Drafted by Mets, Glenbard North grad Orze continues to beat the odds
Eric Orze needs to work on his poker face.
As last week's curtailed Major League Baseball amateur draft inched through its fifth and final round, the Glenbard North graduate's name hadn't yet been called. Only 10 picks -- massive picks -- remained.
The difference between being among the 160 lucky draft picks and being an undrafted free agent meant the potential difference in hundreds of thousands of dollars in signing bonus money. Because of tightening belts in MLB due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's UFAs were allotted only $20,000 apiece.
But Orze knew something the rest of his family didn't as they waited together. His agent notified him that the New York Mets were about to select him in the final round.
Orze kept his mouth shut, but his family read him like a book. Besides, at this point they know Eric Orze won't be denied.
That's not the way two-time cancer survivors operate.
"Just thinking about everything I'd been through, and all of that playing into making me the person and the ballplayer I am right now," he said.
"I tried to play it cool and not let anyone know I was going to be picked," he said. "Even though I knew it was coming I was still getting a little nervous and anxious and excited and pretty much every other emotion you could think of. It's a moment I'll never forget."
With the 150th pick, the New York Mets select pitcher Eric Orze ... words that understandably drew more than a few tears in the Orze household.
Words that didn't seem possible when Orze, 22, left Northwest Florida State, a junior college, for the University of New Orleans in 2018. After appearing in only nine games his junior year with the Privateers, severe groin pain forced him to the hospital.
A diagnosis of testicular cancer ended his season and put his entire life in perspective.
"I remember waking up at 4:30 in the morning just screaming in pain and I went straight to the hospital," he said. "It was something I didn't expect to hear at all."
Orze says recovery from successful cancer surgery in May 2018 went smoothly, but swollen lymph nodes also had to be removed. Follow-up surgery in July went straight into the core of the abdomen that's so critical for pitchers, and it forced him to redshirt the 2019 season.
And days after that second surgery, Orze was back in the emergency room with breathing trouble. After two days in the hospital, his doctor examined him and didn't like the look of something on his skin.
"Here I thought I was cancer free and then they find skin cancer," Orze said. "It turned out to be four surgeries on my skin to get it all taken care of."
Testicular cancer surgery, lymph node surgery and four skin cancer surgeries ... for nearly a year and a half Orze couldn't find a way back on the baseball diamond. His body just wouldn't let him.
Time, though, finally healed the wounds.
Last July, Orze began working out at the TopVelocity training facility in New Orleans and learned the intricacies of becoming a professional pitcher. He worked on his mechanics, strengthened in the weight room and was able to put on weight after a strict low-fat diet caused him to lose about 25 pounds.
"I just learned how to become a better athlete," he said. "Before you knew it I went from being 88 to 91 (mph) to throwing bullpens and not throwing any fastballs lower than 93 miles per hour. On top of that, my splitter got 10 times better and same with the slider.
"From that point forward you just started seeing guys come to the field," he said. "Whether it was an intrasquad game or we were scrimmaging against LSU. All the way up until the spring season they were coming out to see me pitch."
By "guys" he means pro scouts. Despite throwing a total of only 16 innings the previous two years, Orze was suddenly a prospect.
He blazed into his senior season this spring, going 2-0 with 29 strikeouts and a 2.84 ERA in 19.2 innings. The pandemic put an end to what was shaping up to be a brilliant comeback campaign, but it didn't matter.
Orze already put himself firmly on the MLB draft radar.
"It was cool to see what I was able to do," he said. "It lit a fire back in me. I was definitely nervous about the season being canceled, but it was more frustrating because it ended when I was finally able to get back on the field again."
Orze's immediate future with the Mets is on hold until the season resumes. For now he'll keep working out the way he has been for the last few months.
Despite all the roadblocks, he remains on track to fulfill a lifelong dream.
And he remains cancer free.
"I can't believe I have this opportunity," he said. "I don't want to take any day for granted that I have in this game because you never know when it'll be taken away."