tampabay.com

Their passion for game full

One-Arm Bandits lack either arms or mobility in them, but their baseball team thrives.

By DAVID MURPHY
Published December 12, 2006


Victor Rosario says it happens every now and then. One of his teammates will boot a ground ball, or drop a pop fly, or turn a seemingly mundane task into a Tom Emanski video on how not to play baseball. Then, the pummeling will ensue. "Hey man," someone will yell from across the diamond, "use both arms!" And everyone will laugh. Because if you are a member of Rosario's team, chances are you have only one.

Meet the One-Arm Bandits, one of the few baseball squads in the world that would pick Bob Dole over Alex Rodriguez. Formed by Rosario in the early 1990s, the team is comprised of men who have limited or no use of one of their arms.

Two weeks ago, the Bandits travelled to Japan to represent the United States in a tournament that also featured teams from Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan.

"It was a lot of fun," said Carl Whitehouse, a 40-year-old father of three from Brooksville who pitches and plays second base. "There were some pretty good players there."

Like Jose Ortiz, who lost most movement in his left hand after a concrete slab fell on his forearm.

And Roscoe Jones, who tore most of the muscles in his upper arm while playing high school football.

And Felix Gonzalez, who lost his arm in a fall from a coconut tree in Puerto Rico.

Rosario, the supervisor of security at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, hatched the idea for a one-armed team in 1993 after speaking to a young patient who had recently had three fingers amputated.

The boy refused to talk to any of the hospital's doctors. But when he noticed Rosario was missing a quarter of his arm, he came out of his shell.

"He said to me, 'You work like that? I wouldn't think they'd hire a person like that,' " Rosario says with a chuckle.

Soon after, the boy began taking his medication and talking to doctors.

Rosario, meanwhile, began dreaming up ways to bring together people like himself.

The unlikely answer: baseball.

"I said, 'Hey. Why don't I start a team for people like us?' " Rosario says.

After all, the sport had long been a part of his life.

As an 8-year-old Puerto Rican immigrant growing up in the Bronx in the 1960s, Rosario would often watch kids play stickball in the streets.

It was a childhood straight out of a doo-wop song, except for one minor twist: Rosario was born with a deformed right arm. And kids with deformed right arms usually aren't a captain's first choice.

"I always had to watch," Rosario says, "because no one would pick me."

Which is why he thanks God for people like Benny Marquez. Five years older and somewhat of a neighborhood legend, Benny took Victor under his wing and taught him how to compensate for his disability.

Though Benny had full use of both arms, he taught Victor how to move his glove from his good hand to his bad hand to throw.

Every night, Victor would stand in front of the mirror in his family's apartment and practice.

He was 8 when he played his first stickball game. Not long after, he broke his first window.

"You know how everybody runs away (after breaking a window)?" Victor says. "Well, we did. Except my Dad was watching."

Last month, Victor played the role of Benny as the Bandits invaded Japan.

In an Asian culture where people with disabilities are sometimes treated as second-class citizens, the Americans touched down in Tokyo and immediately began spreading some love (and raising some eyebrows).

They visited an orphanage and passed out toys to kids with disabilities. They schmoozed with the swarm of media who chronicled every move. They listened to stories about the treatment some disabled people receive overseas.

"The physically challenged, they don't get a lot of respect like we do here in the United States," Rosario says. "When we got to the airport in Japan, everyone was looking at us like, 'These guys came from outer space! We're being invaded!' "

The Bandits, whose trip was funded in large part by the nutritional company HerbaLife, did find time to play baseball. They won two of their three games - one victory was recorded by former Citrus High pitcher Anthony Delguidice - and finished in second place.

But when the Bandits get together, the sport itself is sometimes secondary.

"We compete for our flags," Rosario says, "but after the game, we are all one."

So even if you are Frank Fontebeo, who lost his arm when the van he was riding in flipped, or Gustavo Berdugo, who blew up his arm while lighting a firecracker, you still have a place to play baseball.

