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All-Stars player shows how he's No. 1

Anthony Del Guidice, 14, was born without a left hand, but he can bat and field with the best of them.

photo
[Times photo: Stephen J. Coddington]
Anthony Del Guidice, 14, swings during batting practice at Whispering Pines Park on Thursday with the Inverness Junior All-Stars. He hit a team-leading .600 for the Red Sox in the regular season.

By KRISTEN LEIGH PORTER
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 23, 2002


INVERNESS -- The Inverness Junior All-Stars were scrimmaging toward the end of last Thursday's practice when Anthony Del Guidice came up to bat.

As a member of the Red Sox in the regular season, Del Guidice hit a team-leading .600, among the top three batting averages in the entire Junior League. So when the cleanup hitter took a healthy swing and missed, the good-natured ribbing began.

"Man, I felt that out here," called All-Stars coach Jerry Mann from his perch at third base.

Anthony, who is Italian-American with a sprinkle of Irish, has dark eyes that take on a competitive look in situations like this. When uncharacteristically batting ninth against Central Citrus recently, he had the impression the opposing pitcher didn't think he could hit. Bat and ball connected for a double.

This time at practice, Anthony ripped one to left center that dropped for a single.

It's because of his play in situations such as this that Anthony was voted onto the All-Stars after helping the Red Sox team to a 16-6 mark. The All-Stars, a team of 13- and 14-year olds, were District 15 champs and began sectional play over the weekend.

Mann gave the team the underdog speech at the end of practice, and Anthony promised to shave his eyebrows off if the All-Stars win both of their games Saturday. He then lowered his voice conspiratorially to tell his teammates that they will have to get Coach Mann good with the water if they do succeed.

Game day promised to be a scorcher, and the All-Stars led off with Northwest Volusia, a team from the Daytona Beach area. Inverness jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning, with Anthony contributing an RBI single while batting cleanup.

Wearing No. 1, Anthony came up to bat again in the second inning, and the crowd focused on him.

"How does he hit it so hard? Look, there's the guy," says 13-year-old Joey Young, a fan sitting in the opposing bleachers.

The attention isn't just because Anthony took some intimidating swings in the batter's box.

It's because Anthony is also missing his left hand.

Since he first started playing the game, Anthony's ability has set him apart as much as his perceived disability. To Anthony, the word "disability" doesn't have much meaning anyway.

"I don't like how people classify it, but it doesn't bother me because I know how I am," said Anthony, who was born with his condition.

Anthony has received attention from the media about his disability before. Sports Illustrated even came calling a couple years ago, but never ran an article.

"I think he likes the attention," said younger brother Nick, 13, who also made the All-Star team.

Whether he's become used to the attention or it's just his personality, Anthony carries himself well for a 14-year-old boy. He said teachers have told him he is mature for his age, and because Anthony has a September birthday, he is usually one of the oldest kids in his class. "Ant," as he is better known on the field, hardly looks like one at 5 feet 10 and 205 pounds. He is one of the tallest players in Junior League.

Baseball has seemingly been a part of his life from the time he was introduced to the sport at age 2. At age 4, he began making trips to the Shriners Hospital and was fitted for a prosthetic hand, but Anthony thought it was uncomfortable and wouldn't have been able to play his favorite sport while wearing it anyway. His father, John Del Guidice, said his son might choose to wear one someday for cosmetic reasons.

"This is his release; when he hits that field he doesn't care who sees him or who's watching," said Anthony's father, who coached him in T-ball up through age 10. "But when he's out and about, he kind of shies it away."

Not having the use of both hands requires tinkering his playing style, and his father taught Anthony to use his left arm, which is missing the hand, to assist his right in swinging. Anthony bats lefty because his power comes from his right hand. He had a hard time at first and got frustrated, but eventually mastered the modified fundamentals of the game.

"My dad's always taught me if I don't give 110 percent, I should just stop," he said.

As a first baseman and outfielder, Anthony has developed his technique.

"I catch it and then change my glove to the other side," Anthony said. "Then I throw it and get the glove back on as quick as I can."

In addition to his prowess at hitting and fielding, Anthony has also been used on the mound as a pitcher. He has been clocked at 83 mph, and Mann, who was also the Red Sox coach, used him as both a starter and reliever.

"He pitched one-hitters and two-hitters in the regular season," Mann said. "If he could get someone to work with him on his control . . . he hasn't pitched that much, but he's got a heck of a fastball."

"Most of the kids are scared to catch him," said Nick, whom Anthony prefers to have behind the plate when he's pitching.

The Del Guidice family moved to Floral City from the Miami suburbs in August 2001, and Anthony will be a freshman at Citrus High School in the upcoming school year. The family talked with last year's baseball coach Brady Bogart about what role Anthony would play for the Citrus program if Bogart remains the coach. Anthony said he could see himself at first base and may do some relief pitching, although he said he will likely start out on the junior varsity level.

He would eventually like to compete in college, and like many boys his age, Anthony wants to play professional baseball. The very short list of disabled major leaguers includes Jim Abbott, who pitched 1,674 innings in the majors and had two hits, despite being born without a right hand.

Anthony got a chance to meet Abbott at Yankees spring training in 1993 in Fort Lauderdale, and got several autographs as the two exchanged words. Although he has met several other professional athletes, Anthony admires Abbott the most because of "his style, the way he blocked out all the critics and did things his way."

But Anthony knows he does not need to make it to the major leagues to be a role model, because in the hearts and minds of many, he already is.

"To other kids like me, yeah, I guess, and to some kids who don't know how I do it," Anthony said.

Coaches, teammates and opposing players alike marvel at his skill. Inverness Little League president Terry O'Neal can recall the way Anthony stood out at this year's tryouts.

"Actually, this kid is amazing. In tryouts when we tried out for teams, they got three pitches apiece, and he was the only child out there to hit all three pitches," O'Neal said.

"I'd say if anybody thinks they have a deficiency, they should watch this man play ball," added Little League assistant district administrator Jerry Lowe. "He's an inspiration."

After a solid regular season, Anthony proved he belonged with the best players in Inverness in his age group.

On Saturday, his All-Stars team defeated Northwest Volusia 9-3, then took out St. Augustine 8-2 to earn a spot in Sunday's sectional final. The rematch against St. Augustine would decide who advanced to next weekend's Little League Junior All-Stars State Tournament, but Inverness lost 1-0 on a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning.

Although the Little League season is over, Anthony has plenty of baseball left to play. That means more people will be shaking their heads in amazement when he proves over and over that it's only a disability if it hinders your ability.

"After they see him, they're even more blown away," his father said. "It's just unbelievable that that he's even out there, let alone that he does so well."

-- Kristen Leigh Porter can be reached at porter@sptimes.com or 564-3628.

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