BY STEVE KRAH
It’s fair to say there will be new Cards at the Block (Stadium) in 2020.
It’s been a trend for East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School Cardinals baseball to have several players in their first year’s of organized baseball or at least since youth leagues.
“Every year we seem to be rebuilding,” says Jorge Ontiveros, ECC head coach since 2009. “We don’t have a big freshmen class coming in.
“This is every year.”
That’s one of the reasons Ontiveros and his coaching staff emphasize discipline. It is also a quality he got from his coaches while he was a Cardinals player.
The 1991 graduate played for Ruben Morris and then his senior year for Bo Reyes.
“We try to keep these kids organized and structured regardless of the score and the result of the game,” says Ontiveros. “They’re expected to be a certain way on and off the field.
“We expect them to be gentlemen. We want them to be productive students in the classroom and on the diamond just so we don’t have any problems.”
Ontiveros says there are usually about 20 players out each year in a school of about 1,200. Many of them are soccer players and wrestlers.
“They come in with that athletic ability,” says Ontiveros. “Our only challenge is hand-eye coordination with the baseball.”
East Chicago Little League introduces local kids to the game, but it is not as big as it once was with one or two teams per division.
Ontiveros says EC mayor Anthony Copeland implemented “Building Baseball Through Community” with participation from Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond and Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting.
“There was good participation of about 50 kids,” says Ontiveros. “We’re looking to continue that process.”
Helping Ontiveros in 2020 will be varsity assistant Frank Rosado (who has been with the program since 1986), junior varsity head coach Carlos Perez, JV assistant Juan Becerra and volunteer/pitching coach Jimmy Flores (who played at Noll).
Ontiveros, Perez and Flores are teammates on the Astros of the 28-and-over Northwest Indiana Adult Baseball League and Rosado used to play.
“I’ll go until my body says I can’t go any more,” says Ontiveros.
Astros manager and NWIABL president Jeramy Ortiz is a former ECC coach.
After some time as an independent, East Chicago Central now competes as a member of the Great Lakes Athletic Conference (with Gary West Side, Hammond, Hammond Clark, Hammond Gavit and Hammond Morton).
In baseball, each GLAC team plays each other twice — home and away. In 2019, non-conference opponents included Boone Grove, Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Highland, Morgan Township, Munster, 21st Century Charter and Washington Township.
The Cardinals are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Hammond Morton, Highland, Lake Central, Merrillville and Munster. East Chicago Central, which opened in 1986-87 and replaced East Chicago Roosevelt and East Chicago Washington, has yet to win a sectional championship.
Two Washington graduates — pitcher Tim Stoddard and outfielder Kenny Lofton — played in the big leagues. Outfielder Jim Hicks, who played in the majors in 1965-66 and 1969-70, went to Roosevelt.
Kenny Lofton Field is located next to historic Block Stadium, a structure built in 1942 and home to many of the best ballplayers to come through the Region.
Many renovations have been made in recent years to a property owned and operated by the city, including a total revamping of the playing surface, moving in of the fences (it will be about 325 feet down the lines and 380 to center field) and new rest rooms, storage and a concession stand plus locker rooms, community center and a new scoreboard. The place has also gotten a fresh coat of paint.
“It’s night and day to what we used to play on,” says Ontiveros. “We were told it’s going to be ready for opening day.
“We have not played or practiced on that field in over two years.”
Another city facility — Kosciuszko Park — has been home to ECC baseball. Both Block and Kosciuszko are between 1.5 and 3 miles from campus, meaning a shuttle bus comes into play.
“It’s a challenge getting kids there for practice and getting them back,” says Ontiveros.
After high school, Ontiveros earned an associate degree from Ivy Tech and a bachelors degree from Purdue University Northwest. He had intended to go into education, but the Internet was just coming on the time. He is an IT operations manager at ECC, working with computer networks.
The coach maintains a website to keep fans and alumni up to date on Cardinals baseball.
ECC players going on to college programs in recent years include Gilbert Ibarra (Sauk Valley Community College), Erik Romo (Wabash College), Angelo Rosas-Badillo (College of Lake County), Adrian Alvarez (Sauk Valley), D’Angelo Gonzalez (University of Indianapolis), Reyes Maldonado (Sauk Valley and University of Saint Francis), Carlos Flores (South Suburban College) and Darion Edmond (South Suburban).
Jorge and Carmen Ontiveros recently celebrated eight years of marriage. The couple has two children — Jacqueline (6) and Andres (4). Both played T-ball this year. Jacqueline is to move on to softball in 2020.
Andres and Jacqueline Ontiveros — the children of Jorge and Carmen Ontiveros — enjoy playing in youth baseball and softball. Jorge Ontiveros is head baseball coach at East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School.
The Ontiveros family — Jorge, Carmen, Andres and Jacqueline.
Jorge Ontiveros plays in an adult baseball league tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He is on the Astros in the Northwest Indiana Adult Baseball League and is the head coach at East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School.
Jorge Ontiveros has been head baseball coach at his alma mater — East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School — since 2009.