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A League Of Their Own: Ballplayers Got Game Venezuela Wins Series In One-Arm Softball
A League Of Their Own: Ballplayers Got Game
Ralph De La Cruz
November 7, 2002
Give me a hand. Hands-on. Welcoming hands. You're in good hands.
Strong-arm. Disarm. Open arms. Loving arms. Arm in arm. To be in your arms.
In our culture, arms and hands represent much more than simply the ability to manipulate an object.
As the phrases in the first two paragraphs suggest, they're synonymous with our willingness to work and to help. To be strong and loving. To be capable of both protecting or dominating.
Just for a moment, imagine the world without two arms.
You're going through the hourly challenges of learning how to dress, or shower, or clean dishes with one arm. And then you see your guitar, or maybe a baseball glove, in the corner, and you wonder, "Will I ever play the guitar again?"
"Will I ever play ball?"
For Victor Rosario, who was born with a shortened right arm, there's never been much doubt.
"The difficult part was the other kids not letting you play because they thought you couldn't handle it," Rosario, 47, remembers about growing up in the Bronx.
Thankfully, there was Bennie Marquez, a popular, older teen who took young Victor under his wing, taught him to play baseball and made it OK for him to be just another kid.
Think of it as a Bronx version of The Sandlot.
Now, Rosario is the person behind a softball league of one-armed players -- One Arm Bandits -- that has teams in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the mainland United States.
The league started in 1993 after a doctor at Jackson Memorial Hospital asked Rosario to speak with a young man going through depression after losing three fingers. Rosario is the risk analysis supervisor for security at the hospital.
After leaving the patient, Rosario thought, "I should start something for guys like us."
He and two other one-armed ballplayers, Roscoe Jones and Felix Gonzalez, figured softball was the answer. They put together a local team.
Like Rosario, Gonzalez is Puerto Rican. When he was 12, he fell out of a mango tree in Puerto Rico and broke his left arm so violently it had to be amputated near the shoulder.
The team of never-say-stop South Floridians caught the attention of the local media, then the national media.
In Venezuela, a lawyer by the name of Oswaldo Flores was facing the possibility of having his arm amputated when he saw a feature on CNN about the team. He contacted Rosario and convinced him of the importance of taking the Bandits international.
That would ultimately lead to the formation of the four teams and an annual World Series. The first was in November 2000 in Venezuela. Exactly a month after the series ended, Flores was shot and killed during a robbery.
Last year, the series was held in the Dominican Republic. This year, the round robin event has returned to the United States and South Florida.
The series opened with games at Dade County's Tropical Park Wednesday and today. It continues Friday at 7 p.m. at Bucky Dent Park in Hialeah. And Saturday, beginning at 10:30 a.m. in Sunview Park, the four teams will play their final round robin. Those Sunview games will play a key role in determining which two teams play in the 1 p.m. championship Sunday at Tropical Park. Admission to the series is free, but donations are gladly accepted.
Team USA will be anchored by third baseman/outfielder Rosario and right-centerfielder Gonzalez, who catches the ball in his glove, then tosses it in the air, throws down his glove, snags the ball with his bare hand and throws.
Sounds more than a little complicated, I tell Rosario before asking the question he's probably heard a thousand times: What's the hardest part of playing one-arm softball?
Venezuela Wins Series In One-Arm Softball
BY JULIENNE GAGE
Julio Correa, a softball player for the One Armed Bandits of Venezuela, has two arms -- but their combined length is barely half that of an ''average'' arm. He has to crank his neck down to touch his cap, but his fast, direct pitch contributed to 80 percent of his team's wins last year.
Correa, 33, sauntered onto a Tropical Park softball field Sunday to warm up for the One Armed Bandit World Series with a ball in one hand and a rubber dinosaur in the other.
''As a child I looked for something unique that would represent me,'' Correa said. ``Like the Tyrannosaurus rex, I'm the only one of my species and I'm dangerous.''
The three-day third annual World Series Games ended Sunday with teams from the United States, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and Colombia participating.
Venezuela won the series, beating the Dominican Republic 6-5 in the seventh inning.
The international softball organization for the people with arm disabilities hopes that if they can gain an eighth country -- perhaps Panama or Mexico -- they could add one-armed softball to the 2007 Paralympics. Canada is putting a team together.
Through softball, one-armed players learn to trust in their abilities while breaking down discriminatory attitudes.
''Our motto is to give incentives to the disabled person so that he can integrate himself into a job, a sport and an education,'' said Eduardo M. Flores López, president of the Venezuelan team. He said their teams' accomplishments demolish prejudices and open employment opportunities in countries where disability insurance is practically unheard of.
Kesner Baptiste, a Haitian immigrant, joined the American team last year after he lost an arm -- and his wife -- in a car accident.
''[The team] helped me to move on with my life. Instead of thinking about what happened to me, I focus on the game,'' said Baptiste. ``After the accident, I was embarrassed, but then I realized I was going to spend the rest of my life like this.''
Upon discovering a group of one-armed players batting softballs and sliding into third base, former baseball player Ricardo Fernández ran to show his wife -- who was dining at a nearby picnic table. Fernández lost his arm in a chipper last year.
His face lit up as he exclaimed, ``It's amazing, I wonder how they do it!''
Asked if he would like to join the team, he declined. He was afraid of being made fun of, he replied.
American coach Victor Rosario said new players need a little encouragement.
Meanwhile, in the dugout, the Dominicans huddled together to share a simple but encouraging cheer -- ''Sí!'' -- and went back to playing ball.