Where baseball goes beyond and inspires: Tryouts for team of amputees
Where baseball goes beyond and inspires: Tryouts for team of amputees
By Joe Capozzi
Posted Jan 5, 2018 at 12:01 AM. Updated Jan 5, 2018 at 3:30 PM
The catcher, Ryan McIntosh, squats behind home plate on one leg; he lost the other one when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan.
Leonard Anderson, an outfielder who lost his left hand and part of his right in an explosion in Afghanistan, uses a special glove — a lacrosse net fashioned to a prosthesis on his left elbow.
Another outfielder, Todd Reed, lost his right foot when he stepped on a land mine during Operation Desert Storm. Two pitchers were born without a left hand. Another lost an eye to cancer.
Ryan McIntosh plays baseball despite the loss of his right leg from a land mine he stepped on in 2010 in Afghanistan.
They all just want to play ball — competitive baseball. But they need a few more teammates before they embark on their first season as the LS Warriors National Amputee Baseball Team.
Believed to be the first competitive amateur baseball team made up of amputees, the Warriors will hold tryouts and play a practice game Jan. 13 on a back field at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the spring training home of the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros.
“The goal is to get as good as we possibly can,” said Reed, a North Carolina veteran who will be among 20 players expected to attend the tryouts in West Palm Beach. “Even though you are missing part of your limb and part of your arm, you still have the drive in you to make this happen.”
Curtis Pride, a Wellington resident who retired in 2006 after 11 seasons as the first deaf outfielder in Major League Baseball’s modern era, is managing the newly formed LS Warriors National Amputee Baseball Team. (Contributed)
Their manager is Curtis Pride, a Wellington resident who retired in 2006 after 11 seasons as the first deaf outfielder in Major League Baseball’s modern era.
The team is using The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches at the invitation of Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner, who has supported Wounded Warriors softball teams since 2011. In August, Lerner’s left leg was amputated because of complications from cancer.
The baseball tryouts are open to players over 18 who have lost a limb, partial limb, digits or an eye as well as people with other prostheses due to military service, a congenital disease or trauma-related reasons, such as a car crash.
Most of the players are expected to come from the United States, including a few from Florida. The majority are active duty military or veterans who have experience playing softball, and a few hardball, since being discharged from the military.
Once a roster is set, the team will play a national tournament schedule against so-called “able-bodied” teams in the Men’s Senior Baseball League and the Men’s Adult Baseball League. The first games are set for March 10-12 in Las Vegas. Other games will be played in Las Vegas in May, in Phoenix in October and in the Clearwater/St. Petersburg area in November.
Todd Reed plays baseball even though he lost his right leg in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm when he stepped on a land mine.
Along the way, the Warriors hope to offer inspiration and change misconceptions about the limitations of people with disabilities.
“Initially, it’s about us wanting to be no different than anyone else,” said McIntosh, a Texas veteran who lost his right leg in 2010. “And if that does inspire anyone and changes their outlook on people with disabilities, then that’s a secondary goal that’s even more fulfilling than the first.”
Tackled softball first
Many of the baseball players started out playing for the Wounded Warriors softball teams launched in 2010 by David Van Sleet, an Army veteran who worked for 30 years as a prosthetic specialist in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
David Van Sleet is general manager of the LS Warriors National Amputee Baseball Team.
A few years ago, the amputee softball players were invited to Arizona to play an exhibition game against able-body military veterans in the Men’s Senior Baseball League. The softball players “won their two games very convincingly,” recalled Steve Sigler, president of MSBL, which, with more than 50,000 players from 18- to 65-years-old, is the largest adult baseball league in the United States. (“Little League for adults” is how Sigler describes his league.)
In October, the softball players were invited back to MSBL’s 30th annual tournament, this time to play competitive baseball for the first time.
“We quickly put together a team of amputees not knowing what the expectations were,” said Pride, who is also the head baseball coach at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., which serves deaf and hard-of-hearing students. “We did extremely well competing against able-body teams and even made it to the playoffs.”
For many of the Wounded Warriors, participating in the baseball tournament was as personally uplifting as their initial participation in sports after recovering from their battlefield injuries.
“That was like opening up a door to me again and for a lot of the other guys,” Reed, the Desert Storm outfielder, said about the baseball games he played in October.
Play the able-bodied
Now, they’re switching from softball to baseball. Van Sleet, the baseball team’s general manager, has taken the lead in finding players, sponsors and donors. Among the main sponsors are Louisville Slugger (the “LS” in the team’s name) and the MSBL, whose teams collectively donated $30,000 last year to the amputee team.
Their opponent Saturday in West Palm Beach will be an MSBL team from South Florida. The game starts at 1 p.m.
“They only want to play able-bodied teams. They don’t want any favoritism,” said Van Sleet, who was general manager of the American team that won the Gold Medal at the 2014 World Physically Challenged Baseball Tournament in Japan.
Last October, they apparently impressed their first opponents, many of whom weren’t aware they were playing against a team of amputees until the Warriors took the field.
“We had baseball pants on. We looked like anyone else,” said Reed, who at 56 is the oldest player. “Then two or three of us pulled (the bottoms of) our pants up and (the opponents) were like, ‘Holy cow! You guys have prosthetic limbs!’”
Leonard Anderson plays baseball despite injuries he sustained when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan (Photo by Lisa Macias)
Sigler said the success of the amputee team was the talk of the three-week MSBL tournament.
“Can they play despite their injuries. Yes. It’s a great story. They’re terrific human beings and they’re so inspiring,” said Sigler. (He’s the father of actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who starred as Meadow Soprano on the HBO hit “The Sopranos” and in 2016 married the son of former Mets star Lenny Dykstra.)
For some Warriors, though, it can be a challenge, especially if you’re the catcher.
“It’s not the most enjoyable position to sit there three hours playing a baseball game and having only one leg,” said McIntosh, 28, who squats with help of a curved prosthetic blade.
“The other leg gets pretty sore. Other than that, it’s still a game. You figure out what works well for you just like any other athlete figures out what works best for them to succeed.”
Pride will be assisted by three retired MLB players serving as coaches: Kevin Mench, Juan Alvarez and Carlos Chantres. Once the season starts, retired All Star John Kruk will serve as an honorary coach.
Since it’s a tryout and scrimmage, the Warriors aren’t expecting many people to come out to watch on Jan. 13. Those who do might be inspired.
“That’s always been my goal,” said McIntosh. “If I can bring inspiration to one person and get one person out of their dark hole, then as a human being I’ve succeeded.”