They don't make pitching like this in the Bay League.
Bryce Ortega knew it, but seeing it is another story. So in those first intrasquad games last fall as a mostly unknown, recruited walk-on at the University of Arizona, Ortega was introduced to true heat. And true curveballs. And true split-finger pitches and sliders. Two of those pitchers became first-round draft picks in June.
Ortega learned that if he was going to speed up his career, he was going to have to speed up his bat.
"It was," Ortega explained, "all dirty, all the time."
Dirty was a word customarily associated with Ortega as a high school shortstop at Palos Verdes, where as a junior and senior, he was respected in the area for being a true ballplayer, one who absorbed the nuances of baseball and applied it to the game with a mental acumen that many high school players don't even know exists.
Even though Ortega's father played college baseball with Arizona coach Andy Lopez, it didn't mean he had anything locked up. His status was so much in question that before winter break, Lopez told Ortega he would probably redshirt and offered to help Ortega find a new school for which to play.
Instead, Ortega wanted to stay with it. He believed that if he was going to get better, he needed to see if he could stick at Arizona, where he seemed destined to spend his freshman year sweeping up the sunflower seeds on the dugout floor.
As Ortega customarily puts himself in the correct position on the field, he made the right decision last winter.
"I was pretty much at the bottom of the barrel," he said. "After winter break, I came back and I got one start at shortstop after I had been playing sporadically at a lot of positions. I thought I played pretty well and it was the first moment when I said, `I can play here."'
Ortega's confidence rose and so did the level of his play. He won the starting job in the second week of the season and completed his freshman year with a .326 average in 54 games, withstanding a season in which he admitted to fatigue at the end of the year and a nagging wrist injury that forced him to forgo play this summer.
"I was pleased with the bat, and I was pleased all around until the end of the season, when I started to get a little worn down and started fumbling some balls in the field," he said. "Up until the last few weeks, I was pretty happy with my all-around play."
As a true freshman, Ortega still had to do the dirty work. He swept the dugout floor. But he also made the travel squad on Arizona's first road trip of the season to Georgia. He didn't play, but he hauled the 60-pound batting practice ball bucket.
The next weekend, he finished up defensively late in a close game against Sacramento State. After that, he made the travel team to a tournament in Texas and was appointed the starting shortstop, a position he did not lose.
By the time Ortega got to Pacific-10 Conference play, the Friday night pitching didn't intimidate him. He had the advantage of facing one of the nation's top Division I staffs in fall ball. Power arms Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth were first-round picks. Jason Stoffel, the third reliever, also helped Ortega get much better much faster than anyone anticipated.
Lopez often batted Ortega eighth or ninth and loved the way he played defense.
"He is always in the right position," Lopez told the Tucson Citizen. "He does a marvelous job of running the bases and setting up an inning, getting an extra pitch. A ground ball to him is a routine out."
And at the plate, Ortega proved he would not become a routine out.
In 184 at-bats, he struck out 24 times and hit into only two double plays. He added occasional pop, with nine doubles, two triples and two home runs among his 60 hits.
"I had been in so many intrasquad games before I started," he said. "I had seen 95 mph and the hammer. I had seen splitters. I had seen all the real high-quality stuff, so when I got into (Pac-10) and Friday night (starting pitchers), I had seen a good portion of it on my own staff."
From nearly playing his way out of the plans, Ortega quickly played his way into them. He had been selected as an alternative to play in the Cape Cod League, but said he was probably going to play in the Jayhawk League in Kansas, where he felt he'd get more at-bats.
But an MRI last week revealed that his sore right wrist - his throwing hand and the top hand when he hits - had three bones with deep bruises. There is no structural damage, but Ortega had to shut down for the summer. He's returned home to Palos Verdes Estates, but he said he'd rather be playing.
He learned many of the same lessons that await college baseball freshmen, such as lugging the ball bucket through airport security takes forever. Security screeners and baggage handlers hate college baseball teams.
He also learned that he had to pace himself.
"You start it knowing that it's a longer season, but until it catches up to you it's not a big deal," he said. "I played two full seasons of high school baseball this spring, maybe even part of a third. It's a really big grind, and when you combine it with school, it can be really difficult. You have to learn how to conserve your body and when to go all out at other times."
In other words, don't kill yourself in morning batting practice. Ortega learned that he could play at the Division I level before many thought he could. He helped Arizona finish 42-19. The Wildcats lost at Miami in the deciding game of the best-of-3 Super Regionals. Ortega will have to wait another year to help Arizona make it to the College World Series for the 13th time.
Next year, however, a new challenge will await. Ortega is no longer at the bottom of the barrel and he gets to ditch the broom and the bucket. The obligatory "Who are you again?" fastballs slowly began to vanish in his freshman year.
"Once they figured out, `Who is this guy hitting .350, maybe we should try to get him out,' I started seeing more breaking balls," Ortega said.
Well, that figures. Ortega learned one lesson, then started teaching others.