That is, of course, if you aren't half bad.

David Murphy can be reached at dmurphy@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1407.

.

infobox:

. FAST FACTS

One-armed game

The Bandits: Victor Rosario says the Bandits were the only one-armed baseball team in the world when they started playing in 1993. After Rosario appeared on CNN to talk about his team, word began to spread. Today, Rosario says there are one-armed teams in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Colombia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. The Bandits typically play in one big tournament a year.

The rules: The Bandits usually play softball. Last month, though, they competed in a baseball tournament in Japan. The Bandits were the only exclusively one-armed team; the other three teams featured players with various disabilities. Players were allowed to steal only on a passed ball. The teams also used balls that were softer than regulation hard balls.

Local connections: Brooksville resident Carl Whitehouse joined the team after seeing Rosario on CNN in 1994. A former baseball and soccer player at Hernando High, Whitehouse was born with limited movement in his left arm. This spring, he recruited Citrus County resident Anthony Delguidice after watching him pitch for Citrus High.

Delguidice was an honorable mention Times' All-Hernando/Citrus player this year while starting for the Hurricanes at pitcher and first base. He was born without the lower third of his left arm. His father introduced him to baseball as a kid by giving him a foam bat and foam ball. Ever since, Delguidice has more than held his own on the diamond.

"If I couldn't do it normally," he says, "I wouldn't be doing it at all."

Delguidice says he throws in the mid-to-high 80s, which Whitehouse and Rosario verify. A 2006 graduate, he works at a car dealership and would like to attend, and play baseball in, college.

Professional athletes with one arm: Jim Abbott pitched in the major leagues from 1989-99. In 1991, he won 18 games for the then-California Angels. He also spent time with the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers. But he wasn't the only one-armed player in major-league history. In 1945, Pete Gray played 77 games for the St. Louis Browns, batting .218 with 26 runs and 13 RBIs.

A one-armed World Series?: Rosario hopes to organize a World Series of one-armed baseball teams in Miami or Orlando and is looking for sponsors. Rosario can be contacted at (305) 266-4256.

. FAST FACTS

One-armed game

The Bandits: Victor Rosario says the Bandits were the only one-armed baseball team in the world when they started playing in 1993. After Rosario appeared on CNN to talk about his team, word began to spread. Today, Rosario says there are one-armed teams in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Colombia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. The Bandits typically play in one big tournament a year.

The rules: The Bandits usually play softball. Last month, though, they competed in a baseball tournament in Japan. The Bandits were the only exclusively one-armed team; the other three teams featured players with various disabilities. Players were allowed to steal only on a passed ball. The teams also used balls that were softer than regulation hard balls.

Local connections: Brooksville resident Carl Whitehouse joined the team after seeing Rosario on CNN in 1994. A former baseball and soccer player at Hernando High, Whitehouse was born with limited movement in his left arm. This spring, he recruited Citrus county resident Anthony Delguidice after watching him pitch for Citrus High.

Delguidice was an honorable mention All-Hernando/Citrus player this year while starting for the Hurricanes at pitcher and first base. He was born without the lower third of his left arm. His father introduced him to baseball as a kid by giving him a foam bat and foam ball. Ever since, Delguidice has more than held his own on the diamond.

"If I couldn't do it normally," he says, "I wouldn't be doing it at all."

Delguidice says he throws in the mid-to-high 80s, which Whitehouse and Rosario verify. A 2006 graduate, he works at a car dealership and would like to attend, and play baseball in, college.

Professional athletes with one arm: Jim Abbott pitched in the major leagues from 1989-99. In 1991, he won 18 games for the California Angels. He also spent time with the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers. But he wasn't the only one-armed player in major-league history. In 1945, Pete Gray played 77 games for the St. Louis Browns, batting .218 with 26 runs and 13 RBIs.

A one-armed World Series?: Rosario hopes to organize a World Series of one-armed baseball teams in Miami or Orlando and is looking for sponsors. Rosario can be contacted at (305) 266-4256.