'Dogs Play On For Papa Joe
April 30, 2014
By Kim Fisher, Athletic Communications
Recently, members of the community here in Fresno have begun noticing the bands that the Fresno State Softball team and staff wear proudly around their wrists.
The red and white bands, stating "We Are All In" on one side and "Joe Ortiz" on the other, signify that Fresno State softball is also now playing in the memory of deceased father of senior shortstop Brooke Ortiz and team manager Halle Ortiz.
In addition to the wrist bands, Head Coach Trisha Ford and coaching staff had batting practice T-shirts made with the words `Shocka Locka', Joe's favorite saying on the front, and `Ortiz' with the number 10 on the back, as well as JO patches sewn onto the player jerseys and the coaching staff's hats.
"Being able to play with my dad's initials on my jersey is just the most amazing thing I could ask for," Brooke said. "For Coach Ford and the girls, and even the equipment staff, to think about that and make that happen was so awesome."
A week after his passing, a moment of silence was held in honor of Joe before the Ohio State game, and the honorary first pitch was thrown out by Joe's brother, Dwayne Ortiz. During the tournament, a sign was also placed on the notorious tractor down the left field line stating "Joe's Seat."
"He was probably the only voice I could ever hear on the field," Brooke said. "Sometimes it would be in front of me in the stands and sometimes it would be behind me sitting on the tractor - so having his name on that seat was pretty cool."
As a freshman, Brooke was assigned the jersey number 10 that she has proudly worn for four years now, but that jersey now carries a completely different meaning.
The team now considers Joe Ortiz its 10th man when stepping onto the field. "It was so weird because I got the number 10 randomly," Brooke said, "I didn't get to choose it, but now I think it makes sense. He's the 10th man on the field, and I'm number 10 so he's always on my back - that's pretty special."
This man not only had three children; Brooke, Halle and T.J. Ortiz, but was an adopted father to the Fresno State softball team.
Not only did Joe enjoy visiting his children, according to team manager Halle Ortiz, "He loved the fact that he could come to Fresno and see both of us out here and involved with the sport that he was obsessed with. Baseball and softball were his life, and when my brother ended up coming here, too, we were the "trifecta." He loved coming here and staying with us all weekend."
The team never held a doubt that he was the biggest fan at Bulldog Diamond. Joe took pride in spoiling them with breakfast burritos on the mornings of home games and hosting the infamous softball tailgates that will continue to be held in honor of this Bulldog dad.
"He really had a way of making people know he was here," Halle said. "He was the big man in charge. Especially with the tailgates, that was his thing. Everyone came out to them, everyone ate, and he stuffed them to the max because he cooked way too much food."
On March 7, 2014 the Ortiz family faced their worst fear. What started out as an ordinary headache turned into a tragic event that no one saw coming.
"He was admitted into Lodi Memorial Hospital on Tuesday," Brooke said. "They knew something was off, and then flew him to UC Davis, and by Wednesday they told us that he had a stroke. He had a massive blood clot on the left side of his brain so they rushed him to surgery and tried to drain it out - in the end it was too little, too late."
The man whom the team called `Papa Joe' and who Brooke, Halle and T.J. called `Dad', quietly slipped away in the presence of his loved ones as the team gathered in a hotel conference room hours away to grieve together.
"I think that our girls have really learned to live life without taking things for granted," Ford said. "They have become very close, and I think they will stay in contact with each other for the rest of their lives because this was a life-changing experience."
Knowing that coming back to Fresno from their hometown of Lodi, Calif., after such a tragic moment wouldn't be easy, the team, coaching staff, friends, faculty and fans all kept the Ortiz family close in their thoughts and prayers as everyone anticipated what would happen next.
"At first it was hard and I honestly didn't think I would be able to get through this," Brooke said. "It's definitely the hardest thing I've ever had to go through."
"In the end it's a step-by-step, day-by-day process, and these girls are my biggest support system. I don't think I would even be playing this soon if it weren't for them, the coaches and the fans that come to every game. I didn't realize how important he was to everyone's life, and that takes the selfishness away from it. I know I'm not the only one suffering. These girls are my best friends. They are my family. I would do anything for them, and knowing that they would do anything for my family is amazing."
Joe Ortiz was, and forever will be, loved by many. The impact that this one man has made on so many lives is remarkable, and his presence alone created countless memories that will forever be cherished by those who knew him. One of Ford's fondest memories of him was on the day that Brooke was released to finally take ground balls in her rehabilitation from an ACL injury last spring.
"We asked him to come out and catch Brooke's throws." Ford said, "and he almost started crying. It was such a neat father-daughter experience and one that I will never forget. He loved watching his daughter play on this field, and he was so proud to be a part of such an important day."
Bulldog Diamond will never forget Joe Ortiz and the impact that he has made on the Bulldog softball family that loved him equally as much.