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Abbott set to inspire

Former Angels pitcher who was born with one hand will speak to Santa Clarita audience on Oct. 8

Posted: September 29, 2009 10:11 p.m.
Updated: October 6, 2009 3:35 p.m.

Angels pitcher Jim Abbott transfers the ball from his glove as he gets ready to pitch at Yankee Stadium on May 24, 1989, New York.

 
Jim Abbott admits he wasn't always comfortable being known as "different."

He is a little more comfortable with it today.

The former Major League pitcher who broke through despite being born without a right hand will be speaking about life experiences Oct. 8 at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons in an event called "An Evening of Inspiration."

The event, which begins at 7 p.m., is being presented by LETMESAIL, a Santa Clarita-based charity that provides social, recreational and educational opportunities for developmentally disabled individuals.

Ticket prices start at $15, though the organization is offering VIP packages as well.

The 42-year-old former pitcher gives around 20 speeches a year, some to corporate audiences, others to charities.

"It doesn't matter what the audience is, my theme is the same," Abbott says. "It's a belief in the possibilities in life. That's one of the enjoyable things about speaking, you get to meet people involved in so many activities and occupations and the same principles apply. The message will be the same - life presents difficulties, but there's so many possibilities in life."

Abbott won a gold medal in the 1988 Olympics. He pitched 10 years in the big leagues, including parts of six seasons with the Angels.

Because of his inspirational story and ability to resonate not just with the baseball fan or the disabled, but the general public, Abbott was chosen to give the speech for the event, said LETMESAIL executive director Pam Sorlagas.

"He did not let his disability prevent him from doing anything in life," Sorlagas said. "He never used it as an excuse. He overcame it and it's not just overcoming disabilities, it's overcoming life challenges in general. His message is for everyone."

Abbott, who lives in Orange County and does community service work for the Angels organization from time to time, spoke on behalf of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy in 2008 on a campaign called PITCH (Proving Individuals with Talent Can Help).

He gives motivational speeches across the country, most recently giving one in Iowa earlier this month.

Baseball is a definite starting point in his speeches.

In 1993, Abbott accomplished one of baseball's ultimate feats, tossing a no-hitter.

"That no-hitter was special to me. I cherish it for a couple of different reasons," says Abbott, who was a member of the New York Yankees when he threw it. "It came so far out of the blue. You go about your business, go about your start, you think about the process and all of a sudden the anticipation builds, especially in Yankee Stadium. It happens. It's a dream come true. You're dumbfounded by the sheer luck of it. I also love it because in some ways it was a great touchstone for my career. My Major League career was below .500. Having a no-hitter in some ways gives validation for pitching in the big leagues."

Yet many people have the belief that Abbott's disability and ability to overcome the odds give him a certain kind of validation.

His career is incomparable.

The only other Major Leaguer with a similar story to Abbott's was Pete Gray, who played left field in 1945 for the St. Louis Browns, despite having only one arm.

Abbott had a long career as a pitcher, and at one point was one of the finest players in the game at his position. In 1991, he won 18 games, finished with a 2.89 ERA and was third in the American League Cy Young Award voting.

But his ability to succeed despite having one hand (he would pitch while his glove hung on his right arm then he would transfer it to his left hand after throwing the ball) was something that made him unique.

"I wasn't, to be real honest with you," says Abbott on his comfort level with being known as different. "I wasn't, especially when I was younger. When I first came into the league I wanted to be known as a good pitcher.

"I didn't like the label of being the one-handed pitcher, the one-armed pitcher. Baseball was a conduit to fight against that label."

Yet Abbott, who says he feels best identified as an Angel, has grown to accept it.

He had a lot of support when he was young from family, friends and coaches.

He says he is most proud of the letters and e-mails he answers from parents seeking advice and asking him how he dealt with his challenge.

"When I was younger, I didn't want to be labeled as a one-handed pitcher. I still don't. But if I could inspire somebody out there with my story, I wasn't perfect, I always wasn't a role model in my personal life, but in baseball if someone gets something out of that, I don't see the harm."

Abbott says he hasn't been asked what he'd like to be identified as.

To many, he is a role model.

But he says: "I'm just like anyone else. I was born missing five fingers on my right hand. Other than that, I've been blessed. I've been given a lot."

To purchase tickets call 661.362.5304 or visit www.canyonspac.com. For VIP tickets call the LETMESAIL office at 661.702.8555 or e-mail: pamsorlagas@LETMESAIL.org


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