Favorite athlete: Chase Utley
Favorite team: Boston Red Sox
Favorite memory competing in sports: My first homer (I called my shot, told my dad on his birthday I would hit him a home run)
Music on mobile device: “Snow” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Future plans: Going to Gwynedd Mercy and majoring in marketing and playing baseball
Words to live by: “Change the world for the good.” My dad tells me that every day before I leave for school.
One goal before turning 30: I want to photograph, sketch and see parts of the world with the people I love. That would be pretty cool
One thing people don’t know about me: I am a sailor and I’ve sailed my whole life. I grew up on a sailboat and love the water.
By Mary Jane Souder
Anthony Tomassetti has vivid memories of the first time he saw his parents.
The Plymouth Whitemarsh senior was 16 years old. Granted, he had seen his parents before, but because of a progressive eye disease known as keratoconus, Tomassetti’s view of them had always been distorted. Very distorted.
All of that changed in October of 2017 when he underwent surgery in both eyes.
“When I saw my mom for the first time, I couldn’t help but get a little teary-eyed,” Tomassetti wrote in his college essay. “My mom is so beautiful; her hair has eight different shades of red and blonde in it. She has the most warm and welcoming smile, and her eyes can light up a room.”
To say Tomassetti’s eye surgery was life changing would be an understatement.
“Until my surgeries, I had never seen how magnificent this world truly is,” he said. “It is full of the most beautiful details, and because of this, I fell in love with photography.
“Now that I can see, I see the beauty in everything. When I saw people for the first time, I would literally stop and stare at every detail on their face. From the different colors in their eyes and hair to the shadows the light would make on their face.”
The ability to see clearly impacted every aspect of his life, including baseball – his passion since he was a youngster.
“Playing baseball without my contacts, prior to being diagnosed, was extremely dangerous,” he said. “I was asking for a ball in the teeth. When the ball was in the air, it would basically disappear.
“When I put on the contacts, I realized that I could actually see the seams on the ball. I used to have to read the person’s body motion to guess where the throw would be. All these things helped explain why I struggled with many facets of the game. So when the doctor gave me the contacts and I could play baseball safely, it was truly the best gift I have ever received.”
Tomassetti - a four-year varsity player – has been a gift of sorts to coach Chris Manero and the PW baseball program.
“I couldn’t imagine having too many players like him ever in terms of the kind of kid he is in terms of the work ethic, the full package,” the PW coach said. “I’ve been coaching probably a total of 16 or 17 years, and he’s top tier of all time in terms of everything – as a person, as a leader, as a worker.
“He’s symbolic of a really memorable class of seniors. In a way, I see him as a symbol of that class.”
Tomassetti’s baseball career won’t end when he leaves Plymouth Whitemarsh. He will continue his career at Gwynedd Mercy University where he will major in marketing and also pursue his interest in art.
“I was trying to decide whether I wanted to play college baseball,” Tomassetti said. “I was on the fence, and I saw a picture of myself on the t-ball field with my hands raised up in the air, and I was like, ‘Why wouldn’t I do that?’
“This little kid, that was his dream – to play baseball. I really love baseball. It’s been my passion my whole life.”
Tomassetti’s love affair with baseball began at a very young age.
“When I was growing up, it was pretty much baseball, baseball, baseball, and it still is really,” he said. “My mom always said it all began with ‘rolly ball.’ She would sit on the kitchen floor when I was just beginning to start motor functions. She would get a ball and roll it to me, and I would roll it back. We would play and play and play. Eventually, I started with t-ball.”
From there, he moved on to a local travel team. In fourth grade, Tomassetti’s family moved to the area from New Jersey, and he played Plymouth travel ball before switching to Diamond Baseball Academy.
As a freshman, Tomassetti as well as classmates Jacob Nunez, Drew Kliesch and Ryan Kane were thrown into the fire when they were moved up to varsity.
“They took their lumps,” Manero said. “These kids were young, they were small, but we saw something in them.
“I always see Anthony as kind of being the leader of that group, in part maybe because he was the smallest, and he was the one that probably took the most lumps, but he was always eager to take on the challenges.
“It wasn’t easy. There were certainly detractors – he heard it, his parents heard it, but he never let it get to him.”
Tomasetti still has vivid memories of his first year on the varsity.
“I think I was 5-2, 125 pounds,” he said. “My nickname was spoon. You know how some people say you’re sharp as a knife – well, I was spoon.
“It was probably the hardest season of my career, but I learned so much. Coach Eric Fisher, our infield coach, took me under his wing, and he taught me so much about baseball that I didn’t even know about. He’s such a mentor. Being thrown into the fire gave me an edge over other people because it was such an uncomfortable situation, but I think it was one of the best experiences of my life.”
Tomassetti played shortstop that season.
“I was really, really struggling with how fast the game moved at the varsity level,” he said. “It was the worst season of my career, but I learned so much with the adversity and learning to deal with failure and learning to come back and fight harder and never give up on yourself or your teammates, just pure grit.”
Grit has become a theme of sorts for Tomassetti, who wears it on his undershirts every game day and also has that one word on his bat.
“My dad gave me that nickname after a number of things that have happened,” he said. “Grit is the best word to describe it.
