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Baseball in a Healing Mode...Again

 
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dodgerblue6



Joined: 10 Aug 2005
Posts: 12099
Location: San Diego CA - deep in the heart of SoCal

PostPosted: Sun 1/18/09 11:28 pm    Post subject: Baseball in a Healing Mode...Again Reply with quote

It's still a horrifying thought, but I'm sure most of you here read about the "Santa Claus" killings in Covina, CA last month. These took place just about five miles from where Crzblue lives.

From T.J. Simers' column in the L.A. Times:

Quote:
Just maybe . . . a better way to spend your money. A group of high school baseball teams will conduct a benefit for the Ortega family, which lost nine members in the Christmas Eve massacre -- leaving so many children behind.

The Monday event at Azusa Pacific University begins at 2 p.m. with Charter Oak taking on Covina. Northview will play South Hills at 5 -- each baseball program already contributing a $150 entry fee.

There will be a $2 admission charge for the family's benefit, both games considered premier contests, and there will be no additional convenience fee.


Rest in peace to the victims; and believe me, I'm going to do my best to get there.
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dodgerblue6



Joined: 10 Aug 2005
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PostPosted: Tue 1/20/09 1:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Follow-up:

I know this will be a long post, but I do not want it to be written in vain.

My eyes are filled with tears as I type this.

A couple of days ago I wrote about watching baseball on a lazy Saturday afternoon on a beautiful field at the edge of the ocean.

Yesterday, I watched more baseball, but in a different venue and with a decidedly different underlying tone. On Monday afternoon, the stakes were higher. Emotions ran deeper. Rather than just a laid-back, sun-soaked SoCal day at a baseball game being played for fun or recreation, these events were among the more moving and inspirational games I’ve ever been in attendance for.

I’m not writing this for anyone else, but simply to share with many friends, both via email and on this board, my experience at a fundraiser that lifted spirits, elevated hope, and raised money for a family that has endured more pain than most in attendance will go through in their lifetimes, combined.

I came prepared to report on the games. But in the end, it didn’t really matter what the final scores of the games were, or who won. The only thing that mattered was they were being played, and people showed up. Lots of people.

I don’t have to impress on anyone here how absolutely terrifying the crime was that necessitated this charity event. I just need to put the community into perspective before I proceed. One thing I’ve learned from posting on varius message boards on the Internet is that people who don’t live in SoCal tend to think of the area as one big, sprawling city, or group of cities that basically has no heart, with millions of detached people living in it. In reality, while it’s easy to categorize everyone in the region as “LA” or “OC”, “Inland Empire”, etc., the individual communities are very independent, often with their own identity and many residents who care deeply about each other.

Thus, when a crime of such enormity as the Ortega family murders took place last month, its impact on Covina—a city of just over 45,000 people—was tremendous. Covina is a middle-class suburb in the San Gabriel Valley, built amid walnut, orange and grapefruit groves, just two towns over and a few exits off the I-10 freeway from where our friend Crzblue resides.

On Sunday, I posted (above) a short mention from T.J. Simers’ column about this doubleheader.

On Monday, I read the following article in the Daily News:

Quote:
Local teams gather at APU today in effort to aid Ortega family

By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
Updated: 01/18/2009

AZUSA - Darren Murphy grew up in Covina, attended Northview High School and coached his alma mater to a CIF-SS divisional baseball title last spring.

But the reasons Murphy, South Hills' Kevin Smith, Charter Oak's Tom Quinley and Covina's Pete Loaiza coach are for moments like today, when the four high schools gather for an exhibition doubleheader at Azusa Pacific University to benefit the Ortega family, who lost nine members in the Christmas Eve massacre in Covina.

It's a story that shook families across the country, a disgruntled ex-husband showing up in a Santa Claus suit on the doorstep of his ex-wife's parents' home on East Knollcrest Drive, then opening fire on an 8-year-old girl as she answered the door and continuing through the house firing his semi-automatic at other family members.

The ex-husband, Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, lit the house on fire with a homemade flamethrower, burning it to the ground. He later killed himself.

"This hits you on two fronts," Murphy said. "If you're from Covina, most of us have been up and down every street in the neighborhood, it's your home, it's where you grew up.

"The other is that Christmas Eve is personally one of my favorite nights of the year. I can't imagine this family going from that super-high feeling to the lowest of lows. It's unimaginable. For the people that live in that area, and for a lot of us who grew up here, we'll be thinking of their family on Christmas Eve the rest of our lives.

