Fastball pitcher a medical miracle



Former national-team fastball pitcher Rob Scheller continues to confound batters and optometrists alike.

Scheller was supposed to be blind by the time he turned 25. But there he was on the weekend, at age 46, pitching for the Bruno (Sask.) Merchants in a men’s fastball tournament in Regina.

The Saskatoon-based Scheller pitched two scoreless innings Sunday to nail down the Merchants’ 6-1 victory over the Lloydminster Dodgers in the final.

Afterward, a walking miracle sat in the bleachers and discussed his improbable, inspiring story.

“They told me 25 years ago to start taking Braille classes and to get ready to give up my licence,” Scheller said. “I still haven’t taken any Braille classes and I still drive.”

Scheller was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa – a progressive form of tunnel vision – more than 30 years ago. His vision was expected to worsen to the point where it was non-existent.

“I was probably eight or nine years old, just playing hide-and-seek – running into things and hitting a tree,” the easygoing Scheller said. “I just assumed that everybody couldn’t see when it was dark.”

Twenty-five became an ominous figure. The inclination, as he put it, was to “jam a lot of living into the next five or 10 years,” with the result being “a lot of drinking and fooling around.”

In the meantime, Scheller was developing into a world-class pitcher. He once pitched 20 innings at the Pan American Games without surrendering an earned run.

Scheller was a fixture with the national team from the mid-1980s into the early 1990s. His pitching talents were in demand locally and around the globe. He travelled to every Canadian province, virtually every American state, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Japan, Taiwan, Argentina, Brazil, New Zealand and Australia. Elite American teams, such as one in New York, would fly him in on weekends.

Batters seldom had a prayer, but Scheller did. He started going to church.

He hoped, against formidable odds, to stave off the degenerative effects of retinitis pigmentosa. And sure enough . . .

“You can’t put into words how grateful I am,” he said. “I’m playing the game that I love. It would be real tough not to be able to do this, to be honest with you. I feel very blessed, even at my age, to be able to run around and compete at a decent level.”

Scheller has had to make some concessions for health reasons. He pitches while wearing a batting helmet and a football-style face guard – but not because of his vision.

Five years ago, some blood clots broke loose while Scheller was undergoing surgery on his left knee. The blood clots went into his lungs. As a result, he must take blood-thinners. In order to continue pitching, he requires protection such as the customized helmet.

“Any hit to the body could be dangerous right now,” he said. “I feel confident enough that I still want to play, and I do.”

Scheller also frequents the diamonds for other reasons. He and wife Michelle have two sons – Josh, 11, and Joel, 9 – who are involved in ball.

“Watching my kids play is more nerve-racking than pitching in any world- championship game,” noted Scheller, who operates Cool Collectibles in Saskatoon.

“That’s something I wouldn’t be able to do if it had happened at 25. I don’t think I would have had children. I don’t think it would have been fair to myself or the kids.”

As appreciative as Scheller is of his vision, he knows that he does not have the all-clear. The possibility remains that the projection of blindness will be correct, albeit much later than anyone envisioned.

“(The doctors) don’t know what the cure is, or what the cause is,” he said.

“They can give you the best guess, but they can’t explain it.”

Scheller recognizes that the “clock is still ticking,” but the same thing could have been said 25 years ago. Then, as now, Scheller savours every game, and every precious image. It wasn’t supposed to be this way . . . not anymore.

“I would say it’s the power of prayer,” he said with a smile, “without a doubt in my mind.”

Regina Leader-Post

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

Here’s a pic of Rob picking up the Most Valuable Player Pitcher award from AAU International Tournament director Alex Linares in 2005, the year that Circle Tap/The Bar of Appelton won the tournament:

(Photo by Maddy Flanagan – click to enlarge)

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