To understand who Anthony Burruto is, you need to see him throw a baseball.
Burruto's been a pitcher for a while, and played baseball since he was eight, always with those two prosthetic legs. (He was born without bones in both legs.) And he's been good enough to play in Little League, and in fall ball for Orlando-area Dr. Phillips High School. He's got a fastball that hits 80 miles per hour, and a curve.
So why has Burruto been cut from his high school baseball team?
The simple answer is bunting:
Anthony, a sophomore, was cut on the second day tryouts. Coach Mike Bradley's main concern was that Anthony can't field bunts, and that teams would take advantage of his inability to jump off the mound quickly.
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?
Yes, it is frustrating that Burruto's chances of being a high school pitcher could be diminished by his ability to field a bunt. But while I realize the Orlando Sentinel's George Diaz needs to set up anyone who would bunt on a pitcher with prosthetic legs as a monster (though, "cheesy?") for the purposes of being sympathetic to Burruto while not demonizing Bradley, that's simply not the case. If inserting a pitcher with prosthetic legs forces the other team to not bunt because of the pitcher's condition, isn't that just as unfair to the other team? How do you balance's Burruto's interest in pursuing his career with the interests of everyone who might play with or against him?
There's no perfect scenario for Burruto, or any other disabled person wanting to play sports. Caught between the "I can do it" sentiment any determined athlete would have...
"I want to earn my position on the team," Anthony said. "I want him to say I'm good enough to play."
...and the worries about fairness and equality that any reasonable person might have, it's often easy to forget that all of these things should be handled on a case-by-case basis.
In Burruto's situation — given an unfortunate twist by his father Vinny's recent heart attack — the best thing to do is probably figure out if he's a better pitcher in non-bunting situations than other pitchers are, then try to use him in those situations. It would, after all, take a pretty cold heart to bunt on a double amputee.
But that's the thing about figuring out how to make a situation like this work: it requires some creativity, and the willingness to approach every situation as if every player is the same ... while making things work on a case-by-case basis. It's a hard tightrope to walk, and while I don't know if I would have done what Mike Bradley did, I can certainly see his point.
Dr. Phillips might yet renege on cutting Burruto — when the big hometown paper blasts your team, you might find yourself changing your mind, or being told to — and Burruto's family could probably call around and find another school that would give him a shot, as long as they ring up the right people and wade through the red tape. But the lesson to be learned here is this: if we're going to make "Everyone can play" a core belief of sports culture, as we have in America, you better be ready for the blowback if you decide that someone can't.