Torres was a mother to Ortiz when he needed one
Rangers left-hander thankful 'fairy godmother' kept him on the right track
ARLINGTON -- Rangers pitcher Joseph Ortiz lived on a nice street growing up in Petare, a neighborhood in the eastern district of Caracas. There were other areas in the neighborhood that weren't so nice, and Ortiz couldn't avoid them because that's where the athletic facilities were located.
When you start playing baseball at the age of 4 and your dream is to play in the Major Leagues, well, that's just part of life in the sprawling capital city of Venezuela. Drugs and guns are just as prevalent as bats and balls, and the sounds of gunfire are not uncommon.
"I know there were two or three situations where people got into trouble, you could hear gunfire and fights starting," Ortiz said. "I'm talking big fights. I had to run as fast as I could to get away from it."
Clara Torres made sure Ortiz did not get into trouble. From the time Ortiz starting playing, she would accompany him to his games, either walking hand-in-hand through the neighborhood or on the bus.
"She really means everything in the world to me," said Ortiz, sharing his story through Rangers broadcaster Eleno Ornelas. "She rescued me. She is the one who took care of me. I wouldn't be here now if it wasn't for her. She was always there for me."
This is Mother's Day weekend, a time when Major League players join others in thinking about and celebrating the great women in their lives, whether it be a mother, wife or other close relation.
Clara Torres doesn't fall into any of those categories for Ortiz. Officially, she is the mother of Ortiz's godfather. But perhaps the best description of her is "fairy godmother," because Clara Torres really did help the 22-year-old left-hander's dream come true.
"I remember when the Rangers told me in Spring Training that I had made the team," Ortiz said. "I called her and told her and she started crying. But she was crying because she was so happy. She said, 'I told you that you were going to make it, because you worked so hard to get there.' I still talk to her every day almost."
Felix Ortiz is a carpenter in Petare, and his son, Joseph, was born on Aug. 13, 1990. Joseph Oriz's parents did not live together and Ortiz started out living under his mother's care. The arrangement lasted only three months.
"My real mother wasn't taking care of me," Ortiz said. "She would be off somewhere and she would leave me all alone. My father heard about it and came to get me. My father decided to take his baby with him."
Felix Ortiz still had to work and make a living in an economically challenged neighborhood known for the "Buhoneros," the street hustlers who sell everything from electronic gadgets to food and clothing. At night, special police patrols take to the streets to help keep order in a neighborhood crammed with over one million people in the impoverished area.
So Ortiz's father turned to Torres for help. She had her own children to raise, but gladly brought Joseph into her care and raised him like another son. When it comes to Mother's Day, this is who Ortiz thinks about and considers his real mom, the one who cooked for him, washed his clothes, wiped his tears, gave him a mother's love and shared his dreams.
"She didn't even like baseball until I started playing baseball," Ortiz said. "When I started to practice and play baseball, she started to watch the games and became a big fan.
"But she always made sure I stayed on the right side of the street and didn't get into trouble. She was always looking out for me and showing me what was the right thing to do ... teaching me. It was tough. There were kids walking around with guns, or throwing rocks or getting into drugs. She made sure I never did anything like that. She or my father was always with me.
"We lived on a good street, but we had to cross over to a bad street because that's where the practice fields were if you wanted to play baseball, soccer or basketball. If she knew I was going over there to practice for an hour ... if I wasn't back in an hour, she would come looking for me. She let me put a basketball hoop on her house so she could look out the window and keep an eye on me while I played basketball."
Basketball was fun for Ortiz but did not offer much of a future. He is only 5-foot-7. Baseball was his love, whether it was in organized leagues or on the streets with a rolled up newspaper as the bat. He was a center fielder and a first baseman up until he was 14. Then somebody made him a pitcher and the scouts noticed him, although he wasn't one of the star athletes or high-profile prospects that have made Venezuela second only to the Dominican Republic in producing Latin American talent.
"He was a fish in a wide net," said Mike Daly, the Rangers' director of international scouting. "He was signed by Manny Batista ... he was an opportunity-type sign ... little signing bonus."
This was in 2006. Ortiz was just 16 and still in school when Batista and area scout Edgar Suarez offered him a contract. The money was almost nothing and Ortiz was facing a long road ahead. But his father and Clara Torres gave him permission to pursue his dream and put Petare behind him.
"I told them I was not going to school, that I really wanted to play baseball," Ortiz said. "Both of them said yes, they supported me and were behind me. They assured me I was doing the right thing. She always kept telling me I was going to make it, that I worked hard and I was a good son and never got into trouble. She said, 'You're going to be in the big leagues.'"
After six years in the Minor Leagues, she ended up being right. Fairy godmothers do make dreams come true.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.