Privateers Baseball: The Story of #TeamOrze
EDITOR’S NOTES: Story was initially written by Ro Brown for the UNO Spring 2019 Issue of the Silver & Blue Magazine. Kelvin Queliz contributed to this feature.
NEW ORLEANS – Eric Orze was a significant recruit.
The kind of pitcher head baseball coach Blake Dean needed in year-three of his quest to return the luster to the tradition-rich diamond known as University of New Orleans Baseball.
The six-foot four-inch right-hander who recorded 61 strikeouts in 66 innings pitching at Northwest Florida State Junior College in Niceville joined the Privateers in the fall of 2017 as UNO looked to replace Shawn Semple, an All-Southland Conference starter who was drafted in the 10th round of the 2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
“We had high expectations for him. He was our number two pitcher behind Bryan (Warzak, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the sixth round of the 2018 MLB First-Year Player Draft), said UNO pitching coach Rudy Darrow. “Early on, he showed exactly who we thought he was. But stuff started changing and we didn’t know what it was.”
It was a mystery to Eric, too. A 0-1 record? Fifteen earned runs in 16.0 innings? An earned run average of 8.10? Not what the coaching staff had in mind from the Carol Stream, Illinois native.
Orze did the macho-athlete thing and played through abdominal pain through the 2018 season – until the pain reached a point where he could not stand it. He just didn’t feel right.
He went to a doctor, tests were performed and the diagnosis was something a 21 year-old does not expect to hear.
His initial reaction when hearing the news was laughter. When his hands started shaking, he knew this was, perhaps, a little tougher than striking out the side with the bases loaded.
“I’m not the most emotional person but I cried like a baby. It was a tough moment for me, but the hardest part was calling my mom. She heard it but didn’t understand because you don’t expect to have your 21-year-old son telling you he has cancer.”
Orze says it took a while for the realization to sink in. Eventually, he handled it like a pitcher who just yielded a home run. Accept it and find out what you have to do to face and defeat the next hitter.
“I came to terms with it quickly and understood what my next steps needed to be,” shrugged Orze. “Cancer is a pretty big word but it was probably harder on my family.”
What they did next, was surgery—successfully – during spring of 2018 and the right-hander was labeled cancer-free.
However, they found swollen lymph nodes in his abdomen. As a precaution, they performed a second surgery to remove those lymph nodes. Once again, negative, no cancer there.
Everything seemed to be looking good until the summer when Orze has trouble breathing. He went to a hospital and while being examined for shortness of breath, a doctor casually mentioned he had a mole on his back and perhaps, down the road, he should have a dermatologist check it out.
A month later, heeding the suggestion, he visited a dermatologist, and he was informed he had skin cancer. More surgery.
“I had little sections removed from the neck and back. However, one was melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. But now I’ve had another check-up and I’m clear of all of that too.”
Two cancer diagnoses, three surgeries during the course of three months. Eric is certain he made it through 2018 because he was at the University of New Orleans. The support he received and continues to get is the reason the business administration major conquered cancer and the emotional weight it carries.
“I think I was meant to come to UNO because of the people I’m around. A lot of the guys on the team last year who are not here now are still checking up on me all the time, their families came and helped out. They made sure they were able to get my family down here for that first surgery. That was something I never thought I would need, not being the most emotional person.”
Those that watched the Privateers reach the championship game of the 2018 Southland Conference Tournament may have noticed the purple rubber bands worn by players, coaches and athletic staff. It read TEAM ORZE and many flooded in support of a former/current teammate and friend, using #TeamOrze on Twitter.
This season is a redshirt-senior year for Orze. He’ll be back on the mound for the Privateers in 2020. You can find him in the dugout, wearing his No. 37 uniform. With his teammates warming up pregame and being a part of the grounds crew – a crucial part of being a college baseball student-athlete.
He has dreams of playing the game professionally. But first, he has something he wants to accomplish at UNO.
“Being the Friday starter is what I see. That pitcher is usually your ace. Last year, we knew Bryan Warzak was going to go out on Friday and give us six or seven strong innings at a minimum. My goal next year is to be that guy for us.”
“This is the best I’ve seen him look in the two years that I’ve known him,” said Darrow. “If he continues to progress the way he has, there’s no question he’ll pitch on the weekend.”
Certainly, the Privateer pitching staff won’t find anyone with more courage and cool.
“For me this was a real kick in the butt saying if you really want to do this for a living (professional baseball), it can be taken away from you instantly. It brings to light what your priorities are in life and on the field. The little things you stress out about, you get over pretty quick after something like this.”
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