When Jim Abbott was five years old he was given a prosthetic hook. It lasted a year and a half before he discarded it, and he has dealt with his birth defect in his own way ever since, doing more with his one hand than most others do with two. His 94 mph fastball (plus a lightning-quick glove switch) earned him the Sullivan Award as best amateur athlete and an Olympic gold medal in Seoul. Still, even savvy baseball people were surprised when Abbott, 21, was named a starting pitcher for the California Angels last March -- only the 10th pitcher since 1965 to join the majors without minor league experience. In Anaheim, where the fans are learning that Abbott's left arm is far more interesting than his right, he has become an immediate hometown favorite. After his first major league win Abbott talked with reporter Rob Brofman.

That night I had the most incredible euphoria. I just wanted to hold on to it. I'd say there's nothing better than pitching a game and doing well. Nothing. I called my parents and they didn't care about me winning -- well, they actually love it -- but I think they were more worried about me jumping off a bridge or something if I hadn't. Because when you've pitched and done poorly, it's a lowly, hollow feeling, like you let the whole world down. That's the part of it I don't like. You've got to suffer through that for five days (before pitching again).

I don't love baseball as much as I used to. It's hard work. It's hard sitting there in the dugout for nine innings every day doing nothing. It's boring, but the worst part is the insecurity -- never knowing exactly where you're supposed to be, what's going on. You're always afraid of slipping up. The best part of being a rookie is the newness of things. You look in the locker and there's something new every day -- a new jacket, new spikes, a new glove.

You've got to be stubborn, oblivious to everything, but more than anything else pitching requires natural ability. People can talk all they want about ((L.A. Dodger)) Orel Hershiser's bulldog tenacity -- what it comes down to is the man has a nasty breaking pitch and as it comes to the plate it just sinks.

I have a good time. Sometimes too much. Remember that flu I was supposed to have had in Chicago? Well . . . I felt bad about that, like I'd let the team down. That snuck up on me and it wasn't right. I'm afraid of mistakes. I'm afraid of having too many drinks and getting into a car and driving. You can be the best person one day and if you make one little slip, the next day you're nothing.

I get a lot of mail from parents of kids like me. They want to have a feeling that their child can lead a normal life. It's a difficult spot because I know what they're going through and I know how far a little help can go. I answer a lot of letters, but baseball has got to be my priority. When I was a kid I was never inspired by people like me. I didn't grow up thinking about not having a right hand. I just strove to be normal.

Copyright 1989 Time Inc.


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