Mira Costa junior Piper Neri is standing at attention.
When a fly ball is driven high into centerfield, she springs into action.
Rush to the softball. Left arm catch. Right arm tuck glove into crook of arm. Left hand grab ball from mitt. Left arm fire the ball to the second base cut off.
It's all done in one swift motion with Neri's only fully functioning left limb.
Neri was born with brachial plexus injury and, in her third year as a starter on the Mustang softball team, plays similar to former California Angels pitcher Jim Abbott, who was born without a right hand.
Neri's right hand and arm are partially paralyzed and she's had 12 surgeries to gain the little movement she has. She was born with nerves from her spinal cord already torn.
“I don’t have much feeling in parts of my arm and hand," said Neri. "I can’t really sustain much of a grip. I’ve had to adapt and do things my own way. Using the strength of different parts of my body helps.”
The former catcher now excels at center field with a .968 fielding percentage and as this season's lead-off hitter.
“She has really just been that clutch player that you can always depend on,” said Mira Costa softball head coach Brittany Gardner, who added Neri has never let her injury affect her play.
"You don’t even realize she has that until halfway through the game somebody will be like, ‘What’s going on with the centerfielder?” She throws off her glove and makes a killer throw with the same hand, which is insane. She is just one of those unbelievable players who has overcome so much.”
Neri, who has started on varsity since freshman year, said she fell in love with softball when she was 10 years old. She was selected 2nd Team All Bay League last year.
Going into this week, Neri has appeared in 27 games and is hitting .436 (second highest on team) with an on base percentage of .481 (second highest on team). She has 41 hits (second highest on team).
Neri leads the team with the most extra base hits with 21 (18 doubles, 2 triples and 1 home run). She has scored the most runs on the team, 36, and also has the most stolen bases with six.
“Piper is a really amazing player,” said teammate Katie Katsuyama, who is a sophomore left-handed pitcher. “I have a lot of confidence in her.”
Neri's goal is to play softball in college. On the first day college coaches were allowed to contact juniors in high school, she said she received recruiting calls.
“One coach even texted me 12:01 in the morning because she wanted me to wake up to her text," said Neri.
Neri surfs on the Mira Costa surf team and said it helps her.
“Surfing helps so much physically, especially with my core. Surfing even helps mentally, being in the ocean helps me to be focused and prepared.”
“I used to play with her on travel ball,” said Redondo Union shortstop Dara English, junior, who plays shortstop. “She is like amazing. We were on the same team and I just thought she was amazing. First time I saw her play I was like, ‘Whoa. That is crazy.' She like catches it and then holds the glove with this hand and then throws it. And she hits the crap out of the ball.”
Currently Neri is readying for a busy summer, working with her hitting coach in Long Beach.
Neri plays for the Cal Cruisers 18U Gold Sievers out of Mission Viejo who she describes as one of the top ten 18U softball teams in the country.
Neri has had to overcome skepticism.
“Every day there’s people who doubt me," she said. "Coaches, players, people on and off my teams. Them thinking I can’t do it, or thinking because I do it in a different way that it’s not right motivates me. I’m so grateful to the coaches and players I’ve played with who gave me a chance, who believe in me.”
And, even though people always tell her she is an inspiration, she balks at the idea that her disability is why.
“I shouldn’t inspire them because I play with one arm," said Neri. "I should inspire them because of how hard I work. Yes, I play with one arm. Yes, that’s me, that’s who I am. And it doesn’t come easy.
"But when you love something and you want something, you have to work harder than everyone else and put in the time.”