From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

A True Hero

The life of a major league baseball player involves more than playing baseball. Especially for those that are popular.

Jim Abbott was one of the most popular players from the moment he first donned a major-league uniform for the California Angels in 1989. Abbott, just twenty-one at the time, was one of the rare few who skips the minor leagues completely and begins his professional career in the big leagues.

But that’s not what made Abbott so special to so many.

Abbott was born without a right hand. In fact, Abbott’s right arm extended from his shoulder to just past the elbow joint.

Abbott, though, didn’t make the big leagues because people felt sorry for him. Abbott could pitch.

The Angels took a chance on him by drafting him out of the University of Michigan and he proved in spring training that year that he was ready for the big leagues.

Using a skill he developed as a kid, Abbott could pitch with his left hand, then quickly transfer a right-hander’s glove from the stub of his right arm onto his left hand, in case he had to field the ball.

If a ball was hit back to him, Abbott would catch it, stick the glove under his right armpit, then pull the ball out with his left hand so he could throw it again. And he did all of this in a second or two.

Abbott became a media magnet. Wherever he went, reporters wanted to hear his story. Abbott was overwhelmed, but never lost his pleasant disposition.

Abbott had a smile for everyone, writers and fans alike.

Many times the media relations department of a major-league team gets requests for fans to meet their favorite baseball players. Abbott was no different.

What was different about one particular fan was what made him similar to Abbott.

The Angels had set up a meeting between Abbott and a young boy from the Midwest. The boy, about nine or ten years old, had lost an arm in a farming accident.

Before one game during a long and arduous baseball season, the boy was brought onto the field to meet Abbott. The boy was obviously nervous, his body language telling the story. Head down, shoulders slumped forward, he had no idea what he was in for.

Abbott and the boy met on the field during batting practice before a game. But they weren’t getting much privacy. The media are allowed to remain on the field up to forty-five minutes before game time, and there were plenty of curious onlookers.

So Abbott had an idea. He took the boy down the left field line and away from anyone who wanted to get close. The two stood in the outfield, talking, watching batting practice and laughing for about an hour.

When the two returned to the dugout after batting practice, the boy’s eyes sparkled. His head was up and his chest was thrust forward. Abbott was asked what he said to the boy, but he wouldn’t reveal what was said.

That was about ten years ago, and the boy is now an adult. I often wonder whatever became of him, but after his meeting with Abbott, I have no doubt he is leading a happy and productive life. Abbott, after all, was living proof for the boy that he could do anything he wanted. Even pitch in the big leagues.

Joe Haakenson

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