"You start asking yourself, what can you do? What can you do? It's not much, but we felt we had to do something."

Today's doubleheader begins with Covina and Charter Oak at 2 p.m., followed by South Hills and Northview at 5.

Both games will be nine innings and there will be a minimum $2 donation, but patrons are encouraged to donate more. There will be 50-50 raffles, and all revenue from snack bar sales will also benefit the Ortega family, whose funeral services were held Friday in San Dimas.

"You play for league titles, for CIF titles, but as important as those things are, there is nothing more personally important than getting together and helping this incredible family during this tough, tough time," Murphy said. "If you're going to be in a public position, whether it's as a teacher or coach, this is one of your responsibilities - to act when you have an opportunity to act."

Gunthers Athletic Service in Anaheim donated black wristbands for all the players and coaches to wear, and there will be a ceremony featuring Covina Mayor Kevin Stapleton and several city council members between games (roughly 4:30 p.m.) to honor the family.

All four teams have already donated $150 each, with players chipping in $10 apiece.

The Angels have donated two autographed baseball bats from outfielders Garret Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero that will be auctioned off.

In addition to the $600 raised by all four teams, there is a huge donation from a major league player who graduated from a local high school that will be announced following the first game.


[Note: There was some speculation by the fans in attendance as to who this player was--it turns out we were all wrong. Some major leaguers had pledged money which has not yet been received, but in this case, proceeds were only counted that were actually realized on game day.]

Quote:
"It's a sizable donation," Murphy said. "He really reached into his pockets."

One of the victims of the Christmas Eve Massacre was 17-year-old Michael Ortiz, a varsity baseball player from Ontario High School.

At Friday's funeral, several teens who attended Ontario and played baseball with Ortiz donned their school jackets.

"He's (Ortiz) around the same age as a lot of the players. It hits home in that respect," Quinley said. "It's absolutely tragic what happened. If you have the means to help, even just a little, it's the least you can do."

This is Loaiza's first year as Covina's baseball coach, but he too grew up in Covina and attended Northview.

Loaiza said he couldn't think of a better way to start his coaching career with the Colts.

"You talk to kids all the time about responsibility and taking advantage of opportunities, and this is an opportunity for all of us to do something," Loaiza said. "We constantly talk about doing the right things and living your life a certain way. You're supposed to use athletics to teach life skills so when it's time to walk the walk, you need to do it. This is definitely one of those times."

In another month when the baseball season officially begins, this would have been a heated doubleheader.

All four schools have proud baseball traditions. Charter Oak won a Division IV championship in 2007 and Northview won the Division IV title last spring. Covina also owns a CIF title and South Hills, which advanced to the Division III title game last year, has arguably the richest tradition of all.

But all four coaches agreed that the final scores don't mean anything. Pitchers won't be allowed to pitch more than a few innings, and players have been encouraged to just play, have fun, and to remember what they're playing for.

"Winning has never been less important," Smith said. "There's a family hurting right now. None of us can imagine what they're going through. It's horrific. But maybe in our little way we can help and do what we do best, and that's play baseball."

ed.robledo@sgvn.com


Baseball runs deep through our blood in SoCal, as I’ve often posted, but it’s hard to impress just how important baseball is in the San Gabriel Valley, particularly in Covina. One of its high schools boasts 30 former students who’ve gone on to play professional baseball, just since the late 1970s.

Some of these names are far from obscure: Jason and Jeremy Giambi. Shawn Wooten. Michael Young. Jack Clark, former Giants and Cardinals player who haunted the hometown Dodgers, grew up here, although he was born back East--but like many others from around the U.S. in the ‘60s, Clark’s family relocated to SoCal during his teen years and he benefited from playing in one of the top baseball programs in the country in developing young talent.

In West Covina, it wasn’t so long ago that one of their own, a pitcher for the New York Yankees, was killed in a tragic accident—two years ago, in fact. When Corey Lidle’s plane went down shortly after the 2006 season ended, his neighborhood rallied to honor his memory by renaming the community baseball fields for him.

And now, when the community of Covina needed healing in the aftermath of an unspeakable tragedy, baseball—one of the town’s most valuable assets--was there to give back. $2 minimum donation? A great way to keep it affordable for families.

A few comments from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune:

Quote:
At best, organizers for Monday's Ortega Family fundraiser featuring the baseball teams from Northview, Covina, South Hills and Charter Oak hoped to raise two, maybe three thousand. All four teams chipped in with $150 each to start, but over the weekend, Texas Rangers shortstop and all-star Michael Young dipped into his pockets and donated $10,000.

