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Abbott event was inspiring

Posted: October 11, 2009 9:10 p.m.
Updated: October 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Former Angels pitcher Jim Abbott, center, who was born without a right hand, was on stage Thursday with the LETMESAIL drama group for "An Evening of inspiration" at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center on the campus of College of the Canyons.

 
It’s too bad you missed it.

There were empty seats at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons Thursday night for LETMESAIL’s “An Evening of Inspiration.”

It’s your loss.

You missed an amazing man and some incredible people.

The central figure of the night, former Major League pitcher Jim Abbott, was funny, humble and engaging.

He said at one point that despite being born without a right hand, he wasn’t inspirational.

It couldn’t have been further from the truth.

He said he wasn’t comfortable being known as “the one-handed pitcher.”

When he was growing up, kids called him “Captain Hook” when he wore a prosthesis.

He was the starting quarterback for his high school football team in Flint, Mich. Before one big game, he said, some players from a rival high school put socks over their right arms and ran past him, mocking his disability.

Yet he took it in stride.

He saw the glass as half full.

“Make the most of what you’ve been given,” he said.

His gift in his playing days was the ability to throw a fastball upwards of 94 miles per hour.

His gift today is his ability to relate to all types of people — those with special needs and those without disabilities.

Abbott did it through words, in a soft, gentle voice.

“Don’t let the circumstances of your life be your excuse,” he said.

He gave an example.

Because he had one hand, opposing baseball teams felt they could take advantage of him.

In Abbott’s first Little League game, the first six batters he faced bunted off of him as if to say, “Because you are disabled, we think we can take advantage of you.”

Abbott joked, “And I threw all six of those girls out.”

The joke, as if I need to explain, was that he was actually playing against girls, which he wasn’t.

But behind the scenes, what people didn’t get to see was even more special.

I had the opportunity to meet him before the event, and I brought a friend along with me.

I introduced Abbott to my friend.

Three hours later, after the event was over, we reconvened. People were all over Abbott the entire night, yet when he said goodbye, he called my friend by his first name.

He remembered his name after all that!

Abbott told the event’s organizers prior to his speech that he would be calling somebody on stage to play a little game of catch during his talk. The organizers suggested a young man named Matt Adams.

Abbott immediately pulled out a pen and wrote down Matt’s name. Then maybe an hour or so later, he called Matt’s name.

Matt ran up onto the stage and gave Abbott a high-five and a hug.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Matt later said.

Abbott gave a motivational speech that applied to everyone in the audience.

He talked about adjustability, determination, accountability, perseverance and trust — the first letters of each word making up the acronym “ADAPT.”

He talked about why those words were so important.

Adjust to your circumstances.

Be determined to filter out negativity.

Make the most of what you’ve been given, which represented accountability.

And trust and believe in yourself and your actions.

He left out perseverance, almost as if he forgot it.

But he looked out at the people, many of whom had a disability of some sort, and said he didn’t need to talk about perseverance. They already knew.

LETMESAIL’s board president Tom Hartmann told me how great a representative Abbott was for the unique and under-noticed organization, which “provides therapeutic, social, recreational and educational opportunities for differently abled individuals with disabilities.”

Those individuals tend to be ignored by the general public.

Maybe misunderstood.

Maybe the public treated this event the same way.

What a night.

You would have been inspired.

Cary Osborne is The Signal’s sports editor. He can be reached at cosborne@the-signal.com. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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