DOWNERS GROVE – When he pitches, Nick Alfini sometimes draws the curiosity of opposing fans.
After all, it’s rare to see a pitcher throw and glove the ball with the same hand.
That’s exactly what the Downers Grove South senior does. Alfini was born with damage to the nerve cluster in his right arm that conducts signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm and hand. That hasn’t stopped him from doing it all on the baseball diamond during his life.
“It’s the only thing I’ve ever known so it’s natural to me,” Alfini said.
Natural might be putting it lightly. He can grip, but not wear, his glove with his affected right hand while he pitches with his left, and he fields just as well as any other player on the field. Pitching in extended relief earlier this season in a key West Suburban Gold series against Hinsdale South, Alfini fielded a hard come-backer to the mound, quickly got the ball out of the glove and into his left hand to start a game-ending 1-6-3 double play in the Mustangs’ 7-6 win.
“To turn that double play, nobody can really respect how tough that play is for a kid like that,” said South coach Darren Orel. The coach is continually impressed with Alfini, on and off the mound. “That kid just comes in and plays a role, and there’s not a better kid in the world. Good things happen to good people and there’s an example of it right there.”
One might think fielding and then throwing the ball a split second later with the same hand would be a challenge, but Alfini has worked hard to become the fielder he is. It’s a testament to the athletic ability of a player who also competed in basketball and football when he was younger.
“I’ve taken fielding practice all my life,” Alfini said. “I started pitching when I was 11 or 12 and I play first base and outfield in the summer, so I’ve kind of done a little bit of everything.”
The way he pitches would beg for comparisons to Jim Abbott, the former major leaguer who pitched in the pros for a decade despite being born without a right hand, but Alfini likes the work of a more contemporary lefty.
“I like C.J. Wilson,” Alfini said. “He doesn’t dominate people but he gets people out. I like watching players who are similar to me.”
Starters Brian Glowicki, Zach Burdi and Danny Mayer have pitched the majority of the Mustangs’ innings this season, but Alfini is far and away the team leader in appearances. As the No. 1 reliever, he enters the game in pressure-packed situations, and both he and Orel know he can get the job done in those scenarios.
“We have five or six [pitchers] we feel can go out there and win a game for us, and he’s one of them,” Orel said.
“Pitching and defense are going to win championships,” Alfini said. “The offense might come and go, but pitching and defense are always going to be there.”