Covina Mayor Kevin Stapleton: "The unity this shows, the dedication and the love this community has for each other is heart-warming, it's wonderful to see. To have all these people here on a day off...give their money and their time to raise money for the victims of this horrible crime is beyond words. I'm at a loss for words actually, which is kind of rare for a politician, but that's how moved I am by this event."

South Hills coach Kevin Smith seemed moved by the large gathering as well, and told a story about a Northern California couple he met pulling into the parking lot..."It's a three-day weekend, there are barbecues everywhere, the weather is awesome, and there's this huge turnout for high school baseball games in January. When we pulled in we met this couple from Northern California who didn't know anybody, but heard about this game in the news and wrote a check for a $100. They just said 'Here, this is a great thing you're doing.' Absolutely incredible, it really is."


Nine people lost their lives in Covina on December 24, 2008. No amount of money will ever bring them back. Yet their family, and beyond that, their community, is suffering. So that they are not merely statistics, here are a couple of excerpts from the L.A. Times article about their memorial. I've chosen to highlight two victims, one elderly and one very young.

Quote:
* Joseph Ortega, 80

Joseph Ortega was the first of his parents' five children to be born in the United States. Santiago Ortega and Dolores Sandoval had emigrated in the 1920s from the city of Torreon in northern Mexico. Their oldest son, Alfonso, would become an American citizen and fight in World War II.

..."Papa Joe," as he was called, loved to collect baseball hats and tried to wear a new one every day, said Linda Perez, a family friend who would give him her son's old Little League hats.

"It didn't matter what kind it was," she said, "he'd wear it and be beaming for the rest of the day."

* Michael Ortiz, 17

Michael Ortiz's baseball team was down a few runs in an All-Star game and the rest of the bench looked glum.

"Don't sit down!" Ortiz told his teammates, trying to fire them up. "Get off your butts and play!"

"He kept talking and got the team up and we ended up winning the game," remembered Julio Martinez, who said he grew up playing Little League and other youth leagues with Ortiz and was at that game.

"Always looks at the bright side," Martinez said of his friend's philosophy about life.

A senior at Ontario High School, Ortiz was poised to be the team's shortstop this season and was one of the Jaguars' best pitchers with a mean change-up, said the school's varsity baseball coach Chris Romero.

Ortiz made varsity his junior year and wore No.19, Romero said. When he tried out for the team as a freshman, Romero said he remembered that Ortiz was small but had "good hands" and swung the bat well.

He was also a good student, Romero said, and thought about going to Cal State Fullerton.

"He's one of those kids that you never worried about," Romero said, adding that Ortiz was in advanced math classes. "I would always glance at his grades and they were real good."

...Ortiz's uncle, Benny Medina of Diamond Bar, said his nephew was already thinking about his future.

"He was going to make it," said Medina, 58. "He was going to be somebody."

After the shootings, Michael Ortiz's friends organized a car wash at the nearby high school to help pay for funeral expenses, Martinez said. Ortiz's mother was also killed and friends said they wanted to help his surviving two sisters and father.


I’m still overwhelmed by the magnitude of the tragedy. But on a brighter note, I’m overwhelmed to see so many people pull together to support the Ortega family. My faith in humanity has been renewed. Baseball and its fans have made a difference, once again.

May those who were taken forever rest in peace.


_________________
"The Dodgers have always occupied an enormous place in the history of the game. If the Yankees are the most successful team in baseball history, the Dodgers are the most essential. Their legacy is unique."

-Baseball Hall of Fame
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sunnyblue



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: San Diego County, CA

PostPosted: Tue 1/20/09 11:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You are an awesome writer and I don't know anyone else who could tell about that the way you do. I know what you mean about people from other places who generalize (about people here being detached, instead of like neighbors).

I wish I could have gone with you but you know we had a family party. I'm sure you had a lot of fun even though it was an emotional thing.

Quote:
I'm not writing this for anyone else, but simply to share with many friends, both via email and on this board, my experience at a fundraiser that lifted spirits, elevated hope, and raised money for a family that has endured more pain than most in attendance will go through in their lifetimes, combined.


A good way to put it. Do you mind if I share this on other boards? More people should read about this. [/quote]
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stlred
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PostPosted: Tue 1/20/09 12:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm so glad you got to go and it was well attended. Baseball itself is such an awesome community.
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dodgerblue6



Joined: 10 Aug 2005
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Location: San Diego CA - deep in the heart of SoCal

PostPosted: Wed 1/21/09 12:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Do you mind if I share this on other boards?


