When the Coach of the Gulls Speaks, Nothing Gets Lost In Translation
Alfredo Ortiz is many things to the Ventura County Gulls. Normally a coach, the 35-year-old Venezuelan managed the Gulls to three straight wins over the Visalia Oaks the past weekend in the absence of Manager Glenn Ezell.
After Sunday’s 9-6 victory at Ventura College, Ortiz turned interpreter, translating the excited words of 19-year-old Dominican Francisco Cabrera, who had collected the first two hits of his professional career. As the only Spanish-speaking nonplayer on a team with eight Dominicans and two Venezuelans, Ortiz’s contribution extends beyond the baseball knowledge he’s acquired in 18 years as a professional player and coach.
“I am father, brother and often mother to the Latin players,” Ortiz said. “I tell them my phone can ring whenever they want. Three or four in the morning, they call me if something is on their minds.”
Ezell, who will return from Texas today, where he visited his wife and daughter, speaks little Spanish. The manager’s nickname is “Easy,” but it’s Ortiz who helps make things easy for Ezell.
Cabrera, a first-year catcher away from home for the first time, acknowledged Ortiz’s value.
“I feel less homesick after we talk,” Cabrera said. “He reminds me this is my job. I have to concentrate on my game and not think about home.”
Regular catcher Greg Myers is out with a bruised shoulder, which gave Cabrera a chance to think about his game from somewhere other than the dugout for only the third time this season. He made the most of the opportunity, doubling home two runs in a five-run Gull fourth inning, singling and scoring the winning run in the seventh and throwing out the only Oak who attempted to steal.
Omar Malave, a native of Venezuela, is another player benefiting from Ortiz’s presence. After batting only .206 in 30 games as the third baseman, Malave lost his spot in the lineup to Jim Bishop three weeks ago.
“I had to explain the situation to him,” Ortiz said. “I told Omar not to give up because in baseball many things happen. If he gives up, he’ll lose an opportunity.”
When left fielder Geronimo Berroa hurt a knee playing a ball off the fence in the sixth inning, Malave replaced him and made a sprawling catch with two out and a runner on second in the seventh. The score was tied, 6-6, at the time. Malave also doubled off the left-field fence and scored the Gulls’ eighth run.
“I understand Toronto hired me partly because I communicate well with Latin players,” said Ortiz, a career minor-leaguer who had never been to the West Coast before coming to Ventura. “My life has been much like these players. I learned English in dugouts and by watching cartoons on Saturday mornings.”
Gull Coach Alfredo Ortiz is godfather to Cincinnati shortstop Dave Concepcion’s two-year-old son, David Alejandro. Ortiz, who is a lifelong friend of Concepcion’s, will attend tonight’s game between the Dodgers and Reds at Dodger Stadium. . . . The Gulls have won 23 of 29 games but still trail the Palm Springs Angels by four games in the Southern Division of the California League. The league’s first half ends June 15.