Labels are all about perception.
Some people may look at Anthony Burruto (pictured) as a disabled teenager without legs.
Anthony Burruto looks in the mirror and sees a resilient teenager. He is strong. He is able. He is a baseball player.
He has been playing the game since he was 8 years old, using prosthetic legs. His parents Vinny and Diane saw no need to coddle him because of his circumstances. Doctors amputated both of Anthony's lower legs as a baby because he was born without a shinbone in his left leg and without a fibula in his right leg.
His dad, a big New York Yankees fan, put a uniform on him since he was a baby. He's been wearing one since, and was hopeful of playing for the varsity team at Dr. Phillips High School this season.
That leads to the crosshairs in perception.
Anthony, a sophomore, was cut on the second day tryouts. Coach Mike Bradley's main concern was that Anthony can't field bunts, and that teams would take advantage of his inability to jump off the mound quickly.
But that's never been an issue before. The kid can play. Little League, fall team at Dr. Phillips, up through the natural progressions. He's been on the cover of ESPN the Magazine. He can throw a fastball around 80 mph. He's got a wicked curve.
And besides, how cheesy would it be for any team to try to take advantage of a kid battling out there like Anthony? Would a coach be so obsessed with winning that he would order every player to bunt?
In cutting Anthony, Bradley whiffed on the big picture: Despite whatever limitations you want to place on him, Anthony is the consummate teammate. If somebody is slacking off, all Bradley needed to do was point at Anthony and say, "What's your problem?"
Bradley botched a call that was so simple to make. You don't cut Anthony. He's a keeper.
"He's not looking at him like he's an athlete," Diane said. "He was looking at him like he's a disabled person."
Diane did what any loving mom would do: She vented to friends at first. And they all reacted the same way: Incredulous anger.
Tom Winters, whose own son Nate is playing against all odds at Winter Park High School after losing his left leg at mid-thigh in a boating accident, cried when Diane told him about what happened.
Dennis Rasmussen, who pitched in the majors 12 seasons and is a family friend, couldn't believe it either.
"This decision was wrong," he told me a few days ago. "You took away the hopes and dreams that Anthony's been hanging onto. He crushed a young man with no apparent reason."
Quickly, they all started rallying around Anthony, writing letters and e-mails and sending them to Diane so she could deliver them to athletic director John Magrino.
And then suddenly, the Burruto family had a bigger problem on their hands. Vinny had a heart attack while at a friend's house on Feb. 1. He needed emergency quintuple-bypass surgery at ORMC.
After her husband was stable, Diane finally got around to rounding up all the e-mails and letters. Anthony hand-delivered them to Magrino on Monday. They have yet to hear back from anybody.
"He was given the same opportunity as everyone else," Dr. Phillips principal Gene Trochinski said Wednesday. "Unfortunately he wasn't only one who did not make the team. There were 23 others who tried out and didn't make it. … At this level you try to win ballgames."
Anthony isn't looking for any sympathetic do-overs. He doesn't want to play for Bradley, who offered Anthony a position as a team manager keeping stats and such, which sounds one-step-up from a mascot.
"I want to earn my position on the team," Anthony said. "I want him to say I'm good enough to play."
Anthony Burruto is a baseball player. The labels suit him perfectly.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
George Diaz' commentary in the Orlando Sentinel:
Posted by BA Haller at 11:32 PM