Annapolis boys basketball coach John Brady thought a reporter was joking when he was asked how one of his best three-point shooters, Joe Feldmann, adjusts to being legally blind in his left eye.
"I had no idea that he can only see out of the one eye," said Brady, whose No. 1-ranked Panthers are 20-0. "Joe has never said a word about it. He's probably said a hundred words in the three years he's been on the varsity. You have to talk to him or he won't talk."
Annapolis baseball coach Larry Brogden had the same reaction as Brady. He, too, was unaware that one of his pitchers has an eye problem.
"It's amazing everything he has done at Annapolis," said Brogden.
Feldmann carries a 4.10 grade-point average and has scored 1,460 on the SAT. He hopes to major in economics at Columbia University or the University of Pennsylvania.
He also plays soccer for the Panthers.
On the basketball court, he has quietly become a key contributor for the Panthers, who on Tuesday broke their Anne Arundel County record for consecutive wins to start a season (19), set in 1985-86. The senior has 26 three-pointers and is averaging just over eight points a game.
Feldmann suffered a lacerated cornea in his left eye when he was 5 years old, leaving him with 20/100 vision. He said he was accidentally struck in the eye by a chisel that his mother, Carol Mason, was using to open a package while they were moving into a new house.
"I can hardly see at all out of my left eye and rely on my right eye," said Feldmann.
He learned to adjust almost immediately.
"My mom told me that when I first went out to play after we got home from the hospital, that I tripped once and fell. I never tripped again. It has not prevented me from doing all the things I've wanted to do and hardly anybody knows about it."
"Doctors said early on the only thing closed off to Joe was his being a fighter pilot," said Mason.
"It's never been a big issue for him. Joe is a very determined young man. He broke a leg his freshman year and couldn't go out for soccer, but made it the following year. It was the first time he had ever played soccer. He didn't start playing baseball until eighth grade."
"It's not that big of a deal," said Feldmann, who wore goggles while playing basketball in grade school, but later did away with them. "And contact lenses were a hassle to wear. So, I just adjusted and rely on my right eye with no added stress."
Feldmann had a restriction on his first driver's license that required him to use contacts, but that has been removed. But he says he can only see out of his left eye a tad if he closes his right eye.
His shooting accuracy is even more amazing considering he is right-handed.
"What makes it astounding," said Brady, "is that guys usually take the ball straight up from their belly button to shoot, and if you're right-handed your hand and elbow can block out your right eye. That is why some guys are not very accurate."
Not Feldmann, who shoots 48 percent from the field, 44 percent from three-point range and 77 percent from the foul line.
"I guess I instinctively get the ball out and over my right shoulder, so I can see the basket," said the 6-foot Feldmann.
Feldmann's sharpshooting can take an opponent right out of a game, as happened a couple weeks ago against Meade.
Down by 45-24 at the half, then No. 14-ranked Meade was overwhelmed when the Panthers went on a 10-1 run to open the third period, with Feldmann scoring eight of the points on a pair of threes and a two-pointer. Annapolis coasted to an 83-38 victory.
Brady said Feldmann is so sound fundamentally on court that it explains part of the reason for his success.
"In his three years on the varsity," the coach said, "he's improved every season and this year earned a starting position. He's really blossomed."
Junior point guard Marcus Neal said Feldmann is an integral part of a special team chemistry that has the Panthers shooting for an undefeated season and the Class 3A state championship.
"We usually have five people on the floor who can shoot the ball, and Joe is one of them," said Neal. "Everybody knows what everybody can do."
Feldmann attributes that chemistry to the fact that most of the Panthers have been together since 10th grade.
Brady said Feldmann is a quintessential team player and that's why the "guys on the team love him."
"A lot of people think of Joe as just a three-point shooter and he doesn't get the credit he deserves for his defense," said Brady.
In other words, Feldmann sees the floor well despite the bad eye. Soccer is no problem, but he has encountered minor problems batting in baseball.
"I'm primarily a pitcher, so, I don't bat that much," said Feldmann, who normally gives way at the plate to a designated hitter.
"He had never pitched before, but just walked out there and did it," said Brogden. "He's not overpowering, but his form and delivery are fundamentally solid."
"My control is good and I throw a lot of junk, so it's no problem pitching. Batting is the only thing that has been difficult for me to do since I'm right-handed and my lead eye is my bad eye."
Dr. Sharon Gross, an ophthalmologist in Baltimore County who specializes in corneas and has treated Feldmann, said, "Joe is amazing and definitely goes against the odds, having that kind of athletic ability."
The physician was particularly impressed because recent studies attribute unusual depth perception to pitchers.
"Pitchers usually have precise vision and their unusual depth perception is very sharp and dependent upon good vision in both eyes," said Gross. "I believe having had the injury at such a young age led to his compensating early."
As he says, "I adjusted."