Zeke Dees has steadfastly developed two baseball skills his teammates at Emmanuel Christian High School will never master.
The first involves his 31-inch, 28-ounce bat.
At practice Tuesday afternoon at Home Plate Sports in the Upper Valley Mall, Dees faced a pitching machine as a left-handed hitter. His right hand was at least five inches above the knob, and he held the bat pointed high above his head a little bit like former major-leaguer Craig Counsell.
His mostly paralyzed left arm hung at his side.
The machine fired fastballs, and Dees swung again and again. And again and again he made solid contact swinging with only his right arm. Dees is a sophomore and a .146 hitter for the Lions with seven hits in 48 at-bats and four RBIs.
“I’ve tried it, and I can’t imagine doing that in the middle of a game and feeling comfortable with it,” fellow sophomore Cole Weaver said.
Dees has no choice but to swing with one arm. Just like he has no choice but to catch the ball in left field with a left-hander’s glove on his right hand, flip the ball in the air, drop the glove, catch the ball and throw it back to the infield.
”We tried the thing where you catch it, flip the glove up, just to see what it’s like, and it’s crazy hard,” said sophomore Dylan Herring. “He’s worked really hard to get good at what he’s doing.”
On Monday, Dees made a running catch of a line drive in left-center field for the final out in the Lions’ 7-6 Division IV first-round sectional victory over Catholic Central at Carleton Davidson Stadium.
“I turned around before the play was even over,” Weaver said. “I figured he had it.”
The Lions play at top-seeded Tri-County North today.
Dees has come a long way in eight years to be able to play high school baseball and help his team win the first tournament game in the six years ECA (3-17) has fielded a varsity team. He played on a travel team as an 8-year-old for Rick Herring, who is now his high school coach. But his baseball playing ended that year when he ran his ATV into a tree on his family’s farm near Mechanicsburg.
He damaged five nerves in the back of his shoulder and spent two months in the hospital healing from spinal cord and brain injuries. He had to learn to walk again. At 10, he had surgery to move a muscle from his thigh to his bicep. It helps him bend his arm a little.
After his injury, he received an encouraging letter from former major-league pitcher Jim Abbott who excelled without the use of a left hand. Now Dees is 16, drives and plays baseball.
“I don’t even think about it anymore,” he said. “I just try to do my best at everything I can do.”
When Dees came to Emmanuel as a seventh-grader he was encouraged to join the club middle school team because Rick Herring said he knew Dees had determination. That’s when he learned his glove trick.
“There was some skepticism,” Herring said. “But once they started seeing how well he could do things, he was just welcomed right in like the rest of the kids. The kids are more than glad that he’s playing.”
Dees also works hard in the weight room to build up his right side because he doesn’t want to be seen as the kid who can’t do anything.
“Yes, I have a disability, but I don’t want that to stop me,” he said. “I want to be treated the same, because I am just like another player. To me, I have two arms basically.”
While others notice what Dees must overcome every day, he rarely does.
“Every now and then I remember I have one arm,” he said. “I look at people with two arms and I’m like, ‘How can you do that?’ It’s weird to me because I’m so used to doing everything with one arm.”
And doing it well.