May 9, 2007
By Kerry Eggers
The Portland Tribune
As players and coaches lined up for the post-game hand-slap ritual after Oregon State's 10-1 victory over the University of Portland on Tuesday at Etzel Field, OSU coach Pat Casey greeted Pilot pitcher Tommy Renda with a handshake, a pen and a baseball.
"First time all year I've asked for an autograph," Casey says, and it wasn't because Renda had thrown a scoreless ninth inning.
The redshirt freshman from Hillsborough, Calif., is a left-hander by necessity. He has limited use of his right arm, which was weakened at birth by cerebral palsy.
"It's not coordinated or quick," Renda says. "The muscles are contracted. It's stiff and tight and slow."
So Renda, employing a right-hander's glove, has developed a routine for fielding reminiscent of the one used by lefty Jim Abbott, who enjoyed a long, successful major league career despite a deformed right arm.
Soon after Renda releases a pitch, he removes the glove from his right hand, cradles it against his chest and transfers it to his left hand. On Tuesday, he had a one-hopper hit to him. He knocked it down and threw the batter out at first with time to spare.
Casey - whose oldest son, Jonathan, has congenital autistic-like symptoms - was blown away.
"My son was in our dugout feeling sorry for (Renda)," Casey says. "I told him, `No, Jon, that's good stuff. There's a guy who is making the most of what he has, just like you do.'
"To me, that's what college athletics are all about."
Casey's gesture left Renda nearly speechless.
"Coach Casey told me, `Great watching you out there. You're an inspiration - the reason why college sports are played. God bless,' " Renda says. "I said, `It's an honor coming from you.' That meant a lot to me.
"When I was in high school, I did a lot of volunteer work with disabled children. My message was, `There's nothing you can't do. If you want something bad enough, there's no stopping you.' "
It's the same message Abbott delivered in person to Renda about 10 years ago at a big league game in Oakland. A family friend arranged an on-field meeting between the two before the game.
"He'd been a hero of mine ever since I started playing baseball," Renda says. "We played catch. He showed me how he (fielded); I showed him how I did it."
After Renda graduated from high school and announced he was headed to UP, Abbott sent him an autographed jersey and photo with a note of congratulations.
"What an awesome guy," Renda says.
Renda's high school career was hampered by a left shoulder injury that required surgery in July 2005.
"I made a call to his high school coach," Portland coach Chris Sperry says. "He said, `I don't know if he's ready right now, but at some point he's going to be a guy who can come in and get a left-hander out, pitch an inning here or there. He may end up OK.' "
After a redshirt season in 2006, the 5-10, 190-pound Renda has pitched only twice this spring, working two shutout innings. The shoulder isn't yet 100 percent healthy, and the velocity isn't high, so he has developed a changeup as an out pitch.
Renda has earned the respect of his teammates, who call him "Too-Tough" Renda.
"He's that kind of guy," says catcher Paul Crowder, Renda's roommate. "He gets after it. Nothing can hold him back. He was born with a disability, but he never makes excuses. He says it has made him a better person. Hey, he's playing college baseball."
Which is all Renda ever wanted.
"My ultimate goal was to play college baseball, to compete at the D-I level," he says. "I'm there."