Not at all. The teams, and the head coach especially, deserve credit for agreeing to do this in their "offseason." Not only does it give their community some positive press (aside from producing so many great professional baseball players), but it brings attention to their leadership.
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-Baseball Hall of Fame
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crzblue



Joined: 11 Aug 2005
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PostPosted: Wed 1/21/09 12:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

great post Linda! Very touching.

I so wanted to attend that day but it was not a Holiday for me and my boss is in Salt Lake City this whole week so is harder for me to get away.
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sunnyblue



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PostPosted: Wed 1/21/09 8:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I do not want it to be written in vain.


Thank you. I will repost, it won't be written in vain.
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Nurse Cozmo



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PostPosted: Thu 1/22/09 9:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow. That is just about the saddest thing I ever heard. How wonderful of those kids to want to give of themselves.
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dodgerblue6



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PostPosted: Sat 2/7/09 2:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

And this case continues to draw support from others, including the Mariners' Mike Sweeney, who is dealing with his own problems. I can't believe the number of people touched by this story who are willing to reach out to the Covina community--but in times like these, it's very heartwarming.

From the L.A. Times:

BASEBALL
"Mike Sweeney answers a call for help"

The first baseman/designated hitter has to deal with his sons' health problems, but he still organizes a fundraiser to benefit the family of Michael Ortiz, who was killed in the Covina massacre.

By Lance Pugmire

February 6, 2009

As he sat for hours in his infant son's hospital room, Mike Sweeney didn't feel much like a multimillionaire, a five-time All-Star or the most popular Kansas City Royals player since George Brett.

He was scared and desperate, wrapped in fear with his frail son's life in peril.

"When I held my 3-week-old baby in my hands all I could feel was his spine and ribs," Sweeney said. "He was shriveling away, below his birth weight of eight pounds. I didn't really know what his disease was . . . . I was a terrified father."

Then, the phone rang.

A student from Sweeney's alma mater, Ontario High, was asking for help.

Michael Ortiz, one of the school's baseball players, had been among the nine killed in a Christmas Eve massacre in Covina.

Ortiz, 17, had been, like Sweeney was during his days at the school, a bright and ambitious student in addition to being a fine ballplayer. He and his mother, Alicia, a former sister-in-law of the heavily armed gunman, were left dead along with the boy's grandparents, three of his aunts and two uncles. The survivors included his two sisters, Monique and Cecily, who jumped from a second-story window to survive the attack, and his father and cousins.

"When I heard the story repeated to me; when they told me Michael valued himself as a student first and athlete second, like myself, and that he was a wonderful Catholic kid who lived his faith, it absolutely broke my heart," Sweeney said.

The caller asked, "Would you help organize a fundraiser for Michael's family?"

Sweeney, 35, barely paused. "I knew I was going through a crazy time, but someone had a heavier burden than me," he said.

Holding the hand of his own ailing son, Sweeney told the student he would help.

Not long after, on Jan. 8 at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego, tiny Donovan Sweeney emerged from surgery for pyloric stenosis, a rare condition that stops food movement from the stomach to the small intestine. The baby was sent home a day later and has continued to put on weight.

But the infant's father was wearing down. Given his own family's trials and a challenging recovery from double knee surgery in 2008, Mike Sweeney was contemplating retirement after 14 major league seasons.

He was one percentage point shy of being a .300 career hitter, one home run short of 200. Even so, the first baseman and designated hitter -- the 2007 Fred Hutchinson Award winner as the player who "best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire" -- said he "didn't know what the next chapter would entail."

His plans became cloudier on Jan. 12 when his oldest child, 4-year-old Michael James Sweeney, began suffering a series of Grand Mal seizures. More emergency room visits took place until doctors diagnosed the boy with epilepsy.

Since then, medication has helped control Michael James' symptoms.

"As of now, we're out of the woods, and we're praying for no more drama," said Sweeney, who lives in Rancho Santa Fe with his wife, Shara, the two boys and 3-year-old daughter McKara.

And so Sweeney will turn his focus to a baseball camp organized to raise funds for Michael Ortiz's family. It will take place Saturday, rain or shine, at Ontario High, where Sweeney will be joined by some of his major league friends -- Geoff Blum, Eddie Guardado and Jeremy Reed among them -- plus a few current and former professional athletes from the Inland Valley.

