NORTH PORT, Fla. — When Koby Perez first laid eyes on Luis Andrés Ortiz Soriano, he noticed many things, from his tall, 6-foot-3 frame to the mid-90s fastball and deceptive curveball that jumped out of his left hand.
But once the Orioles director of international scouting truly met Ortiz, then a 15-year-old playing in the Dominican Republic, Perez understood why so many people gravitated toward Ortiz.
There was his baseball ability, of course. Yet there was so much more — a love of life that made Ortiz a role model for his little brother and all of his neighborhood in Santo Domingo.
“He was a big-bodied kid, but he was still like a kid,” Perez said in a phone interview with The Baltimore Banner. “He was very goofy at times, funny. Enjoyed normal 18- and 19-year-old stuff. Listened to music, hanging out to his friends, talking to his friends back home in the DR when he was in the states. Just a big kid. His body did not resemble the way he acted, because he was just a big, young teenager.”
The hole that’s left in Ortiz’s wake is severe. Ortiz, who signed with the Orioles in 2019, died Saturday of leukemia. He was 20.
Perez, who was with Ortiz’s family when he passed, remembers Ortiz for his competitive nature. He remembers the laughs and jokes and the intense focus he’d snap into once he took the mound. He remembers how Ortiz’s little brother idolized him — just as the rest of Ortiz’s neighborhood did.
Ortiz was the son of two pastors, growing up in a small neighborhood in the capital of the Dominican Republic. He was family oriented and religious, and those who knew him looked up to him for more than his height.
“He was the guy around there, with his family members and neighbors, so much being expected from him as a high-profile signing,” Perez said. “He was a role model in his neighborhood. Kids looked up to him. His little brother, this was his little brother’s hero. To lose anyone hurts a lot, but this kid, who in his community is seen as this guy who’s doing well and going to come back and he’s from here and he’s our guy, the community is hurting pretty bad.”
Perez first saw Ortiz when he was the director of Latin American scouting for the Cleveland Guardians. At the time, he thought Ortiz might sign with the Washington Nationals. But when Perez took over Baltimore’s international scouting department in 2019, he made Ortiz a centerpiece of that year’s class, with a signing bonus of $400,000.
Ortiz pitched in the Florida Complex League in 2021. His development was then interrupted by a new battle: leukemia.
“He fought really, really hard,” Perez said. “That’s kind of what he showed as a baseball player. When he was on the mound, he wanted to be the best player on the field.”
And when Ortiz was off the mound, he wanted to be the best person he could be.
His time was cut short. But for those who knew Ortiz during that time, he won’t be forgotten.
“He helped a lot of people in his community, because he was being looked up to,” Perez said. “Being that it is what it is, at least he left an impact.”