|A man for any season
Multi-sport star John Ortega fills many roles for Centre baseball team
By Jill Erwin
RELEASED: April 10, 2003
DANVILLE, KY In his final full year as a Centre College athlete, John Ortega has decided to do a little bit of everything.
But Ortega's always worn several hats in his years on the baseball diamond for the Colonels.
Ortega has played football, basketball and baseball this year.
"In 31 years of coaching, he's the best athlete I've ever coached," baseball coach Ed Rall said.
The versatility that allows him to compete in all three sports also shows up in spades in baseball.
Ortega joined the baseball team last year after not having played since his high school days at Prestonsburg. He is a center fielder by trade, but has also logged time at third base and catcher for the Colonels.
"He was a lifesaver for us last year at third base," Rall said. "When (Matt) Durham was pitching, we didn't have anybody to play third, so he just filled in admirably for us.
"He had never been there. We put him there in the second game of a doubleheader and he got about six or seven ground balls and fielded every one of them. He's just a natural."
He's batting .360
Ortega is also the second-string catcher for Centre this season when he's not in center field, batting .360. He often catches the second game of doubleheaders to give catcher Tim McLaughlin a break.
"Coach finds a place for me," Ortega said. "If he's got a place he needs somebody to get some rest, like our catcher in a doubleheader, then he asked me if I could catch. I caught a little bit in high school, so I told him I'd try it out. It's worked out well so far."
Ortega came to Centre in 2001 after walking on as a football player at Kentucky for two years. He started at safety for the Colonels, earning second team all-Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference honors and honorable mention All-America honors from d3football.com.
Last year, Ortega was named first team preseason All-American by the same Web site and finished the season as a first team all-SCAC honoree. He was also named Centre's defensive player of the year for the past two years.
He finished last year second on the team in tackles with 83, had two interceptions, seven pass breakups, two tackles for loss and forced a fumble. He also led the team in punt returns, bringing back 23 kicks for 242 yards, an average of 10.5 yards per return.
But even that didn't satisfy him. Ortega decided to look into playing other sports as well.
"I'd given up on basketball and baseball after going to UK," Ortega said. "I decided to focus on football. Once I got the chance to come here, I looked into it a little bit and saw how the workload was with practice and everything. I decided to try it out with my last year, and it's worked out so far."
Ortega joined the basketball team after finishing the football season, stepping in and playing valuable minutes at point guard after starting guard Kyle Roby injured his knee in the preseason.
He started off slow on basketball team, but came on strong
Ortega started off the year understandably slow, not having played since high school, but said his game came around by the end of the season. Ortega was named to the all-SCAC Tournament team after the year and finished the season shooting 50 percent from the field and 46 percent on three-pointers.
"I was surprised how well I played," Ortega said. "Like baseball, it took me a while to adjust to the college level and everything, but toward the end of the season I started playing pretty well. I put a lot of extra work in and it paid off in the end."
But the end isn't quite here for Ortega. He has two years of athletic eligibility left after not playing at UK. However, he is set to graduate next winter with a degree in computer science.
Ortega said he will meet with Centre athletic director Brian Chafin to determine his playing status for basketball. Ortega said there's a rule that allows students that graduate 60 days after the completion of schoolwork to complete the athletic season they are currently in.
Ortega's mind is completely on baseball now, and he said he can tell he's starting to come into shape. However, he also knows it will be a while before he reaches the level he needs to be at.
"Even if you've been practicing, it takes a while to get your swing back and it takes a while for your arm to get into baseball shape," Ortega said. "Different muscles are used in each different sport. I'm starting to get back into shape now, and two or three weeks from now I'll be in top shape."
Rall said Ortega is always in shape.
"He works real hard and keeps his body in wonderful shape," Rall said. "He just really looks like he enjoys all the sports and practice never seems to be drudgery to him. He definitely could play up a level in football and baseball.
"He's really a good one. He's very humble. I don't even think he has any faults. I've never heard him raise his voice. He's just quiet and a real good person."
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