Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Yes They Can

There have been a lot of success stories in the history of baseball.
Too many to count.
But the story of Jim Abbott may be my favorite.
At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Abbott was a standout pitcher.
And quarterback.
At Flint Central High School in Michigan.
Where he hit .427 as a senior.
With seven homers.
He played his college ball in Ann Arbor.
At THE University of Michigan.
Where he became the first baseball pitcher to win the James E. Sullivan Award.
As the top amateur athlete in the United States.
He represented our baseball team in the 1988 Olympics.
Where he pitched the final game.
And we won the gold.
He was the Big Ten Athlete of the Year.
Selected in the first round of the draft.
Made it to the majors. 
Without playing a game in the minors.
Won 87 games.
Pitched a no-hitter.
For THE New York Yankees.
In Yankee Stadium.
Oh, did I mention...
...Jim Abbott was born without a right hand.
I can’t remember the first time I saw him pitch.
But I can remember thinking there was something wrong.
Turns out everything was right.
As right as right could be.
Abbott was an inspiration to anybody who ever saw him play.
An inspiration to anybody who ever tried to play.
An inspiration to anybody who was ever told, “no you can’t.”
Abbott can.
And he did.
And how he did it was truly amazing.
This from a book titled, “Beating the Breaks: Major League Ballplayers Who Overcame Disabilities" by Rick Swaine:
Abbott pitched with a right hander's fielder's glove perched pocket-down over the end of his stubbed right arm. At the conclusion of his delivery, he would deftly slip his left hand into the glove and be ready to field the ball. After catching the ball, he would cradle the glove against his chest in the crook of his right arm and extract the ball with his left hand, ready to make another throw. 
You had to see it to believe it.
I hadn’t seen anyone do it before Abbott.
Or anyone since.
Until last week.
Before our games started in Cooperstown, there was a series of skills events.
To see who was the fastest.
To see whose arm had the best aim.
To see who could hit the most home runs.
And to see which team could fire the ball around the diamond in the shortest amount of time.
It went like this...
Pitcher to catcher to third to second to first to catcher to shortstop to right field to second base to center field to third base to left field to catcher.
That’s 1-2-5-4-3-2-6-9-4-8-5-7-2.
If you are scoring at home.
Or even if you are alone.
The winning time was an amazing 20 seconds.
Our team didn’t win.
And neither did the team from Ohio.
But there was something about that Ohio team that caught my eye.
It was their second baseman.
Right after he caught the ball, I saw it.
I saw him flip the glove from one hand to the other.
At lightning speed.

And then he threw the ball.


To its next destination.
At first it looked like a mistake.
A moment later I knew I had seen this before.
I ended up sitting next to their coach at lunch a few days later.
I told him how impressed I was with their second baseman.
He said thanks.
And then informed me that the second baseman was his son.
His son who was born with a condition similar to Abbott.
He told me that opponents have tried to bunt to his son.
And his son always makes the plays.
Just like Jim Abbott.
And he told me that his son is a very good hitter.
Just like Jim Abbott.

And he told me his son has a great attitude.

Just like Jim Abbott.

We spoke for a few minutes.

Until the food ran out.

And then he headed out to his game.

To watch his son pitch.

A game his team won.

Just like Jim Abbott.


Anonymous said...

Living near Anaheim Stadium I got to see Abbott pitch many times and I got to meet him a few times. As amazing and uplifting a story as it gets. He never let his condition hold him down and in person you won't find a nicer and friendlier person to be around. He isn't a HOFer on the field but off it he is and that is far more important in life.

Anonymous said...

That's Quality! Nobody can repress it!!