The event has "blossomed into something that has taken on its own life," said Jen Munoz, a student advisor at the high school. "Mike Sweeney has been so active, working harder than myself and other organizers, and everyone who calls me to donate something says what a good heart he has, that they'd do anything for Mikey.' "

Sweeney says he has been deluged with baseball apparel and gear he'll distribute to campers from Nike, the Angels, Dodgers, Royals, and a sporting goods company. There will also be a silent auction, which will include an Albert Pujols-signed All-Star jersey, a commemorative 300-save ball from Trevor Hoffman, a Junior Seau-signed football and a baseball signed by Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. Actor Peter Fonda and other celebrities are expected to attend.

More than $20,000 in donations have been secured, and Sweeney won a promise from an anonymous donor to double whatever the total proceeds are after Saturday.

"The kind of person Mike Sweeney is, the way he conducts himself -- that's what's made this possible," said Ontario High Vice Principal Cary Wilborn, who said he has received checks from as far as Dubai.

"I love helping out, putting a smile on someone's face," Sweeney said. "I guess the easiest thing in the world for me to do with that phone call was to put a check in the mail and say, 'God bless.' [But] sometimes, people need more than a check.

"This is about the entire community wrapping its arms around Michael's family."

When Sweeney is finished, he will turn his attention to another project -- spring training. The Seattle Mariners last week signed him to a contract, giving him a chance to crack the .300-average, 200-homer club.

Some new fans will be rooting for him.

------

The clinic will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Ontario High, 901 W. Francis St. in Ontario. It is intended for boys and girls age 6 and up, with a $50 donation per child. Information: (909) 460-5814.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com
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sunnyblue



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Wed 2/11/09 8:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Class act all the way. Stuff by Hoffy, Pujols, Seau, Robinson should have gotten some nice bids. Did not know Sweeney was in RSF all this time, or that he had children with special needs. Hope he makes it with the Mariners this year.
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dodgerblue6



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PostPosted: Mon 2/16/09 5:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here's an update on how that camp went. I'm glad so many players have stepped up to the plate in memory of Michael Ortiz, and in support of his family.

Even rooftop seats at Wrigley Field have a positive purpose, in this case...


Quote:
On the field nearby, 300 or so youngsters were getting baseball tips from a dozen or so past and present major league players led by the school's most prominent alumnus Mike Sweeney, a five-time all-star with the Kansas City Royals.

..."I have been blessed and was in a position to help," Sweeney said, while the festivities were winding down. "The community has wrapped their arms around this family and I was glad to be part of it."

Among the athletes on hand were Inland Empire products Geoff Blum (Houston Astros) and Jeremy Reed (New York Mets). Joining them were Eddie Guardado (Texas Rangers), David Newhan (Baltimore Orioles), Daric Barton (Oakland "A"s) and Reed's brother Mark, a minor leaguer in the Chicago Cubs organization.

...Also giving instruction was USC head coach Chad Kreuter, a former teammate of Sweeney's who pushed the Trojans practice back a few hours so he could help out.

Sweeney, who just signed a one-year contract with the Seattle Mariners, took care of the baseball end of the event, enlisting the help of his peers and securing items for a silent auction of memorabilia.

Items included everything from the usual - bats, balls, baseball cards and autographed jerseys to four rooftop seats to a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

Members of the Jaguars baseball team took turns manning one table. All say Michael Ortiz was respected by his peers, so much so that he was voted team captain. They will wear his No. 10 on the back of their hats for the coming season.

"It is great to see everyone come together and enjoy Michael's favorite thing - baseball," said junior Emilio Vidal.

...Meanwhile, Sweeney said he is excited about the coming season. He had surgery on both knees in June and dropped about 10 pounds. He will be reporting to spring training in Arizona soon.

Both his sons are doing better. Michael, 4, was running alongside his father much of the day.

"I still have a passion for the game," he said. "I want to play till God closes that door and opens another. I think I still have a lot to contribute."

_________________
"The Dodgers have always occupied an enormous place in the history of the game. If the Yankees are the most successful team in baseball history, the Dodgers are the most essential. Their legacy is unique."

-Baseball Hall of Fame
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sunnyblue



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Wed 2/18/09 6:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I was glad to hear it went well. I'm sure those kids had an experience to remember forever. Not many get to be instructed by that many Major League players in the same session. Those who gave of their time even thought they had other things going on in their lives to worry about are special people.
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