Hero cameraman Pete Stendel feels ‘lucky’ despite battling cancer, vision struggles, living on crowdfunding

Cameraman Pete Stendel, who was hit on the head by a throw on July 5, 2023, at Yankee Stadium.
Inna Zeyger
Sunday August 20, 2023

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Pete Stendel turned from a great cameraman to a baseball legend on the evening of July 5, 2023, following an unfortunate accident. The scene of him greeting over 36,000 fans at Yankee Stadium with a “hang loose” sign while being carried on a stretcher has remained forever etched in the mind of all. Then diagnosed with an orbital fracture, Pete Stendel today feels he is lucky despite battling cancer and vision loss to get back on track.

Before the baseball struck his face and he fought the tough weeks of rehabilitation filled with struggles like confusion and problems with his vision, Pete Stendel had already become a legendary figure. Even at 68 years old, there are very few TV sports cameramen who have achieved more than him. Pete Stendel’s impressive list of accomplishments includes filming at the Olympics, Super Bowls, and World Series games, and capturing the most significant moments for both the Yankees and the Mets over the years.

According to Bob Costas, a Hall of Fame broadcaster, he is a part of their group. Michael Kay, who has been the Yankees’ play-by-play announcer for the YES Network for a long time, stated that Pete Stendel is an incredibly valuable resource for their work. Nonetheless, if one googles Pete Stendel’s name, thousands of mentions of the terrible things that happened on July 5 will come up.

Camera operator Pete Stendel, who was injured on a throwing error by Baltimore Orioles third baseman Gunnar Henderson, gestures to the crowd as he is carted off the field during the fifth inning of the Orioles' baseball game against the New York Yankees on Wednesday, July 5, 2023, in New York.
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Pete Stendel’s unfortunate injury

During the game on that fateful day at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees were on their way to winning against the Orioles by a score of 1-0 in the fifth inning. Anthony Volpe hit a ground ball to the Orioles’ second baseman, Adam Frazier. Although Frazier struggled to control the ball, he still managed to throw it to second base in time to begin a double play. However, the Orioles shortstop, Gunnar Henderson, hurriedly threw the ball to first base, and it went way above the reach of the first baseman, Ryan O’Hearn.

Usually, when throws like that happen, they either hit the wall or the net, which keeps fans away from the field. Sometimes, they bounce off the padding in front of where the cameras are or bounce around safely inside it.

However, this time, the baseball hit Pete Stendel on his forehead, just a little above his left eyebrow. The impact was so strong that it caused a crack in the bone around his eye and made him lose his balance, temporarily blinding him due to the rapid swelling that closed his eye. A doctor informed him that if the ball had hit just a tiny bit lower, about half an inch, he could have faced the risk of losing his eyeball.

Concerned players from both the Yankees and Orioles teams watched closely as medical staff took care of Petel Stendel. He was secured to a stretcher and carefully placed onto a truck, which drove slowly along the dirt track. Even though he was feeling intense pain and shock from the incident, Pete Stendel realized that there were likely many kids in the audience that night. He didn’t want them to always remember their night at the baseball park as the time they saw something tragic happen. With this in mind, he lifted his right hand and showed them a peace sign, followed by the “hang loose” symbol (he is an avid surfer). The crowd reacted with enthusiastic applause and began chanting “MVP.”

How is Pete Stendel today?

Pete Stendel’s ability to see is still impacted. When he tries to open his left eye, he continues to see what he describes as “psychedelic little bubbles” and flashes of light entering his eye. He went through weeks of feeling disconnected and “out of it.” For someone who can’t stay still, who enjoys surfing at the Jersey Shore, plays the harmonica, maintains a colorful Instagram page for his paintings, and wasn’t even supposed to be operating the camera at the time the baseball struck, having to deal with inactivity was particularly hard.

After the incident, the journey to recovery has been quite challenging for Pete Stendel, who is a father of two and married. But he is proud that he got a standing ovation at Yankee Stadium, which not many individuals could assert the same. But he doesn’t want anyone to experience the situation he was in.

According to Pete Stendel, he couldn’t believe that it was truly happening to him. Soon after the tragic injury, he was escorted by the police to the emergency room at Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx.

During the initial couple of weeks of his recovery, Stendel faced challenges. He was grateful that he didn’t require surgery to fix his orbital bone. Yet, he had difficulty opening his eye and had a concussion that made him feel like he was “102 years old.”

