FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Born roughly 1,400 miles from the campus of Nova Southeastern in a small Venezuelan town known as Petare, Ronny Orta could have never predicted how much his life would change when he decided to continue his baseball playing career at NSU in 2016. Sure, he expected to win a few games with the Sharks' program at its peak fresh off its first-ever national championship, but in just a few short months his connection with the team has already grown much deeper than what the average outsider will ever notice on the surface of the playing field.
Within the team, it's no secret as to the hardships and struggles Orta has endured to get to the present stage of his life. That's why, with the holiday season approaching, teammate Gilberto Torres and the rest of the Nova Southeastern ball club made sure Orta would spend his time off just like the rest of them – with his family.
From an idea that sprouted a little over a month ago, Torres and his teammates pooled together enough funds for Orta to travel back to his native country for a three-week period over break and this past Thursday presented the gracious 22-year old with the booked plane ticket.
"I thought they were going to make fun of me for something I did," Orta said in reference to the team calling him to the forefront following the conclusion of practice. "I had no idea. It was touching. I hardly even remember the moment, my mind went blank. It was amazing."
Orta grew up in the rural area labeled by BCC News in 2013 as Venezuela's "toughest slum," surrounded by drugs and violence. From a young age, though, he knew baseball was the best option when considering his own self-interest along with his family's future well-being.
"Baseball was like my escape from everything I was seeing," Orta remembered. "There's a very small chance you can get a scholarship at age 17 or 18. I started going to school again and was pretty much done playing, but figured I might as well give it a try. It was all or nothing."
Soon, the last-ditch recruiting video of Orta landed in the hands of the coaching staff at Faith Baptist Christian, a high school in Brandon, Florida. The team roster was initially full, however an injury soon opened up the opportunity for Orta to come to the states. Before he knew it, two years later Orta was participating in the FCSAA Sophomore All-Star Weekend when he was spotted by Nova Southeastern pitching coach Justin Ramsey.
"Ramsey called me and said he liked the way I pitched and would love to work with me," said Orta. "Right at that moment, I knew that's where I'd be going."
Without even taking a visit or meeting any of the team members, Orta signed with the Sharks. Lucky for him, without hesitation, new roommates Torres and fellow pitcher Josh Glick welcomed him with open arms.
As their relationship grew and Torres learned more about Orta's upbringing, he put his own life into perspective and quickly realized how fortunate he was. Once he found out Orta would likely be staying in the area for the holidays, he knew something needed to be done.
"I see him firsthand and know his story," said Torres. "I know what he's been through. I think it's miraculous how much he smiles. He can walk into any room and light it up within seconds. His laugh is the most annoying laugh ever, but it's hilarious. I wanted to do something special for him. In these four months I've known him, he's already impacted my life."
Following Thursday's workout, it was an emotional Torres that broke the news to Orta in front of the team.
While the home runs and wins and losses are what's most likely to be remembered by the public, the inseparable bond created thanks to moments like these is what will remain strong, no matter what, throughout Orta and the other 34 players' lives.
"This moment right now is something we'll never forget," added Torres. "This is something that'll affect our lives forever. That's what it's all about."
At least for this holiday season, that infectious smile and sometimes "annoying" laugh will be able to be shared with those closest to Orta – all thanks to a game he nearly gave up on a few years ago.