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Touching lives via softball

When Carl Whitehouse is on the mound or holding first base for the American Title/Mainstream softball team, he's just another one of the guys. In fact, if you're not staring at him, you probably wouldn't notice anything different about him at all.

That's the way Whitehouse likes things to be when he's with the Mainstream team in Citrus County.

But when he's playing with his other team, the One Armed Bandits, Whitehouse wants people to notice and acknowledge that he's different from your average softball player.

A former Hernando High baseball player, Whitehouse was born with only 20 percent function in his left arm. As a member of the Miami-based Bandits, Whitehouse and other one-armed players are using their disabilities to help others.

In August, Whitehouse and the Bandits traveled to Venezuela to participate in the first softball game there between two teams in which all participants had one arm. The Bandits went 5-3 during the trip. But more important was the humanitarian effort. The Bandits will travel to Santa Domingo for a similar tournament in February.

"We're touching base with these countries to try to enlighten them," Whitehouse said. "In general, many of these countries don't take care of their handicapped people in general. There was a one-armed guy there who was supposed to be on an all-star team but they wouldn't let him. But we broke down a barrier there."

Whitehouse first learned about the One-Armed Bandits while watching a segment on the Today show several years ago. Now, whenever he comes across anybody who's missing an arm, he'll tell them about the team.

"I run into people like that all the time," Whitehouse said. "Some are more interested than others. I met a high school baseball coach in Atlanta recently and now he's planning to make the trip with us to Santa Domingo."

Whitehouse, Bandits founder Victor Rosario and several other players are working to make softball a sanctioned sport in the 2000 Paralympics Games. Part of making that dream a reality is traveling to other countries and getting people involved so they too will join the effort.

Playing for American Title/Mainstream, one of the most competitive men's softball teams in the area, helps keep Whitehouse's skills honed. But playing for the Bandits means much more in a different sense.

"As far as the one-armed teams, everybody is just out there doing the best they can," Whitehouse said. "I wouldn't compare it to American Title. On two-armed teams, you have egos and attitudes. The other guys just get out and play as well as they can. In South America, they had a guy who didn't have any arms, just forearms sticking out of his chest. He pitched for them. It was pretty incredible."

More and more, Whitehouse is learning how much goodwill the Bandits are helping to spread. He underwent his final surgery at age 10, so he has had 21 years to adapt to the loss of his arm.

Others aren't so fortunate. And that's another area where the Bandits are helping.

"We have some people that have just lost their arms and it really helps them more than it does the people that have been that way all their life," Whitehouse said. "If you lose your lead hand or your arm, how do you make any kind of a connection?

"When you run across people on our team and you realize, "Hey, this is someone just like me and they are doing this,' it makes them see I can carry on and I can do what I need to do and live my life.

"We're gradually mingling and touching base with more people," Whitehouse added. "It's kind of a connection thing."

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