For The Love Of Sports: In The Year Of The No-No, We Should Look Back...
Now most people under the age of 25 will have a hard time recognizing that man in the photo, but he's a former New York Yankee, an Olympic Gold Medalist, winner of The Tony Conigliaro and The Hutch award and most importantly, the perfect example of why you alway's have a chance to reach your dreams.
Let's take you back shall we? The date September 19th, 1967. James Anthony Abbott was born. He was born however, with only one fully formed hand. But only having one functioning hand was never going to stop this child from reaching for the stars. Growing up in Flint Michigan, he was a die hard Michigan Wolverines fan and one day he wanted to play for his beloved U of M. But in order to get there he needed to hone his craft; turns out this kid from Flynt, had one hell of a throwing arm. His arm was so good that he double lettered as both a pitcher and quarterback in high school. Talk about overcoming the odds? It's hard enough to field a snap from a center with two fully developed hands. But Jim? According to numerous sources that I've read through out my life, have always stated that he made it look easy.
Abbott was a notorious hard throwing left hander who was never afraid of anything. Throw inside? He'll do it. Brush off a hitter who was crowding the plate to much? He did that and then some. But he was never a bad guy. He always treated everyone with respect. Because that's all he wanted, the same respect as everyone else.
When Jim was growing up and going through routine tests as any kid who plays sports does, the doctor noticed that Jim was right footed; meaning he kicked with his right foot. While it's not unheard of that one may lead with the right foot and the left hand, it's also very possible to believe that Jim Abbott's right hand was better suited for pitching. So considering that he was doing all of this with the possible "weaker" hand, it makes everything so much more impressive. As if you weren't already impressed yet.
Jim would eventually get that spot at Michigan. He'd go on to win the Golden Spikes Award and James E. Sullivan awards in 1987 for being the to amature athelete in the U.S. However, since debuting in 1930, Jim Abbott was also the first ever college pitcher to win the award. Chalk on leading the Wolverines to two Big Ten championshpis and you have yourself a very honest and plausable reason why he was drafted in the first round of the 1988 draft, 8th overall to the California Angles. This was his 2nd time being drafted, as his first time he was selected in the 36th round by the Toronto Blue Jays.
But before he could go on to a major league career, he had one last thing to do in college: Help the USA finish first in the PanAm games and also pitch the final game for Team USA in the 1988 Summer Olympics where the team won an unofficial gold medal. After that, it was "bring on the majors".
While his jersey was retired at Michigan, and he was inducted into the College Baseball Hall Of Fame, his career in the majors was pedistrian in numbers. He posted an 87-108 record, 4.25 career ERA and 888 strike outs in ten seasons with a total of 6 major league stops among 5 teams. Not hall of fame numbers.
But earlier this year we saw men like Roy Halladay, Dallas Braden, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson all throw no hitters (for Dallas and Roy perfect games). And it got me thinking, whta does a guy with an 87-108 record have in common with these men? Especially a guy like Halladay who is on his way to a Hall Of Fame career? A no hitter.
While pitching for the New York Yankee's in 1993, Abbott went to the mound on a normal Saturday afternoon and pitched the single greatest game of his life against the Cleveland Indians. That night, on September 4th as a member of the famed Yankee's, Jim Abbott left his name in the record books with permanent ink. Insuring that no one would ever forget what he did on that field. That day he became the only man in the history of Major League Baseball to pitch a no hitter with only one hand.
Back in 1995 I was your typical third grader doing a book report on a famous person and I happened to select the Jim Abbott book. Now this was no autobiography but it was a book complete with all his facts, dates, and important information. So I did a report on him that got an A. And ever since then, everything I learned about him just stuck with me growing up. To now, 15 years later, I am a 23 year old college student who can officially say the story of James Anthony Abbott has touched my life. When I was a Junior in high school, that's when I really put what I learned to test, after destroying my knee in practice, I found out I'd need to repair three ligaments, my meniscus and my cartilage were all needing extensive work as well. They told me 8-10 months of recovery time and they doubted if I'd make it in time for the start of the next football season. I blew them all away by channeling what I learned from Jim Abbott. 5 months and 3 weeks after surgery I was packing for a football camp at The Ohio State University (sorry Jim!). I learned that if you have the will power, you will find a way to achieve your dreams.
Jim Abbott retired after playing 10 years of major league baseball, any red blooded American's dream. He is know a motivational speaker and from what I've heard, a damn good one.
So the next time you hear a story about a pro athlete who wants 18 million and not 15 million, because "he's got to feed his family", just remember that one day in the middle of 1993 a kid who no one thought would ever make it, pitched a no hitter and he did it not for the fame, not for the money, but because he loved the game. We need less LeBron James' and more Jim Abbott's. Sure their careers may not be something worthy of a "greatest of all time" conversation, but they'll touch your hearts in ways guys with better careers never could.
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