CLEARWATER — David Vince grew up trying to play sports with intensity as fierce as any able-bodied athlete.
Even though he has prosthetic legs.
As an infant, Vince was diagnosed with tibia hemophilia, a birth defect that resulted in a severe loss of blood, and had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 2. Still, he dreamed of a career in baseball, despite many doubters.
After all, baseball was reserved for the swift and the agile — boys who were nothing like Vince. But if Vince could make it in baseball, he knew he could transcend his disability.
He found his path: coaching.
Vince, 48, has coached for 27 seasons and has nearly 450 victories at the high school, college and international level. This past season, he took over at Clearwater High and led the Tornadoes to the district semifinals.
This week, he is taking a team of local and national players on a two-week trip to Italy, where they will play against the Italian junior national team.
"I've always had a passion for the game," said Vince, who grew up in Louisiana. "I knew I wanted to be involved in it in some way. Coaching gives me that chance. I've always tried to pick the brains of other coaches to make me better."
Vince spent his childhood watching games from the sideline, taking notes on how players moved and how coaches instructed. A passion was born. Vince continued asking for any and all pointers on baseball. He picked up instructional pamphlets. He attended clinics. He absorbed every aspect.
Vince became a man of exacting detail and plain language who has parlayed the curses of life into a professional career.
"I could never go out and just do something like most baseball players," said Vince, who has used prosthetics since an early age. "I was always the team manager. I had to watch and learn. But I think that has made me a better coach. I've really had to study the game."
In his coaching career, Vince got a lesson in American geography, chasing jobs in Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida. Though he led a nomadic life, Vince eventually settled down. He has been married to Susan for 24 years.
They decided to start a family. Their son, Jordan, 10, is a picture of health. Their daughter, Sierra, was born with a genetic birth defect. She was diagnosed at an early age with tibia hemophilia and had both feet amputated.
"The doctors said it was going to be a 50-50 chance any child we have was going to have this birth defect," Vince said. "Sierra really was a miracle baby. She was born two months premature. She had water on the brain. But she came through."
Last year, Vince left Tennessee to coach baseball and teach at Clearwater in part because of the proximity to Tampa Shriners Hospital, where Sierra can take care of her prosthetic needs.
Sierra, now 8, plays most sports, including gymnastics.
"You'd never know she went through so much," Vince said. "The medical field is so much more advanced than when I was growing up. She can do just about anything."
Even in tough times, Vince's work has remained such a part of his life that he can't stay away. He plans to continue coaching — and learning — for years to come. "The day I stop becoming a student of the game is the day I quit coaching," he said.