SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Four months later, the smile hasn't left the face of outfielder Rafael Ortega.
Last September, the Rockies were headed nowhere but still had a few days to actually get there. Problem was, they were running out of players because of injuries. They were in Los Angeles on the fial Sunday of the year, and needed an outfielder because Dexter Fowler had a bad wrist, Carlos Gonzalez was battling leg soreness, and Michael Cuddyer and Eric Young Jr. had long been shelved for the year because of oblique injuries.
Ortega, 21, had finished a nice season at Class A Modesto a month earlier -- .283, eight home runs, 60 stolen bases, and just happened to have been in playing shape and close by when the Rockies needed someone. He played in two of the Rockies' final four regular-season games and went 2-for-4, was hit by a pitch and stole a base -- all with his equally shocked family back in Venezuela following his every move.
"When I got home, my family was able to enjoy the moment," Ortega said. "I was really happy for them."
The appearances immediately threw Ortega into a select group of people who have appeared in a Major League game. But now he's joined the group who have been there and must work their way back. With everyone healthy, Ortega is back to being a long way from the Majors.
Winter ball in Venezuela re-established Ortega's place in the game. With LaGuaira, Ortega hit .300 but had just 80 at-bats in 41 games while sitting behind the Giants' Gregor Blanco. In Spring Training this year, Ortega is experiencing the big-league life but his locker position -- practically hidden in a corner, near the opening to the video room -- reinforces that he has a long way to go.
But he plans to work hard to relive the dream.
"I'm probably going to go to Double-A, but you never know if this year I can get to the big leagues," Ortega said. "I want to be ready for another chance. I'd like to make it back by the end of this year, or if not, sometime next year. I'll just keep working hard."