Pieces of eight
Quotable sources create engaging stories, and I needed one for my UTA Magazine article on new baseball coach Clay Gould in 2000. In just a few months on the job, he had recruited the 26th best class in the nation, according to Collegiate Baseball.
Major league teams had drafted five of the recruits, but the young men opted for UT Arlington instead. I wanted to know why, so I asked Gould's permission to speak with one of them.
"Call Daniel Ortmeier," he said without hesitation as he looked up the outfielder's phone number.
Moments into my conversation with the 18-year-old freshman, I knew why his coach thought so highly of him. He was articulate, sincere, poised—and polite. I'm uncomfortable being called "sir" now, so you can imagine how it felt back then.
Ortmeier talked about Gould's goal to turn the baseball program into a national power, and about the coach's emphasis on academics and becoming a winner off the field. I had the quotes I needed, and more important, UT Arlington had landed a true scholar-athlete.
Ortmeier made the 2001 and 2002 Southland Conference Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll, which requires a 3.0 GPA, and was a two-time recipient of the Steve Macko Scholarship. He ranks among the school's career leaders in batting average, home runs and runs batted in and was twice selected first-team all-SLC.
After his junior season, the San Francisco Giants drafted Ortmeier in the third round. In 2005 he became the first player in the history of Double-A Connecticut to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases in a season. He joined the Giants' roster that September and got his first major league hit against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He credits Gould for much of his success.
"I wouldn’t have made it to the major leagues without his influence," Ortmeier said recently from his home in Flower Mound.
Less than two years after my first interview with Gould, I found myself writing about him again. Midway through his first season, he had a cancerous tumor removed from his colon. Doctors anticipated a full recovery, but the cancer returned. He died June 23, 2001, at age 29.
Life had thrown the ultimate curveball.
"I loved playing for him. We all did," Ortmeier said. "Players and coaches don't typically have that close a relationship. It was something special that comes along once in a career."
Memories of Gould continue to motivate the 25-year-old switch-hitter, one of four ex-Mavericks to play in the major leagues in 2006 (see Major League Mavericks). When the Giants called him up last May, he wrote the number 8 on the underside of his cap and circled it for emphasis. That was Gould's uniform number.
"I put it on every cap I play in," he said. "Every time I take the field, it inspires me to do my best."
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— Mark Permenter