He lost his eye, but not his vision
Norwin High School baseball player Rocco Amendola stands on deck to bat sixth as a designated hitter during their game against Penn Trafford.
Norwin High School baseball player Rocco Amendola lets a ball pass while batting sixth as a designated hitter.
Norwin High School baseball player Rocco Amendola runs back to the dugout with his teammates after congratulating a fellow player on a home run.
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Rocco Amendola defies the odds every time he steps into the batter's box for the Norwin High School baseball team.
That's because this 5-foot-10, 205-pound senior, a designated hitter and occasional first baseman, has the use of just his right eye.
"I had my doubts," Norwin coach Mike Liebdzinski said. "I wouldn't say I'm amazed, but I am surprised."
Mr. Amendola, who bats seventh in the lineup, is hitting .429 with a double and one RBI. He has helped Norwin to a 5-0 record.
Mr. Amendola's ordeal began in June, when he and several Norwin teammates signed up to play for Roth Brothers in the Youngstown, Ohio, Class B League.
Teams in that college prep league use wooden bats, and they gain the attention of college scouts.
Things were going fine until a mid-inning break during a game when Mr. Amendola's teammates had taken the field and were engaged in warm-up throws. The Roth Brothers right fielder was catching with one of the reserves, who was in front of the team dugout. The right fielder was about 200 feet from the dugout.
"I had just finished hitting, and I was walking through the dugout," recalled Mr. Amendola, an 18-year-old North Huntingdon resident. "I was trying to get to my [equipment] bag. The right fielder overthrew the reserve, and the ball hit me square in the left eye."
Rushed to a Youngstown hospital, Mr. Amendola was flown by helicopter to UPMC Presbyterian, where doctors tried to save his eye.
"There was blood everywhere, so they had to wait," he said.
Several facial bones were broken.
"I saw numerous doctors, and I had a few surgeries," Mr. Amendola said. "The doctors agreed that the best thing for me would be to have my eye removed."
He was fitted with a prosthetic eye in mid-August, right before he returned to school.
He soon decided to return to Norwin's team as its designated hitter. But he had to assure one person that he didn't hold a grudge.
"I don't blame the [Roth Brothers] right fielder," Mr. Amendola said of his former teammate, an Ohio resident. "I've seen him, and he's taken it hard. It was a freak accident. I was in the wrong spot at the wrong time."
Mr. Liebdzinski urged Mr. Amendola to start slowly. The teenager began to hit balls off tees at the Baseball Academy of Norwin, a facility run by Mr. Liebdzinski and Norwin assistant coach Tom Quealy. Mr. Amendola was familiar with the academy because he works for the two coaches.
"He was hitting off the tee and looked surprisingly good," Mr. Liebdzinski said. "Then we started some front tossing from 15 to 20 feet away and then went to some live throwing. I thought he might have some trouble with depth perception, but he didn't."
Doctors had told Mr. Amendola that he has no limitations.
"Once [the doctors] told me that, I just got back into the cage and started swinging again," he said.
Mr. Amendola throws with his right arm but bats left-handed. Had he been a right-handed hitter, a comeback likely would have been impossible.
"Having my right eye as the front eye definitely helps," he said. "Depth perception was the toughest thing, but I'm used to it now."
Mr. Amendola said his parents, Karl and Renee, and his 13-year-old brother, Nick, have been supportive, as have his Norwin teammates.
"They were telling me, 'We're going to see you on the field,' and I started to believe it," he said. "Now here I am."
Mr. Liebdzinski believes Mr. Amendola will achieve whatever goals he sets.
"He doesn't like to talk about [the injury], and he doesn't use it as an excuse," the coach said. "Whatever he wants to do, he's going to do it well."
Before getting hurt, Mr. Amendola had wanted to play baseball after high school. That dream remains.
"I'm going to base that on the season I have," he said. "College ball is one level up from here. I'll have to work harder and dedicate more time to it, but I believe I could do it."
First Published April 19, 2011 12:00 am