and military discipline in his handling of these 17-21 year old GCL prospects on the team.

“He has the background for building discipline in the young players,” said Kemp, “His training in the military is just in a different arena.  For most it’s their first time away from home and Luis is giving them the guidance and knowledge they need.”

Posing a question to Luis about the military and professional baseball, are you the last or only career serviceman still putting on a baseball uniform daily?  Luis took the high road with his response.

“That’s probably right but hey you got a lot of guys in the Army right now and in the Armed Forces that are doing better things than I do.  Those guys are serving everyday; my hat is off to them.  I had a good career in the Army, I loved it but I am now doing what I love, playing baseball from when I was a young kid.”

In closing fans one of these days you might want to drop a line to this fine publication and let us know if you know of anyone who was in the active military still involved in pro ball (player, coach, writer or broadcaster).

So until then…

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