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JJ Ortiz

For first-year head coach JJ Ortiz, building a successful baseball program is like building a pyramid – make the foundation strong and it all becomes easier as you work your way up.

“I’m really a ‘do the little things’ type of coach,” Ortiz said Wednesday. “I like to focus on the little things, and I think once you take care of them, the big picture will take care of itself.
“I’m not really a disciplinarian, either. I guess I’m what people would like to call a ‘players’ coach.’ I like to be out there participating with the guys.”

Getting back to baseball as an assistant at Artesia High School – Ortiz is in his fourth year here following six years in Lovington – was exciting in and of itself for the new coach, who, after graduating from Moriarty High School, placed his focus on the gridiron during his years on football scholarship at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales.

“I played four years of football, and I also walked onto the baseball program at one point,” Ortiz said. “I played a couple of games, but my head football coach, Bud Elliott, said, ‘You can play baseball, but you can’t miss the football stuff.’ So I was waking up at 5 a.m. for running, going to weights at 2 p.m., practicing from 3-6 p.m., and it was way too much.

“But baseball has always been there, tugging me back, and once I finally got the opportunity to be around it again, I took it. I really enjoy being out here, and I love the game of baseball.”

That love is something Ortiz stresses to his athletes is mandatory in order to be successful. He’s made “Love the Game” the squad’s motto for 2018.

“If you don’t love baseball, you shouldn’t be out here,” he said. “I challenged the players with that. If you don’t love it, then it’s going to be hard on you to show up every day and do what we want. It’s going to be hard on me as a coach to try to motivate you, because you don’t love it.

“I even told the parents at the Booster Club meeting – I want your players to love the game. If they don’t, that’s fine. But they should probably try another sport. The game will give you a lot if you give a lot to it, and it’ll help you prepare for life.”

Life after baseball is another major facet of Ortiz’s coaching philosophy. He believes more than perhaps any other sport, the potential frustration baseball can cause athletes provides an excellent test of how they handle adversity.

“Baseball brings out your weaknesses and then you have to overcome that,” said the coach. “Going forward in life, not everything’s going to go your way. How are you going to overcome that? You’re not going to hit the ball every time, you’re going to miss some balls in the field, but you come back from that is what matters.

“I want to use baseball not just for these guys to be better baseball players but be better men because of the sport. I want them to leave the program saying, ‘You know what, I learned how to work hard, I learned how to be on time, I learned how to do the little things from baseball, and now it’s helping me become a better man when I’m raising my kids, having a family, having a career.”

Ortiz says he and his staff have focused on integrating those lessons into practice, teaching the players there are consequences if they don’t take care of their responsibilities as part of the team, just as there will be later in life.

“And it’s harder when you get out of high school, because people will fire you,” Ortiz laughed. “So it’s like we told the guys, sure, we want to win every game, but we want to get something more out of this, too, and we’ve really been working on that.”

The Bulldogs will kick off their 2018 season today and Friday at the Hobbs Round Robin, and Ortiz hopes to see the beginnings of that strong foundation taking shape.

“Short-term goal is really getting everyone used to our routines, understanding where we’re going, and long-term would be winning a state championship, but again, those little things – doing what’s right – will get us there.

“At the end of the season, records say a lot, but I think looking at the whole panel of work – how did we get here, if we didn’t win every game, did we at least get better, did you get better as a person – is the main thing. Do you know what this program’s giving to you and what you’re giving to the program.”