“It gave me grit. It makes you tougher, it’s something that made me who I am, dealing with failure and just struggling. That (freshman season) was so hard, but I’m so grateful for it.”
Tomassetti needed all the grit he could muster to make it through everything he was about to go through.
“His freshman year in his very first game playing in a fall league for us, he hurt his thumb catching and he missed a good chunk of the fall season,” Manero recalled.
That was nothing compared to what happened the summer after his freshman year while pitching for his Diamond Baseball Academy squad.
“I hadn’t pitched all year,” Tomassetti said. “I was pitching and I hear this gruesome sound that I never want to hear again.
“My ligament to my arm tore off a bone in the tip of my elbow. My arm was just hanging there. I could not move it. My dad went through multiple red lights getting to the hospital. He was speeding, I was crying. It wasn’t even that it hurt – it was, ‘Oh my god, I could be done. I might never play baseball again, I might never throw a baseball again.’”
According to Tomassetti, the x-rays revealed that the bone was literally floating in his elbow.
“It was really disgusting,” he said. “They said, ‘You have two options – you can either go in a cast for six months or you can go into surgery three days from now and screw the bone back into your elbow and start rehab a week later.
“I picked the surgery. They did the surgery. There’s a scar there now. For years, I thought I was going to get a tattoo of baseball laces on it, but scars are tattoos with better stories.”
The screw is still in Tomassetti’s elbow, and he’s made friends with it, even giving it the name Benny.
“He’s a pain when the weather changes,” he said with a laugh.
Tomassetti made a triumphant return to the baseball diamond the following spring, but his journey was far from over.
During PW’s annual spring training trip to Florida his sophomore year, Tomassetti was struggling with his vision. Wearing his glasses to play didn’t help. On his return to Pennsylvania, he saw an eye doctor and – when he didn’t get any satisfactory answers – sought a second opinion.
“We go to the eye doctor and within five minutes of being there and looking at my eyes, he said, ‘Something’s wrong, something’s deeply wrong with your eyes,’” Tomassetti recalled. “I had gone through multiple prescriptions with glasses with a really quick decrease in vision.
“We went down to Philly to a specialist. They look at my eyes, do a bunch of pressure tests, and they found out I had a disease called keratoconus, which is the irregular shape of your cornea. Everybody’s cornea looks like half a baseball, but mine looked like half a football, so everything was distorted, uneven and blurry, but to me, that’s what the world looked like. I didn’t think the world was clear. I perceived the world as that. I didn’t know how beautiful the world really was. I didn’t see what everyone else saw.
“It was rapidly getting worse and worse and worse, and they said, ‘You’re going to need surgery, and if you don’t, you’ll be blind by 20.’ I was already legally blind without contacts.”
Tomassetti elected to have the surgery. He wrote about the experience in his college essay.
“I couldn’t open my eye for weeks because it was so swollen and so sensitive to light,” he wrote. “Eight weeks later, I went through it all over again in my right eye.
“Another surgery, awake, in constant pain, enduring sleepless nights, battling depression. These were some of the worst days of my life. Without hope, I wouldn’t have been able to go through with either of the surgeries.
“One day I hoped to see clearly. The little things mattered so much going through this time in my life. Waking up with less and less pain, hearing my friends come to visit me and making me smile, having my favorite food, a big bear hug – these were just some of the things that got me through this harrowing time.
“However, the thought of clear vision – that was the driving force behind why I persevered through the surgeries and the months of pain. I appreciated even the slightest inkling of seeing, and when I was finally able to see, I was fascinated and speechless about how intricate and elegant this world truly is.”
Photography and art became Tomassetti’s new passions since it allowed him to show others what he could at long last see. He is a member of the National Art Honor Society, and his photographs have appeared in a number of shows.
With his vastly improved vision, Tomassetti’s baseball skills have also elevated.
“Through all of that, he really barely missed a beat in his development as a player,” Manero said. “To basically overcome three different types of injuries that were unrelated to one another and to get to the point where he got, it takes a lot of hard work and commitment to getting back, which is what he did each time. I have a ton of admiration for his work ethic.”
Tomassetti – a catcher during his early years - anchors the hot corner at third base for the Colonials, and he was a key member of a leadership council Manero met with during the offseason.
“He’s grown every year, and he’s just tirelessly worked in the cage, on the field, in the weight room to get himself to where he is,” the Colonials’ coach said. “Last year as a junior was when things really started to turn the corner for him.
“He played an outstanding third base for us all season. You could see his confidence going through the roof. If he stayed behind the plate, I think he would have been a good catcher, but by last year, it was very clear that third base was his position.
“He’s become a guy that to be his teammate – it’s really hard to not like him, and I think a lot of the younger players are looking to him probably very similar to the way he looked at older players when he was a freshman and sophomore.”
In PW’s recent scrimmage against Pennridge, Tomassetti hit a grand slam in the first inning.
“Multiple times I thought I would never play baseball again or I’d never see again,” he said. “After those surgeries, my eyes were swollen shut each time, and for at least a week, I couldn’t open them without pain.
“Even the arm surgery, I thought I’d never be a college athlete or varsity athlete. It feels really good, and I try to appreciate everything.”
Looking for the definition of grit? Look no further than Anthony Tomassetti.