Kim Basile, a catcher on the Island Trees High School softball team, takes her glove off after each pitch, removes the ball, and throws it back. She does it so quickly that spectators, even some umpires and players, do not realize she has one hand.
“When they find out,” said Basile, who was born without a left hand, “some people are kind of shocked and kind of amazed at the same time.”
Basile, 17, has been on the varsity softball team since her sophomore year and is in her first full season as a starter. The senior captain is a key hitter, batting .378, and has been impressive defensively, throwing out baserunners and turning double plays. She’ll continue playing softball next year at Farmingdale State College.
“Growing up, it never really dawned on me that I might not be able to play at a high level,” said Basile, who is also on the Island Trees volleyball team, bowling team, and plays trumpet in the school’s band. “There was never really a thought in my head that I couldn’t do it.”
When behind the plate, she catches the ball in the glove on her right hand. She then tucks the glove under her left arm, slides her hand out of the glove and grabs the ball before throwing it back to the pitcher.
“It happens so fast that people don’t even realize what I did,” Basile said. “I feel like it just came so natural to me. It wasn’t a big learning curve. I just figured out what I had to do.”
Just as she did for many routine daily activities, often refusing assistance from others. Her parents said that when Basile was a toddler, she wouldn’t let them show her how to eat her food. She taught herself to hold silverware and cut her meat.
“When she was born, we were nervous about what she could and could not do,” Basile’s mother, Sharon, said. “But then we just followed her lead. She never said she couldn’t do anything, so we never told her that she couldn’t.”
On Basile’s first day of preschool, the class was making necklaces out of yarn and Froot Loops cereal. Worried that her daughter wouldn’t be able to participate, Sharon said she began to panic.
“Before I could even figure out how to handle it, she just did what came natural and wrapped the yarn around her left arm and started stringing the Froot Loops on,” Sharon said. “It was then that I knew she’d be fine.”
Kim learned to tie her shoes by practicing repeatedly on a children’s book that had shoelaces attached to the cover. She taught herself to paint her nails by using her left arm to hold the tip of the brush over the edge of a table while moving the nails on her right hand up and down alongside the brush. She figured out how to braid her hair, button shirts, and zip jackets.
“We never had to train her to do anything,” Kim’s father, Anthony, said. “From the time she was a baby, it enabled her to figure out the most efficient way to get it done. She adapted. You would use two hands, she uses one. It’s second nature to her.”
Basile was a middle blocker on the volleyball team, specializing in blocking opponents’ shots at the net. On the bowling team last season, she had a 119.2 average.
She began playing the trumpet in fourth grade. Her parents felt that, compared to other instruments, the trumpet was best suited to be played with one hand. Basile, who uses her right hand to play the three valves atop the trumpet and her left arm to support it, performs in the winter and spring concerts, plays during halftime of football games, and marches in the annual Memorial Day parade down Hempstead Turnpike.
“It certainly was the first time that I saw a musician with her physical challenges have to play the instrument,” said Greg Warnokowski, the director of bands at Island Trees High School. “She never once ever complained in all four years that I’ve known her. She’s a very talented trumpet player who keeps up with everyone.”
Hardball approach to softball
Basile started playing softball in the second grade. She taught herself to make the switch from glove to hand while throwing the ball around in her yard with her older sisters, Samantha and Alannah, both of whom played softball at Island Trees.
Samantha, 22, is now a senior catcher at NYIT, and Alannah, 20, is a sophomore pitcher at Seton Hall. Their younger brother, Nicholas, 15, is a freshman pitcher and first baseman on the Island Trees junior varsity baseball team.
“Kimmy always tried to have a catch with us,” Samantha said. “It wasn’t an option for her to not be out there. She figured out a way. She’d just kind of watch how everyone else did things and make her own little twist to it.”
Basile made junior varsity as a freshman. She was called up to varsity as a sophomore and got a chance to play full-time at the end of her junior season.
“This kid can do anything that any other kid can do,” Island Trees softball coach Mike Bonsignore said.
As a righthanded hitter, Basile uses her left arm to guide the front of the bat during her swing, and generates power despite gripping the bat with one hand. She started the season hitting fifth in the batting order, was soon moved to third, and, because of her .909 on-base percentage, was recently moved into the leadoff spot.
“I just use my left arm to keep the bat balanced,” Basile said. “I don’t really feel like I am at a disadvantage on the field because I feel like it’s so natural to me.”
Jim Abbott lived it
Basile was not yet born when Jim Abbott, who spent 10 seasons as a pitcher in Major League Baseball despite having one hand, threw a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1993. Abbott, reached by phone Tuesday in Chicago, said the physical demands of catching make Basile’s accomplishments all the more impressive.
“For me, it was one glove transition,” said Abbott, now a motivational speaker residing in California. “For Kim, it sounds like it’s something a little bit different but equally as fast. . . . Softball is a different game. There’s a lot of bunting, a lot of slash hitting that requires some real quickness on the catcher’s part. So I’m sure she has had to face plenty of critical challenges and had to be creative.”
“It’s incredible. People of any ability can play. If you can find a way to be effective, there is a place for you. That creativity and that determination goes a long way. It makes my day to hear that Kim is doing so well.”
“I didn’t let anything stop me”
Basile said the biggest challenge on the field has been containing baserunners with exceptional speed. To compensate, she’s teaching herself to throw from her knees.
Island Trees pitcher Marissa Trezza said that the glove switch doesn’t delay Basile’s ability to throw in a timely manner.
“She does it so fast I literally can’t even see it,” Trezza said. “She still throws out runners, which I find incredible. Standing on the mound, I hear the ball whiz past my ear. It’s crazy.”
Basile hasn’t made an error all season.
“She’s been playing her whole life,” Farmingdale State College softball coach Chris Mooney said. “She put in the work and took advantage of it and made herself into a good player.”
For Basile, reaching the college level is indicative of how far she has come since first teaching herself to transfer the ball from her glove to her hand.
“I’m proud that I’ve been able to keep up with all the other softball players I grew up playing with,” she said. “I didn’t let anything stop me from keeping up with their development as a player and being competitive with them. It makes me proud to go through every day just like everyone else.”