When do life lessons begin for kids? Now. Noon Optimist’s 9-year-old Carmelo Ortega and 11-year-old Beau Roach showed what perseverance and desire can do. Both kids did not make the All-Star team last year and were disappointed.
Both Ortega and Roach made the decision to work on their shortcomings and get better. These kids could have blamed others or sulked about not making the team but instead sought out their fathers to work and get better.
“I felt kind of sad,” Ortega said, “but I got over it. I grabbed my glove and said, ‘Let’s go practice.’”
This year, he is a first baseman and a pitcher. Ortega feels like he improved his pitching and is throwing the ball faster than last season. He also has worked on his defense at first base. He can now scoop the ball and catch it when it is thrown at him. One of the main things Ortega’s work has done for him is instilled a quiet confidence in himself and his abilities.
All-Star coach Will Wooten considers Ortega to be his No. 1 pitcher as of now, heading into All-Star games. To improve on his pitching, he practiced throwing 100 balls a day to his dad, Armando Ortega, three times a week.
“Ortega has more accuracy,” All-Star coach Wooten said. “He’s been solid on the mound. This has been the best team I’ve had in the last number of years. They all play travel ball and have played together for years.”
Ortega is a lefty with movement on his ball. He feels comfortable throwing any of his four pitches, fastball, cutter, change-up and curveball. Ortega feels like his 50 mph fastball leaves hitters looking at the plate. He is not afraid to throw batters the change-up if they are sitting on his fastball.
One of his favorite memories this season was when his Pirates team was playing the Royals and he hit an inside-the-park grand slam. Ortega’s main sport is baseball. He would like to one day make it to the Major Leagues.
“Once my dad told me I made the team, I was happy,” Ortega said.
Another reason for his strong development was being able to play on the travel ball team with coach Ricky Sanez. Their team was made up of Lions Hondo and Noon Optimist players, as well. The team has played in tournaments as far as El Paso, Texas.
What makes the Valley View Elementary kid story all the more remarkable is he has been in therapy since he was 3 years old. Doctors feared Ortega had Muscular Dystrophy. Doctors told the family if he didn’t get it treated, he would not be able to walk when he was older.
It turns out that Ortega has low muscle tone, and received treatment from the time he was 3 years old until he was 10 years old, most recently at SPRINT. Another thing the family has done for him is to keep him involved in sports to help his muscles and help him stay active.
“We have worked with his confidence,” Armando Ortega said. “He used to be really timid on the mound. I’m proud of him because it is Ortega’s drive to get better, that’s why he made the All-Star team this year. I’m very proud of my son as a dad for him making the all-star team.”
Ortega’s favorite baseball player is former Atlanta Braves third baseman and Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. He would love to one day suit up in a Braves uniform. The family went to see a couple of Braves games this season. When Ortega is done playing baseball, he would like to work as a mechanical engineer.
Noon Optimist 9-year-olds play at 5:30 p.m. Friday, in Artesia against Tularosa.
Roach makes All-Star on final attempt
Beau Roach is a gentle giant until he steps between the lines. Roach has hit two home runs to lead the league in homers this season. He also didn’t make the All-Star team last year.
“I wanted to play this year,” Roach said. “I put in a lot of hard work this year and I really wanted to make the team since this was my last year in Little League. I just put everything I had into making the team.”
Roach said his best memory this season was hitting the ball out of the park. With the bases loaded, he took the pitcher deep over the fence on a change-up. He feels like he can catch anything at first base because he is a big target. He also likes football and thinks that football has helped him with his muscle memory.
“I knew Beau could hit,” Coach Ernest Lujan said. “I knew he had power, but he had trouble connecting with the ball. My focus this entire year was to make sure we get his hands to the ball. We tried to get him to understand how to approach an at-bat. Beau ended up being No. 2 in the league in batting average with .526.”
After not making the team last season, that didn’t deter Roach. He credits his dad with his positive attitude and work ethic. His dad is often at practice and will help him with advice and anything else he feels his son needs.
Coach Ernest Lujan believes that his 11-12 year-olds on the team will be exciting. He notes that the team only has three 11-year-olds. The team practices twice a day. He thinks that with a majority of the players playing travel ball, their baseball IQ is high.
Lujan feels like the team is ready for the games to begin and being able to play together during travel ball, they have an advantage because they know each other so well.
“You can tell the focus of these kids,” Lujan said. “These kids are here and they know they have to work hard to get better. They are focused.”
Lujan’s philosophy is to play solid defense — if the team makes an error, forget about it and move on. Don’t let one error become two errors. At the plate, be aggressive, the team is there to hit. He wants his team to be known as the hitting team.
“Teams are going to have to get us out,” Lujan said. “We are going to games to hit the ball and put runs on the board.”
The team is counting on Lucien Betancur as a pitcher and his speed as a center fielder to make plays when he is not on the mound. Rayf Fulkerson is one of the most experienced players on the team and a veteran All-Star player. Hitting is Elias Lujan and Roach to add power. The strength of the team is shortstop and Ernest Lujan said the team has four players that can play there, including one starter, Betancur in centerfield.
On the hill, Lujan said they will have a lefty and righty, Joaquin Bolanos.
“I’m really excited about this team,” Lujan said. “These kids have played a lot of ball together. They are ready to go. I want the kids to be kids and to have a summer. I want them to enjoy being one of 12 kids selected to the All-Star team. This is the last time and the only time they will have this experience with these kids and they will talk about this for the rest of their lives.”
Noon Optimist 11-year-olds will play at Lions Hondo against Artesia at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.