TARPON SPRINGS — Tarpon Springs High School’s Austin Ordner dug in to the batter’s box Wednesday, took a practice swing and stared down Mitchell pitcher Garrett Kriston. Ordner wasn’t thinking about the hard work and frustration that led to this moment. He wasn’t thinking this might be his last chance to bat wearing a Spongers uniform.
He was thinking about what to do if he hit the ball.
“I’ve got to make sure I run to first,” he said. “I forget sometimes.”
For the record, Ordner did hit the ball, a sharp grounder back to Kriston on the second pitch. Ordner also ran to first, even though he was thrown out by nearly 30 feet. The crowd gave him a loud ovation. His teammates gave him fist-bumps. Ordner had a smile from ear-to-ear.
He wasn’t thinking about cerebral palsy.
Stacey Ordner was 16 years old when she had Austin. His father was never a part of his life. Stacey’s father, Randy, took over as guardian and fierce protector of Austin.
At about 6 months old, Stacey and Randy noticed Austin wasn’t using his right hand. They were told by a doctor he had cerebral palsy and would not be able to fully use the right side of his body.
His right hand has limited usage, and his right leg and foot bend into his left leg when he walks.
“It’s a moderate case,” Randy Ordner said. “It’s right in the middle. There are some things that he can do, and there are some things he can’t. I used to tie his shoes for him every morning before I got Velcro.”
Randy first moved Stacey and Austin from Indiana to Charlotte, N.C. When the teasing got so bad in Charlotte, Randy moved them closer to family in Tarpon Springs four years ago. He joined them full time a year later after retiring as a commercial cement salesman.
Randy stood up to anybody who picked on Austin.
“You’d be surprised how cruel kids can be,” Randy Ordner said.
While a freshman at Tarpon Springs, Austin Ordner befriended a few upperclassman baseball players, and they suggested he try out for the team. With one year’s worth of T-ball experience, he didn’t make the cut, and his low grades didn’t allow him to be team manager.
Better grades, better play
By his sophomore year, he had brought up his grades and became a manager. He also started playing summer ball for the Winning Inning program. Before the start of this season Spongers coach Dickie Hart asked him to join the team as a a full-fledged member.
While excited, Ordner wasn’t sure.
“I had to make a decision during the summer whether I wanted to keep playing,” he said. “I was just terrible. I was really struggling. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. But I decided to keep playing. I worked too hard to just give up. In January I started to hit. I was hitting everything. I’m glad I stayed with it.”
Senior catcher Tommy Grill has known Ordner since his freshman year. Grill said he is just another member of the team.
“He’s one of the guys,” Grill said. “Nobody makes fun of him. If anyone around here does, the baseball team has his back. We’re his family.”
His big chance
Ordner got one at-bat before his senior night game. He pinch hit against Largo and grounded out to third.
He forgot to run.
Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over Mitchell was the first game that the lineup card read: ORDNER — DH. He spent days thinking about it. He envisioned getting a hit and standing on first base.
“It’s all he talks about,” Stacey Ordner said. “I’m so proud of him.”
In his first at-bat against Mitchell, Ordner, batting ninth, followed Michael Dunnigan. Dunnigan got a two-out, two-run double to score the Spongers’ first runs. It would’ve been easy for Mitchell to walk Dunnigan and load the bases to face Ordner. The Mustangs chose not to.
“I think it’s great when something like that happens,” Mitchell coach Scot Wilcox said. “Hopefully our guys will see that and not take this game for granted.”
In his second at-bat, Ordner grounded to first. His final at-bat came in the sixth inning, when he swung and missed three straight pitches.
“Once I got that hit up the middle I felt better,” said Ordner, who bats left-handed and swings with just his left arm. “My last at-bat wasn’t too good. I was a little too anxious. But I’m happy about how things happened.”
Ordner’s plate appearances didn’t surprise Hart.
“I expected him to (hit),” Hart said. “He can hit. We still play to win. He actually put two good swings on the ball.”
Randy Ordner, 64, lived and died with every pitch Wednesday, knowing it was his grandson’s last real chance to play ball. From here he plans to go to St. Petersburg College and maybe get a job in politics.
When it was over, Randy Ordner was beaming.
“I’m overflowing with pride,” he said. “He doesn’t really know a lot about statistics right now, so I’m going to tell him he went 2-for-3 tonight.”