KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee baseball infielder Jorel Ortega enjoyed his best season in orange and white in a campaign that ended one game shy of the Vols returning to Omaha.
As Ortega enjoyed the fruits of his labor earning the starting role at second base, he also reflected on his journey to Rocky Top.
Ortega came to Knoxville by way of Florida, baseball, and sacrifice. He was born and raised in Puerto Rico. The Ortega’s lived there until 2015 when they moved to Florida just one week before Jorel started high school.
While the move was not easy, it was manageable because his mother taught him and his siblings English.
“She made us watch shows in English so I could hold a conversation when I got here,” said Ortega. “Then we made the big jump and I’m like, ‘OK’, now we’re here it’s a whole new language so I started from zero, a new place, so it wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t too bad at all.”
His family finally made the “big jump” moving from Puerto Rico to Florida to create a better future for Jorel in baseball.
“There are more opportunities for you to get exposure in college ball,” said Ortega. “The main reason was because of baseball and it definitely helped out a lot.”
Jorel was a top 500-rated player by Perfect Game and the No. 11 shortstop prospect in the state of Florida. Tennessee was the best offer he remembers receiving out of high school, but he quickly fell in love with the fan base and found a new home in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“I was a nobody here yet. I was just a high school kid and the fans were greeting me, I wasn’t even a player here yet, that actually helped out a lot too,” said Ortega.
His family’s move to the states helped pave the way for Jorel’s breakout year at UT. This season, the redshirt sophomore set career highs in every statistical category. He finished the year ranked third on the team in home runs hit (18) and RBIs (61) while batting .323. He also ranked second on the team in hits (76) and doubles (20).
This was also the first year his family could enjoy his success in person. The first game his mom watched him play in a Tennessee uniform was on April 22 this season when the Vols swept the Gators in Gainesville for the first time since 2001.
“It was probably the best weekend I’ve ever had,” said Ortega.
The infielder said around 35 family members were in the stands at Condron Family Ballpark, waving Puerto Rican flags and cheering him on.
“It was amazing to see their smiles, and they all brought flags, so it was amazing to see how happy they were,” said Ortega.
The happiness brought on tears for some of his family members who were overcome with the joy of seeing Jorel live out his goals on the diamond.
“They were just saying how proud they were because going from Puerto Rico to U.S. to having the life I wanted and I’m able to get…the sacrifices my mom made and stuff, so it just means a lot,” said Ortega.