Peninsula Oilers pitcher turns blind eye to disability
Austin Merrill prepares for work. His summer job brings the baseball player from Carlsbad, California to the 49th State for the first time. Merrill is a starting pitcher for the Peninsula Oilers of the Alaska Baseball League.
"It's beautiful out here man. I went to Washington last summer, and this is like double the place," said Merrill, while he warmed up before the game against the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks.
He has his eye on the ball, literally. Merrill is blind in his right eye.
"You're blind, it's not good or bad. Every situation, I like to think, you associate emotions with it. A situation is given and you have a response to that situation. That's how I think about it," said Merrill.
The disease exudative retinitis took Merrill's vision from his eye shortly after his birth. He says don't pity him -- he doesn't.
"I really think, in a way, it's blessed me. I mean, not physically, obviously, but in the mentality, I have to be able to take to perform at the level I am physically, you can't make any excuses, if I made any excuses, I wouldn't even be here," he explained.
While he is not bothered by the lack of sight in one eye, Merrill says his biggest threat comes from another physical challenge.
He stands just 5-foot-9-inches tall. Merrill admits, he's not the most imposing figure on the mound
"A college coach that sees me for the first time has no idea about my eye, my visual problem, they basically see the frame on the mound, they basically see the frame on the mound, the weight distribution. I would say my lightweight, and the combination of my height detriments me, not just one of the other," he said.
But, his head coach believes his pitcher possesses something you can not see.
"It's the internal fire. The kid doesn't complain, he wants the ball every day, he's got the energy of a rabbit, and it's infectious for a team," said Oilers head coach Kyle Brown.
Merrill's day ended after less than three innings of work in the loss. But, he's not lost sight of what he wants to accomplish.
"That's the failure, is not learning from failure," said Austin Merrill, who hopes to see improvement, the next time he steps out on the field.
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