Cerebral Palsy Can't Keep Pitcher Down

Despite the disability, 17-year-old is a key player on high school varsity team.

ByABC News
June 13, 2009, 9:53 PM

MANCHESTER, Conn., June 13, 2009— -- Mark Selavka, a pitcher for the Manchester High School Indians, can throw strikes. He can get outs.

But putting on his socks and even buttoning his shirt is a struggle.

Mark was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that severely weakened the left side of his body. He has limited use of his left hand, and he walks and runs with a limp.

Despite his disability, Mark, 17, has been a sturdy performer for Manchester's varsity team this year. His coach, Mike Kakalow, calls on him when the Indians have to get an out.

"He's a special reliever," Kakalow said. "He comes in when we need a fly ball, we need a double play, when we need to get out of an inning.

"That's what he does: He comes in and with his off-speed pitches, with his accuracy, and his placement, he gets us outs -- gets us outs quick," the coach said.

When Mark was a youngster learning the game, some kids would taunt him, even call him names like "cripple." Mark said he would get discouraged and want to give up, but his parents, Ann and Mark Sr., encouraged him to press on.

"I used to come home upset and sad and tell my dad and my mom that maybe they're right -- maybe I can't play baseball. But they changed my whole attitude," Mark said.

"My dad always used to sit me down and say, 'You can never say that again. Don't say I can't. It's I can, I can, I can,'" he said.

For inspiration, Mark's dad showed his son a video of Jim Abbott, the one-handed pitcher who threw a no-hitter for the New York Yankees in 1993. Mark's outlook quickly changed

Mark taught himself to throw and catch with his one good arm, rushing the glove on after each pitch. It's the same technique that Abbott perfected.

No surprise, then, that Mark wears No. 25 -- the same number as Jim Abbott.

Mark's twin brother, Greg, also provides motivation.

Greg has a more severe case of cerebral palsy. He is confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk or talk. He can communicate with squeals and by raising a fist -- and attends all of Mark's games, cheering him on.