Redshirt-senior pitcher has helped the Owls get off to a 4-0 A-10 start despite disability.
Sophomore catcher Stephanie Pasquale called timeout and walked out to the mound in the Owls’ doubleheader sweep against La Salle on Friday, March 30. The mound visit was not used to calm down her pitcher, redshirt-senior Capri Catalano, but Pasquale needed to relay a message from coach Joe DiPietro.
“When [Catalano’s] on the field I can’t yell from the dugout to her,” DiPietro said. “I have to get our catcher to get her attention to look at me.”
That’s because Catalano is almost completely deaf. Just before her fourth birthday she contracted bacterial meningitis and slipped into a coma for three weeks. Her parents were told she had a slim chance of making it.
“[My parents] were very upset,” Catalano said. “They didn’t know if I was going to live, but they were happy that I fought it through and it’s bringing me to here, where I am today.”
After she came out of her coma, Catalano spent years relearning how to walk, talk and find her balance. But her hearing didn’t make a full recovery and she was granted one of the first cochlear implants for a child to help her hear.
“I had a lot of therapy to help me to be able to walk straight and sit up instead of falling down,” Catalano said.
When Catalano was 7 years old she picked up softball, and shortly after that, began pitching. Catalano quickly became one of New Jersey’s most dominant pitchers, graduating high school in 2007 with 1,346 strikeouts, which set a state record. From there she went to the University of South Florida and posted a 17-1 record as a freshman in 2008.
“I really wanted to go to school in Florida,” Catalano said. “I thought it was a good school, but it was far away from home. I was homesick for a while.”
But Catalano redshirted her sophomore year due to a shoulder injury. She never regained a foothold in the rotation the next two years and decided to come back closer to home, which was a lot easier on her father.
“He’s able to make most of the games now,” Catalano said. “He’s really happy that he’s able to come to more games.”
Catalano has made an impact on and off the field for the Owls (16-11, 4-0 Atlantic Ten Conference).
On the mound Catalano’s 4-5 after a slow start recovering from an off-season injury. But in her past two starts she allowed six hits, struck out five and went 2-0 with two shutouts, including taking a no-hitter into the fifth in a win against Wagner on Tuesday, March 27.
“She’s a rise-ball pitcher,” DiPietro said. “When she stays the way she needs to stay, her rise really jumps. Plus she does have good velocity and she’s around the plate a lot, she doesn’t walk a lot of people usually.”
“But the thing is she’s had four years of college experience, so she has the experience factor, which really helps us,” he added.
Catalano also has positive work ethic during practice, DiPietro said.
“I think in spite of her handicap that she has, she works her butt off, she really does,” DiPietro said. “She spends a lot of hours pitching.”
Off the field, she’s developed relationships with her new teammates, who have learned how to sign to their pitcher.
“She’s taught us some things,” Pasquale said. “She’s taught a lot of the girls the alphabet so now they can spell things out to her. It’s cool because you have to learn different ways of speaking without talking.”
But there has also been some challenges. Catalano can hear but needs to be facing the person as they’re talking to understand them, or at least to read their lips. She can talk on the phone, but only if she knows the person well enough.
“I can hear a lot, but it doesn’t mean I understand what they’re saying,” Catalano said. “If you’re talking behind me I hear something but I don’t know that the voice is coming directly at me.”
She also has trouble hearing if she’s surrounded by a lot of loud noise, like cheering teammates. That hasn’t stopped the coach from getting through to her, though.
“[Catalano] and I really didn’t have much of an issue communicating, plus I have a big mouth so I’m able to get through to her,” DiPietro said.
But Catalano also uses her deafness to an advantage, something that could help in the remainder of the Owl’s A-10 season.
“I think it’s an advantage because I don’t hear other teams,” Catalano said. “So I’m more focused.”
Jake Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.