Watch: A heartbreaking (definitely) ending (probably) for Ramon Ortiz
I’ve joked about Ramon Ortiz before. In 2011, by way of making a point about the unreliability of spring training stats, I referred to him and unrelated contemporary Russ Ortiz as the Zombie Ortiz brothers for the way the pair had seemingly risen from the dead in pursuit of major league jobs time after time.
Indeed, I’ve long marveled at the travels and the sheer persistence of Ramon Ortiz. Since ending a six-season run with the Angels back in 2004 — a stretch in which he helped the team win a World Series — the wiry Dominican righty has passed through the organizations of 10 different major league teams, not including a repeat stint with the Giants. He’s served time at the big league level with seven of them, stocked the minor league or spring training rosters of the rest, and occasionally disappeared from the scene for years at a time, once to serve a stint with the Orix Blue Wave of the Japanese Pacific League. The definition of the well-traveled journeyman, and the embodiment of a replacement-level roster patch, he’s compiled a gaudy 5.50 ERA since leaving Anaheim. Yo-yoing between Triple-A Buffalo and the majors this year for the Blue Jays amid a spate of injuries, it’s been an even gaudier 6.04.
None of which is to say that Ortiz is a lesser human being for hanging onto the game he loves for dear life at age 40. On Sunday night, that love was on display for all to see, when in the third inning, he injured his elbow, and then reacted like a man facing the end of the line:
Ortiz doubled over in pain, slammed his mitt down in anger, and broke down in tears as he showed the Toronto trainer where his elbow hurt. He was still crying when he left the field, and who can blame him? “You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time,” as Jim Bouton famously wrote in Ball Four.
Beyond an initial diagnosis of an elbow strain, the Blue Jays have yet to reveal much about Ortiz’s injury; he’ll undergo an MRI in Florida “in the next few days,” according to manager John Gibbons. “I saw him after it happened, in the training room,” Gibbons told reporters after the game, a Toronto victory that nonetheless did little to cheer up a somber clubhouse. “He has been at this game a long, long time. He has been a pretty healthy guy and this game takes its toll on you. He’s a winner, he’s a champ. I feel for him.”
For 18 years, Ortiz has gotten to chase the dream in professional baseball, which is more than all but a tiny percentage of the population can say. He’s thrown 1,448 1/3 innings at the major league level across 303 games since 1999, but the consensus among those who have watched that video is that he’s thrown his final pitch, because he may be facing Tommy John surgery or some other procedure under the knife. Aside from two trips to the DL, the one thing he’s always had going for him is his health, but now even that’s gone.
Having studied his resilience, I choose to believe that Ramon Ortiz will keep on keeping on, that at some point he’ll be back and pitching again, even if it’s only in the Dominican Winter League or some ramshackle independent outpost. Whatever his shortcomings may be as a performer, he will be out there until he’s satisfied that he has wrung every last pitch out of that right arm.