Living in St. Petersburg, FL, I don't have to travel too far or look too hard to find special talent on the field. Never did I imagine, though, stumbling upon a player quite like this. He is, simply, the perfect example of #want.
BP readers surely know the meaning of the term. A scout a few years ago first threw this description on a player to describe his hunger, the way the player was driven by a special brand of desire and hustle. A professor, of sorts, would define it later as “the manifestation of human desire and physical yield; when the yearning for perfection becomes visible to the naked eye.” It’s not a term used lightly; only the certain few who can bring this desire to the field every day can earn it. More rare still to find the player who shows this drive in his entire life, every day for 16 years. Ladies and gentleman, let me introduce you to Colt Daninos, a ballplayer.
Colt was born with a rare disease known as DiGeorge Syndrome. It is caused by a missing chromosome in his body and has many symptoms, including neuromuscular problems, learning disabilities, congenital heart disease, and many others. It has required Colt to undergo surgery 14 times; it required his entire spine to be fused together. It keeps him reading at a third-grade level and will likely prevent him from attending college. It attacks his short-term memory, and he quickly forgets all the little things that we take for granted—the joke a friend tells, the line from a movie that everybody else is quoting, or, most painfully, what happened in a ballgame he has just played in.
On top of and unrelated to this syndrome, on November 17th doctors found a “gigantic” aneurysm on Colt’s brain. Not hyperbole—that’s actually the medical term for it. His family considers it a miracle it was discovered—only a nasty kickball spill, which sent him into seizures, led to the tests that found it. They also consider it a miracle he survived those seizures, as an off-duty paramedic happened to be on campus and was able to restore his breathing.
You can see his aneurysm: It's the dark black thread that is branching off toward the right, and the dark black splotch immediately below it, in the middle of the picture. The procedure required to treat it came with very high risk—of stroke, or paralysis, of blindness. So did waiting for the procedure. For two months in preparation Colt had to sit, more or less, motionless. Yes, that’s correct: Two entire months with no running, no P.E., no baseball. If he sneezed, or coughed, or had any movement, the aneurysm could burst and immediately kill Colt. During that time, he went so far as to make a bucket list, and his family organized five separate parties for him. Previously a health-food fanatic, he filled up on junk and let his six-pack sink into a newly soft gut. Why bother eating healthy? He was prepared for his life, as he knew it, to be over.
But on January 14th of this year, when doctors began the procedure to remove the aneurysm, a procedure that would involve cutting off the flow of blood to his brain and likely sending him into a series of strokes, the aneurysm was… gone. (Spontaneous thrombosis is very rare, but well documented.) The full surgery wasn’t even needed; Colt wouldn’t be paralyzed, he wouldn’t be blind, and he wouldn’t be dead. To the family, this is miracle no. 3.
No more aneurysm.
Just five days later, on January 19th, Colt was back on the field getting ready for the spring season. We have a new 80-grade level of #want.
Colt attends Morning Star School here in Pinellas Park, FL. Morning Star is a special-needs school in my area, the only one of its kind of Florida’s west coast. While this school and its extraordinary staff do amazing things for amazing kids every day, it can’t offer Colt what he truly loves: the chance to be part of a baseball team. Baseball is what drives Colt. “Colt isn’t a disabled kid,” his dad, Pat, told me. “He’s a baseball player.” So, this year, Colt acquired a special waiver to play on the junior varsity team at my alma mater, St. Pete Catholic, where he has more than held his own on the mound. I had the privilege of catching Colt myself this week and it was a day I will never forget.
I went into this bullpen session expecting fastballs and maybe a changeup, but then the 5-foot-4 lefty starting breaking out curveballs and a slider, as well. It was truly awesome. Here's a kid who couldn't even move just a few months ago, and here he was pounding the strike zone with a four-pitch arsenal. He threw all four pitches with the type of conviction and feel that isn't often evident in high school players. He also threw them with control. His fastball sits just below 70 mph and has some natural movement to it.
While the feel for his secondary offerings was impressive, it was his mechanics that really blew me away. Remember that this kid's entire spine is fused together. Couple that fact with his short-term memory issues, and then think about how crazy it is that he is basically relying solely on muscle memory to repeat this delivery. Colt doesn't have the benefit of remembering every piece of coaching he gets, so his success speaks foremost to his work ethic and the help he gets from pitching coach Doug Banks. Pat has him on a regular training schedule to build up muscle—he lost most of it while sitting still for two months—and the results are already showing. Colt rolled up his sleeve and smiled at me while flexing a rock of a bicep. There is still plenty of work to do for Colt to continue living his dream, but there is no doubt in my mind that he will do everything required and more to keep the train moving.
Just to be clear, this isn't a charity case. It's not about sympathy. This is about a kid who wants to break down the social stigmas of special needs kids, to just be another one of the guys, and to be able to play the game based on ability and performance. It's that simple. Put in the work, show up to the field and earn it. That's all Colt wants, and frankly, that's how it should be.
There have been coaches that have tried to hold Colt back. Maybe they’re scared he’ll get hurt, or maybe they let their insecurities get the best of them. Maybe they’re just ignorant and assume any kid with a disability can’t compete. Time and again he has proven them wrong. Last summer, Colt entered a tournament game trailing 5-0. He pitched the final two innings, in shutout fashion, and ultimately scored the winning run by stealing second base, then third, then scrambling home on a catcher’s errant throw. His teammates rushed the field and carried him off. It’s my favorite of many stories of his on-field success.
I was able to talk with Scotty Miller, who is the varsity coach at St. Pete Catholic. Coach Miller is somewhat of a legend in these parts after winning a National Championship with nearby Seminole High in 2001. As Scotty put it, “Colt puts the game into perspective for me.” But while it’s apparent Colt has done amazing things just to get on the field, there’s probably a note of skepticism in the back of your mind. Get rid of it: “He is the kind of pitcher who can cause hitters to go into a slump,” Coach Miller said. “This isn’t little league. Colt earned his way onto this team as an eighth grader.”
He remembers the team tryout. “When Colt first showed up, I had only heard about his condition. I was thinking, if he didn’t make the team, he could be the team manager. After the tryout, I had to find myself a new team manager.” By giving the kid a chance and not judging him on his condition, Coach Miller found a player who is always positive and works his tail off every day, a player who shows up wanting to play and does it with an infectious smile on his face. And that was that. Colt was on his way.
There is so much more to Colt that I would love to learn about. There is so much all of us can learn from not only Colt, but from all the other kids out there who share similar stories like his. Don't ever for a second think that special needs kids can't teach you something. Don't be so quick to walk away and not engage them. The only person who loses when you do that is you. Don’t default to doubt. Ask Colt’s strikeout victims what happens when you doubt him.
Thank you for reading
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