Pittsburgh senior returns from losing eye to hit .400

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Rocco Amendola should not be playing baseball. The Norwin (Penn.) High senior knows as much. He was told his time playing the game he loves was done after one of the scariest injuries that can befall a scholastic athlete: He was hit directly in the eye by a 200-yard long toss from an outfielder.

Norwin one-eyed designated hitter Rocco Amendola
Norwin one-eyed designated hitter Rocco Amendola

According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Amendola lost his eye as a result of the accident. It was everything that doctors could do to get the bones around his eye that were broken to heal, with the decision coming after multiple surgeries that there was almost no choice but to remove Amendola's eye ball.

That should have been the end of the Norwin slugger's career. The use of one eye should have thrown off his perception considerably, made it nearly impossible to judge off speed pitches, let alone the fastballs that would be sent at him on the WPIAL's competitive spring circuit.

Yet Amendola refused to walk away from baseball, and some 10 months after the most tragic moment of his life, the left handed designated hitter was back in a Norwin uniform, in his team's lineup.

"Having my right eye as the front eye definitely helps," Amendola told the Post Gazette. "Depth perception was the toughest thing, but I'm used to it now.

"[His family was] telling me, 'We're going to see you on the field,' and I started to believe it. Now here I am."

While Amendola only plays in the field occasionally, filling in as a first baseman, doctors have assured him that he has no limitations. He plays wearing a special pair of glasses that shields both his prosthetic and fully-functional eye. And Amendola's return has been plenty successful.  The senior hasn't fully reached the heights of his junior year, when he batted an amazing .500 on the season, but he has hit .400 as a senior.

Considering the fact that he's batting with one eye, that might be an even more notable accomplishment, an achievement noted by the WPIAL Baseball Coaches Association. The Pittsburgh Tribune Review reported that the association voted to give its annual John Challis Memorial Award -- named after a Freedom (Penn.) High player who died of cancer in 2008 -- to the Norwin senior.

"I thought if we got him back to 75 percent from last year, he'd be a good high school hitter," Norwin coach Mike Liebdzinski told the Tribune Review. "He's doing more than that. He's starting to see the ball better. A lot of his hits early in the year were the opposite way. Now, he's driving the ball to the right-center field gap and starting to turn on some pitches. That's encouraging, too."

For Amendola, just walking on to the field for each game is a notable accomplishment in itself, one which he said has taught him plenty of life lessons.

"I learned you can do anything if you put your mind to it," Amendola told the Tribune Review. "It was definitely a challenge."

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