The surgery to treat his prostate cancer made things more complex. He had to spend most of his time on the couch or in bed as he recovered. This was tough because his job involves being where the action is. Not having that was difficult for him. However, he was thankful for all the support he got from others. It meant a lot to him. Getting a message from Henderson after the incident and being able to tell the young shortstop not to blame himself for what happened also helped him feel better.

Pete Stendel will be visiting an eye doctor soon. The doctor will tell him more about when he can go back to work and his regular life. Stendel is looking forward to learning this information. He’s more comfortable working behind the camera, not in front of it.

Sylvester Stallone inspired Pete Stendel to become a cameraman

A coincidental meeting with Sylvester Stallone played a role in starting Pete Stendel’s career as a cameraman. In 1978, a friend helped him get a job as a production assistant on the set of “Rocky 2.” He worked as a production assistant and impressed producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff by helping with different camera shots.

Then there’s a funny story about a sandwich. One afternoon, Pete Stendel met Stallone in the food area, and Stallone asked him if he could make a roast beef sandwich. Stendel quickly put together a sandwich with lots of meat, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and a pickle. He gave the sandwich to Stallone, who immediately gave it to his dog, Butkus. The dog gobbled it up in just three bites.

Stallone complimented Pete Stendel, saying that he had made a really good sandwich.

Pete Stendel felt the most proud when he was working on key events. One significant moment was during Super Bowl 43 in 2009. He was positioned at the corner of the left end zone, capturing the crucial shot when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger connected with wide receiver Santonio Holmes for the touchdown that won the game with just 38 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. This victory pushed the Steelers ahead of the Cardinals. He also had a notable role when he operated the camera following White Sox left fielder Scott Podsednik. It was during this moment that Podsednik hit a game-winning solo home run against the Astros in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series.

Yes Network cameraman Pete Stendel

Pete is a fighter

This was not the first time, Pete Stendel is fighting hard to get back. He also had to face cancer.

Back in January, doctors found out that Pete Stendel had cancer in its early stages. They noticed this from the results of his prostate-specific antigen test, which was higher than usual. He didn’t tell many people about it, not even those who were close to him, as the hero cameraman didn’t want to make them feel worried. Around a month later, he found out that the cancer had started to spread quickly. Pete Stendel chose to have surgery to remove his prostate.

Pete Stendel was supposed to have surgery on July 24. He had planned to take around a month off work to get better afterward. But 19 days before the surgery, the camera he usually used at Yankee Stadium got too hot and stopped working. His bosses told him he could either go home or share the camera work with his co-workers, so they could have a break for their eyes. Before the fifth inning of the game, Pete Stendel went to where the cameras were and asked his friend if he could take over for a little while. He was only supposed to be there briefly. That’s when he got hit on the head.

When they were praying for him and seeing him greeting them despite a skull fracture, people like Michael Kay and Costas, as well as many others near Stendel, didn’t know about another problem he was dealing with. Pete Stendel opened up The Athletic about his cancer diagnosis because he wants more people to be aware of prostate cancer.

Even though he got injured in the eye, Pete Stendel managed to undergo a successful surgery called a prostatectomy, which removed cancer from his body. Although he had intended to take some time off from work, he hadn’t anticipated being away for such an extended period.

The GoFundMe page that his friend Tommy Hanlon created has been a great help. To date, it has received over $25,000 through 274 separate donations. After the incident, the YES Network compensated Pete Stendel for the next two games he was supposed to cover. However, since Stendel is a freelancer, he wasn’t slated to work any more games after those two.

Pete Stendel mentioned that if they didn’t have that money, they would be in a difficult situation.

Micahel Kay believes that he is among the kindest, happiest, and most creative individuals in his daily interactions. Pete Stendel is known to have positive words for everyone and treats everyone with great respect. Although all the people at YES are quite resilient, Kay referred to Stendel as an artist. He emphasized that Stendel is like an artist, similar to a painter, in the way he frames shots and carries out his work.

Pete Stendel feels that he is a really lucky guy. He overcome cancer and managed to retain his vision while getting a standing ovation at the most-known baseball stadium.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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2 thoughts on “Hero cameraman Pete Stendel feels ‘lucky’ despite battling cancer, vision struggles, living on crowdfunding

  1. What do I think?
    I think I’ll go to the GoFundMe page and contribute, so Pete and his family can recover from these unfortunate events.
    Get well soon, Pete!
    That’s what I think.

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