By Nicole Lemal
For the Preston County News & Journal
KINGWOOD — Standing by second base, Ethan Haskiell surveyed the baseball field and his teammates who were awaiting the first pitch of the inning.
“Let’s go,” the 13-year old said to them. Silence ensued. Players redirect their focus forward and appear more prepared with his encouraging statements. Several plays later, he takes his leadership skills to home plate.
Walking up to home plate, he positioned his bat to his comfort. He took a swing, hitting a ground ball out into right field. Although he isn’t known as a power hitter, he consistently makes contact with the ball to get on base.
After some time, the chatter commenced.
“Who is that boy playing baseball with just one hand?” they asked one another. Haskiell turned around with that knowing glance and a slight smile on his face. For him, it’s become part of the game.
“Whenever they’re talking about you, then you’re just like, ‘Oh, they noticed,’ and you’re proud about it and you’re just like, ‘I can’t mess up here,’” Haskiell said. “You have to be the best you can be. You want to try to not mess up, but at the same time you want to have fun. You want to act like you don’t notice, but at the same time, you don’t want to completely notice it.”
It’s all Haskiell knows. Born without a right hand, he is the oldest child of three boys.
When his father Tony was aware of his defect shortly after he was born, he and his wife JoLeen started doing research. As Ethan got older, Tony covered his one hand and stopped using it for an extended period of time to not only attempt to relate to him, but to also discover methods that would make it more feasible for him to function more efficiently with everyday tasks.
Even before Ethan turned 1-year-old, Tony would pass a baseball to him while he was on a couch or a chair.
“He’d be able to reach over and grab the ball and throw it back to me before he was even walking,” Tony said. “His eye and hand coordination, he had that from the beginning.”
With younger siblings Tanner, 10, and Jared, 8, he never observed the differences between them.
By the time he started kindergarten and elementary school, Ethan became more cognizant of his defect. His classmates would stare, sometimes inquiring about it. Without hesitation, he acknowledged it.
“I didn’t really think much about it — just these kids have two hands, and I have one,” Ethan said. “I can do just about anything they do.”
Being accustomed to the questions and the looks, he was still attempting to catch up to his peers in the athletic arena. As much as he enjoyed basketball, he struggled to dribble the ball with just the one hand. Other players would put pressure on his left side, which hindered him in the worst way.
Was he frustrated? Yes. But from that vexation, a newfound determination and grit was cultivated, a new sense of mission for him to pursue.
“I would just have to work harder, just overcome it,” he said.
An incalculable number of hours were spent on the basketball court, practicing his dribbling skills. At one time unable to dribble the basketball more than once, Ethan ran up and down the court at the new Central Preston Middle School gymnasium in June, dribbling the ball with ease.
On the baseball field, he worked his way up to being able to pitch a few innings for most games, also splitting his time at shortstop, first base and catcher.
Tony said he has always been a year behind his peers in hitting. While playing on the 9-10 year-old league, Ethan was hitting up to 160 feet on a 180-foot field. The following year, he increased his momentum to 190 feet on a 200 foot field. Now consistently above 200 feet on his bigger hits, he is playing on a 250-300 foot field now.
“The power is coming, but it will be hard for him to have a lot of power with the one hand,” Tony said.
The reality that he will always be hindered by his defect is just as evident as the potential he has shown. As one of the best players on both his middle school basketball team and the Preston Hit squad, Ethan was recently invited to play in tournaments in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and the Beast of the East tournament, also in Pennsylvania, with the Morgantown Miners travel team. Although it was a 13-year-old team playing in a 14-year-old tournament, the Morgantown Miners held their own to finish 27th out of 42 teams.
Seeing the reactions from the crowd and other teams is an indescribable feeling for Tony.
“Some of them will realize it right away,” he said. “Others don’t realize it until after the game. I mean, they’ll watch him play a whole game before they realize that he did it with one hand. It’s kind of neat to see the reaction of how it happens.”
His knack to inspire others goes above and beyond the baseball field or basketball court. Anytime he sees another person with the same deformity, he approaches them with usually the same icebreaker, just like he did at a recent tournament game.
An elderly man was attempting to zip up his jacket with one hand, and Ethan noticed him out of the corner of his eye.
“He hit him with his nub, and said, ‘Do you need a hand?’” Tony said. “The guy just loved it. The guy gave Ethan a great big bear hug. Ethan goes out of his way to talk to someone like that.
“He is so positive and that is where he takes on that leadership with that Preston Hit Squad team. He has the right kind of attitude for baseball that we are trying to do here, to try to get them to have fun.”
That aspect of his personality is similar to what he portrays while he is in competition mode. His desire to lead and help others is strong, Ethan said, because he wants to push others as much as they have pushed him into developing into the athlete he is today.
Remembering the frustration he felt in his earlier years as he was introduced to sports, he tries to apply what he learned to teach others.
“If you make a bad play in the field, or in soccer if you miss a goal or something and you dwell on that, you will probably not make another goal or another good play for the rest of the game if you are dwelling on that,” he said. “You can’t focus on the past. You have to focus on the present and you got to think what is going to happen, and then whenever that play does come, you will know what to do.”
With confidence, he now appears sure of himself. About to enter the eighth grade, he will eventually be vying for a spot on the high school baseball and basketball teams.
Life may have dealt him a more difficult hand than his peers, but with support from a loving family and his resilience, he can give that smile back to anyone who first notices his deformity.
It’s about more than just having pride for the journey he endured. It’s also about owning who he is, surrounded by the team who accepted him and looked to him for guidance.
“I just kind of look over at them and just look back, like yeah, ‘I heard you,’” he said. “They think I am one of them. They don’t even think about me missing my hand anymore. ‘Oh yeah, it’s Ethan. No big deal.’ It’s just like one of them.”