SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Baseball, Sierra College sophomore pitcher Josh Eagle says, has given him everything.
"This sport, I'd be lost without it," said Eagle, who struck out eight of the first 13 batters he faced against Feather River in the Super Regional opener on Friday and moved to 10-2 on the season. "Baseball made me feel normal, like one of the guys, and it kept my mind off my leg."
Eagle, who has a slight limp, was born without an inner foot muscle that would have held the foot properly in place. His left ankle was fused to his foot as the result of a birth defect, similar to clubfoot. He had five major surgeries as a child in an effort to straighten his leg.
Like any youngster, Eagle wanted to run and play, but he couldn't. Eventually, he discovered baseball, where pitching didn't require much running.
As his right arm follows through on a pitch, Eagle's left foot points toward the third-base dugout instead of home plate. His hips don't open when he throws, yet he still fires strikes -- for instance, he struck out nine and walked just one in a complete-game, 10-inning 4-2 win over Laney College of Oakland in a NorCal series opener May 5. Now Sierra has moved into the California Community College State Baseball Championship Final 4,
Eagle views himself as just another player; his coaches and teammates disagree.
"The most amazing player I've ever seen or coached," Sierra coach Rob Willson said.
When opponents attempt bunts, realizing Eagle is going to be slower to the ball than other pitchers, Eagle said it's just competition. What irks him are the taunts about his leg.
"I hear things, and they say things to try to rattle me," Eagle said. "That's OK. If that makes them more confident, go ahead. It just motivates me even more."
Said Sierra assistant coach Ryan Stevens, "Josh always finds a way. Nothing bothers him, and the guys feed off him unlike anyone I've ever seen."
But there were doubts. Facing high school players in Antioch is one thing. Could Eagle find the strike zone in the Big 8 Conference, rated as the state's best?
"The first time I saw him last year, I thought, 'No way,' but he does it, and he's very good," Sierra pitching coach Bret Hemphill said.
At age 2, Eagle was fitted with a brace. By 7, he was pitching in youth leagues. By 8, he was a Pony League All-Star. When he was 9, Eagle underwent a procedure at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Sacramento to install a device on the outside of his leg connected to pins attached to the bone. For six months, screws had to be rotated nightly. It was excruciatingly painful, Eagle said, and he would doze off with tears.
In time, the leg healed and straightened, and Eagle went 13-1 as a senior at Deer Valley High School. He chose Sierra because his father, Corey, has known Willson for decades.
"I've always had a lot of family reinforcement and support," Eagle said. "My dad and mom (Keri) always told me I could do anything I wanted, and this is what I love to do -- pitch."
(Contact Joe Davidson at jdavidson(at)sacbee.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)