Nettleton catcher Bates adjusts to playing with one eye

No Original CaptionBY BRANDON SPECK
DAILY JOURNAL
Caleb Bates doesn’t see his situation as a burden. And despite his one functioning eye, his sight is as clear, if not clearer, than yours.
Nettleton’s senior catcher plays one of baseball’s prominent positions, the sport’s defensive captain, with half the sight of the other 17 men on the field.
“It was kind of a challenge at first. But I just kept practicing and got better and better. Now it just comes natural,” Bates said.
In the eighth grade, a friend accidentally shot Bates with a pellet gun. The result: three surgeries, the last one to remove his left eye and replace it with a prosthetic eye.
“I can’t see anything,” Bates said.
Bates wears sports glasses – the polycarbonate lenses, he says, to protect his good eye. Nettleton coach Will Hawkins marvels at what Bates does – and how he gets it done.
“For a kid to be able to catch, and to hit, as well as he does with one eye, is unbelievable. The amount of work that kid does with one eye, the commitment and hard work he puts into it, it’s unbelievable.”
Strong hitter
Bates just finished up summer ball with Nettleton. The Tigers have seen more than anyone could have possibly expected. He was a key cog in a surprising season, a win away from a trip to the MHSAA Class 3A championship series.
The junior hit a team-second .380 with eight doubles and 16 RBIs.
“I opened my stance up a little bit so I could see it better,” Bates said.
Still, as a right-handed hitter, the only vision facing the pitcher is his back eye. No left side peripheral at all.
The adjustments to his game sounds simple – and for him it is, like how he just pans around with his right eye for a wild pitch or passed ball, though Hawkins said there aren’t many of those. Bates committed one error last season, a .995 fielding percentage. He threw out five of 10 would-be base-stealers.
“It’s unbelievable. And to be a catcher, it’s absolutely amazing,” Hawkins said. “Your body adjusts some, to a point, but to be the caliber of catcher and hitter he is, to adjust that much.”
brandon.speck@journalinc.com