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The Daily Tar Heel

Seeing the light

Two-and-a-half years after bunting a ball that ricocheted and hit him in the left eye" senior center fielder Mike Cavasinni still sees the effects of the injury. His left iris can?t make the pupil focus correctly and it still measures 15 mm three times the size of his right pupil.

If you didn't know you would have thought March 22 was a bad day for Mike Cavasinni.

If you had no idea you might think his ninth-inning strikeout in a narrow loss to Duke had him down.

But with one glance at life through the mismatched eyes of North Carolina's center fielder you might have a different perspective.


But first let's rewind.

Go back take the bag of ice off his knee. Shrink his left pupil down to match the right.

Growing up" nobody believed that little Mike Cavasinni could beat them in a footrace. Nobody believed how fast he was until they ate his dust.

""He was always the fastest kid I've ever known"" his younger brother, Joey, said. I've never seen him lose a race. Everybody tried to beat him"" and he never lost.""

Even years later" when Cavasinni was the 5-foot 7-inch leadoff hitter for North Mecklenburg High School" nobody believed that this 17-year-old who sometimes looked smaller than the bat he was holding could set a state record by stealing 109 bases.

""I had a couple of people come up to me and tell me" ‘You're a good ball player but we can't ever see you playing collegiate baseball"'"" Cavasinni said. ""‘You're not that prototypical collegiate athlete.'""

That is"" until Mike Fox and North Carolina came calling.

""His speed is probably the first thing you notice" Fox said. A little bitty left-handed hitter who's going to be hard to pitch to. He could get on base and when he does" he can create opportunities with his speed.""

Cavasinni got an offer to be a Tar Heel and couldn't turn it down.

And all those who doubted his talent were put to shame when Cavasinni tore it up during his freshman season — the spring of 2006.

He played his way into the leadoff spot" and the Tar Heels went to their first College World Series since 1989. He led UNC in stolen bases with 16 and his .317 batting average was fifth on the team.

To everyone in the program it seemed like the speedy little freshman had a bright future at UNC.


Nobody knew how bad it was.

In the preseason scrimmages the next fall Cavasinni couldn't even swing due to strained obliques. Fox wanted to hold him out of the scrimmage but Cavasinni insisted: he'd just work on bunting.

But when one fastball came in just high enough he stuck his bat out just a millimeter too far" and the ball tipped off the bat into his left eye.

""I can remember seeing it right off the end"" he said. And it just squared perfectly. You couldn't put the ball in my eye any more perfectly.""

That ball shattered his nose" shattered his orbital bone opened up a gash above his eye that needed 13 stitches and worst of all left his left eye filled with blood — the doctors called it hyphema. It was a month and a half before he could see.

To this day the muscles in his iris can't make his pupil adjust properly and it's still three times the size of his right eye.

By the time he fully recovered Cavasinni had effectively missed the 2007 season making just eight starts and playing in 39 games.

Things took a turn for the worse in 2008" when it became apparent that his eye wasn't the only injury he had to deal with — his anterior cruciate ligament was torn and in need of season-ending surgery.

So it was another five months of rehab and days when his knee didn't seem to be getting any better.

""There were times where I would be just sitting in my bed and I'd be like" ‘This isn't for me. I don't know what I'm going to do"'"" he said.

""But I just love baseball so much"" I couldn't imagine not playing.""

Once again"" doubts were voiced. Nobody thought Cavasinni would ever be the same again. But that was nothing new to him.

""I think because of Mike's size" he's had to be tougher than most Fox said. That's probably been a good thing for him that he's probably had to learn to overcome some things" even before he got hurt.""


It would've been too perfect if Cavasinni hit up a storm this year.

He got his chance at the start" as he opened 2009 back at the leadoff spot he occupied three years ago.

But his batting average stayed below .200 and for the early part of the season he led the team in strikeouts culminating in the ninth-inning strikeout on March 22 that all but sealed the loss to Duke.

To his credit" Fox didn't give up on Cavasinni.

""It's hard not to pull for Mike Cavasinni" personally and professionally as his coach Fox said. You see a kid who just works that hard" and he's the ultimate team player.""

So rather than bench him" Fox moved him to the bottom third of the order nine games into the season.

And as the season hits its home stretch with a huge series against Miami opening today Cavasinni has been almost back to his old self.

His batting average has climbed to .269 in the past weeks and he's third on the team in stolen bases.

But after each game he'll sit with the painful reminders of everything it's taken to get him here — the bag of ice on his left knee the oversized left pupil the doctors say will probably never go back to its original size.

Though his eyes are mismatched" his perspective remains — even after late-game struggles like those against Duke in March.

""At the end of the game I just look at it as" I got to play today I got to be out there I got to smell the grass" I got to slide. I got to do all the things that I didn't get to do for the past two years.""

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