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Orioles receive inspiring visit from Tennessee teenager Luke Terry, a one-armed catcher

The Orioles brought 14-year-old Luke Terry to Baltimore on Wednesday so he could experience a slice of the big leagues and get some catching tips. The eighth-grader from Cornersville, Tenn., returned the favor by leaving them in awe.

His right arm amputated when he was 19 months old from an e. Coli bacterial infection, Terry has lived most of his life with just one arm, but that hasn't prevented him from following his dream of becoming a professional ballplayer.

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The way Terry has perfected his ability to catch and throw is like poetry in motion. In one fluid step, he gets out of his crouch, tosses the ball in the air from his mitt, drops the mitt and throws to the base.

"I used to catch the ball and then take my glove off and put it on the ground and then get the ball out of my glove, and I was like, 'That's too slow,' " Terry said. "So I was in my backyard, just trying to figure that out one day. And I was doing something and I was like OK, I'll try that. And just over the years, I've perfected it and it comes easy now."

Terry said he's been working to perfect his motion for six or seven years. And now he's one of the top players on his middle-school team. He plans to try out for his high school team this upcoming year.

A video showing Terry's catching motion on YouTube recently went viral and caught the attention of Orioles bench coach John Russell, who is also the club's catchers coach. After seeing it, Russell asked whether it would be possible to invite the youngster to Baltimore.

Southwest Airlines covered the airfare to fly Terry and his family from Tennessee, and the Sheraton Inner Harbor gave the family lodging.

Before Wednesday night's game, Camden Yards was Terry's sandlot. He worked with Russell and Orioles catchers Welington Castillo and Caleb Joseph on the field.

Terry also participated in the ceremonial first "catch" before the Orioles' game against the Cleveland Indians, receiving a throw from Orioles Hall of Famer Jim Palmer before throwing it back to Russell.

Count Joseph among those who came away amazed.

"The way that he catches the ball, tosses it up with his glove, picks it up out of midair and throws a strike to second base, you can't really tell that he only has one arm," Joseph said. "It's nothing short of amazing really. It's really cool to be a part of. It's been the highlight of my day. He's a really well-mannered young man. He's extremely respectful, as most Tennessee people are. He's an inspiration. I know everybody comes here thinking that we're the inspirational types, but it usually works the opposite way around and it has again in this scenario."

Russell said he was impressed just watching the video of Terry, but was even more moved after seeing him transfer quickly and throw to second and third, making throws on the fly to Russell's 13-year-old son, Stone.

"Caleb and I talked about this," Russell said. "When he was playing catch, and when he was throwing to second, he never dropped the ball, and some of our guys can't do that on the exchange. So that was pretty amazing, that he's that adept. No matter where I threw the ball, he was able to get the ball in the right place and make a throw. And Welington and Caleb and I talked to him about a few things that might help him as far as keeping him on line and things to help his throwing and some of his receiving. I think he soaked it up. He was like a sponge. So I think he had a really good time with it."

Russell encouraged Terry to keep following his baseball dreams.

"If he wants to be a catcher, just keep driving," Russell said. "I said, you've obviously gotten this far. Just keep working hard. You're an inspiration to a lot of people whether you like it or not. I know that's a lot for a 14-year-old kid to handle, but basically, it was just keep dreaming big and keep playing the game.

"If this is what you want to do, you have an opportunity and you're good at it. I think whatever he does in life, he's going to be pretty good at it. He's a hard worker. He works on a farm every day, and his work ethic and the way he handles himself, no matter what he does, I think he's going to be a pretty special young man."

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Russell, Joseph and Castillo gave Terry catching tips, helping him with footwork techniques that could help him speed up his catch-and-throw, even showing him the cheat technique that Orioles catchers have used to help throw out base runners. Joseph said Terry got it on the first try.

"It's unbelievable," Joseph said. "He's a really, really talented kid and I'm excited that he's only 20-30 minutes away from me in Nashville. I want to keep up with his progress. I think he's going to try out for his high school team coming up soon. He hit second with his team right now. The guy's a baller. He's a baller for sure."

eencina@baltsun.com
twitter.com/EddieInTheYard  

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