‘A family, a big family’ gets together again to honor late Seacrest standout Jeffrey Ortiz

Seacrest Country Day School's fifth annual Jeffrey Ortiz Memorial Softball Game was held on Saturday, Dec. 15. GREGG HARDY/CSI


“What’s going on Steve?”

The question — posed by one of Steve Caruso’s teammates on the Green squad — was born more out of playful needling than of actual concern.

“I feel badly for them,” Caruso, the Associate Head of School at Seacrest Country Day, replied from his spot inside the pitcher’s circle, having just surrendered back-to-back-to-back home runs to the Blue team.

(Caruso belted a home run in the previous Jeffrey Ortiz Memorial Softball Game and joked that he considered retiring from the annual Seacrest fundraiser so he could go out on a high note.)

PHOTO GALLERY: View images from the fifth annual Jeffrey Ortiz Memorial Softball Game

The trio of bombs levied by former Seacrest baseball standouts David DiNorcia, Erick Chavez and Matt DiNorcia cut the Green team’s lead from 15-4 to 15-7. Aided by an additional inning or two (really, though, who was counting), the Blue team added a few more runs before losing the fifth edition of the annual game.

Seacrest’s leadership, staff and some of its alumni joined Jeffrey Ortiz’s family at the school’s softball field during a slightly cool, overcast morning on Saturday, Dec. 15 to honor the memory of the former Stingrays standout they called “Big Papi”.

Jeffrey Ortiz was a key building block for a Seacrest baseball program that quickly established itself as one of the best in the state. A 2012 graduate and the first Stingrays baseball player to earn a college scholarship, Ortiz died from pancreatic cancer following his freshman year at Broward College.

After the game, Jeffrey’s father, Jose Ortiz Sr. — who maintains the Stingrays’ playing fields — talked about his appreciation for Seacrest.

Jose Ortiz Sr. took his usual spot inside the pitcher’s circle during Seacrest’s annual softball game in honor of his son, Jeffrey. GREGG HARDY/CSI

“We are a family here, and I am so proud, so happy to be part of this community here,” said Ortiz Sr., who pitched for the Blue team while also throwing a few playful verbal jabs at some of the Green squad’s players. “It’s a family, a big family.”

The appreciation that the Ortiz family has for Seacrest runs both ways. (Per Seacrest’s web site, “proceeds from the game will be donated to the Jeffrey Ortiz Memorial Scholarship Fund, which is awarded to a Seacrest senior who positively impacts the school, much like Jeffrey did.” The winner of this year’s Jeffrey Ortiz Memorial Scholarship will be announced in the spring.)

“I think this is great for (Jose Ortiz Sr.) and I think it’s great for the entire family because you see how we had kids fly in from their colleges just to play today, and then they’ll leave and go back to wherever they are,” said John Kruk, the co-head coach of the Stingrays varsity softball team who served as the Green team’s skipper. “But that’s what (Jose) means to this school, and that’s what Jeffrey meant to these kids that he played with.”

As she did last year, Jaclyn Traina (Seacrest softball’s other co-head coach) lent her hand — actually, her entire arm — to the cause. During a pause in the action (there was another stoppage to hold a home run derby), players lined up to take their hacks against the former Team USA pitcher who won a state title with Naples High School in 2008 and a national championship with the University of Alabama in 2012.

Kruk, the three-time Philadelphia Phillies All-Star, had to endure some mild consternation when he caught his center fielder, former Seacrest baseball standout Josue Rivera, talking on his cell phone during the game.

Right on cue, a line drive was hit to Rivera. Nonchalantly, he fielded the ball, transferred the phone to his glove and made the throw back to the infield, leaving Kruk to simply shake his head.

That head shake was accompanied by a sigh a few plays later when Rivera dropped a can of corn flyball.

Getting into the character of a no-nonsense big-league manager, Kruk deadpanned, “You know, it’s OK when he catches a ball (while talking) on his phone, but when he drops one, it cost us a couple pitches to our pitcher. Even though it’s slow pitch, (Caruso) had to work too hard.”

Asked if a cell phone ban needs to be put in place for next year’s game, Kruk’s response captured the spirit of the game.

“Anything goes out here,” he said.

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