It's been a turbulent year for Anthony Burruto, the double-amputee baseball player who rose from obscurity to the cover of ESPN the Magazine. In August, Burruto graced the cover of the magazine's issue focusing on bionic advancements in sports. The Dr. Phillips (Fla.) High sophomore, who has a fastball that goes upwards of 80 mph and a splitting curve despite standing on two bionic legs, was an ideal role model to pin the hopes of a future generation of Oscar Pistorious-like "disabled" athletes.
Yet months later, Burruto has seen his dreams of playing high school baseball in Florida trashed by a coach many are calling insensitive. According to the Orlando Sentinel, after the 14-year-old had trouble fielding bunts off the mound during his tryout, Dr. Phillips coach Mike Bradley cut the player from the school's varsity team.
However, according to the player's prosthesist, Stan Patterson, via MyFoxOrlando.com, Burruto claims that he wasn't even given the chance to cover bunts at the team's tryout, making Bradley's decision a completely speculative one.
While a handful of different sources have panned the move as insensitive and hyper-critical -- the kid does have both a nearly unhittable fastball and curve, after all -- Dr. Phillips' principal, Gene Trochinski, has already come out in support of his coach.
"He was given the same opportunity as everyone else," Trochinski told the Sentinel. "Unfortunately he wasn't the 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."
Yet, as Sentinel columnist George Diaz amply points out, cutting Burruto for his lack of immediate mobility off the mound misses any number of competitive and educational points. Considering the fact that this is a "high school" baseball team, both are germane.
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?"
Needless to say, those are both exceptional points. If anything, they underscore a point that Burruto's mother, Diane, made to the Sentinel.
"[Bradley is] not looking at him like he's an athlete," Diane Burruto told the Sentinel. "[Bradley] was looking at him like he's a disabled person."
If Diane Burruto is right, then Bradley is discriminating against a player who deserves an honest chance. If he gets a shot to pitch and another team victimizes his slowness off the mound, then Bradley could make his point that he couldn't keep pitching the sophomore.
By not even giving him a chance, the coach is giving ample ammunition to a growing number who feel that he, and not the double-amputee pitcher he rejected, is the man unfit for competition with Dr. Phillips.
For his part, Burruto isn't giving up his dream of playing high school baseball, and he refused to consider a placating offer from Bradley to serve as the team's equipment manager.
"I want to earn my position on the team," Burruto told the Sentinel. "I want him to say I'm good enough to play."