It's been nearly 18 years since Jim Abbott last threw a big league pitch, yet his story continues to serve as an inspiration to millions of people.
But Abbott often finds himself moved by somebody else's story, the latest of which is that of Luke Terry, a one-armed Tennessee middle-school student who has opened some eyes with his play behind the plate.
Luke, who had his right arm amputated when he was 19 months old, became an internet sensation this week when video was posted of him receiving a pitch and throwing to second base.
Abbott, who pitched 10 years in the Majors despite being born without a right hand, saw Luke's video clip and marveled at what he was watching.
"I always said I was very fortunate; I'm really only missing fingers on my right hand, so I had a lot of mobility, a lot of dexterity and a lot of use of the right side of my body," Abbott said. "When I first saw the tweet about Luke, I was anxious to see how exactly he does it. To see him drop the glove, throw the ball in the air and catch it with such perfect timing, fire it back to the pitcher or fire it to second base, the way he holds the bat and comes through and makes a great swing -- it's just a testament to his will to succeed and to enjoy the game of baseball. I think it's utterly fantastic."
The 14-year-old catches and hits third for his team at Cornersville (Tenn.) Middle School, but just as Abbott didn't let his situation stop him from chasing his dreams on a baseball field, Luke hasn't been held back, either.
"I don't even think about it," Luke told The Tennessean. "Fans tell me, 'You're an inspiration.' They want me to go a long ways."
"He doesn't look at it as a handicap," his mother, Dana, told the paper.
Abbott can relate.
"I think that's the key; I think you take a look at what ability you have," Abbott said. "My mom and dad always said to me, 'More has been given than was ever taken away from you.' The message was that you're up to the task; Luke is the personification of that. I think he looked at what abilities he had, it feels like he's capable of doing anything anybody else can do, then finding a different way of doing it.
"In that way, he doesn't look at himself as being handicapped in any way; it's like, 'I'm up to the challenge and I can do it -- I just have to find a little different way of doing it.' The creativity involved is amazing, the determination involved is amazing. I just hope to see stories like this spread and more kids believe in what they can do."
Abbott didn't let his lack of a right hand stop him from pitching for the University of Michigan, the United States Olympic Team and five Major League teams during a 10-year pro career. He finished fifth in American League Rookie of the Year Award voting in 1989, then placed third in AL Cy Young Award voting in '91 after going 18-11 with a 2.89 ERA for the Angels.
Abbott's most memorable moment came on Sept. 4, 1993, when he threw a no-hitter for the Yankees against the Indians at Yankee Stadium.
Abbott doesn't recall how or when he first heard about Luke, who has also taught himself to hunt, play video games and work on his family's farm. But as impressed as Abbott was after watching the video of the boy throwing behind the plate, the fact that Luke hits third for his team says more to Abbott than anything else.
"That's as big a statement as you can make," Abbott said. "Your best hitter usually hits third; it's somebody you want to be up with runners in position to score and also come around in the order so he can hit as many times as possible in a game. These coaches want to win, and Luke is out to win.
"No one is going to hand you anything; that's something I learned growing up in Flint, Michigan. I grew up in a tough town, and nobody gives you anything. Yeah, it's a feel-good story, but teams want to win. They don't give away the three-hole position in a batting order if you don't deserve it."
Abbott continues to receive a steady stream of letters, cards, e-mails and tweets each week from kids, parents, teachers, coaches and principals, most of whom thank him for serving as an inspiration for a child facing his or her own obstacles. In most cases, it serves as inspiration for Abbott, who has found a second career as a motivational speaker.
"It's incredibly inspiring, and it's not just baseball -- I've met kids around the country who are MMA fighters, basketball players, dirt bike riders; every possible pursuit you can imagine," Abbott said. "These kids don't let the circumstances of their life be an excuse. The excuse is there and people would excuse it, people would understand it, but there's something about the drive and determination of not wanting to accept that, of saying, 'I don't have to be confined to what other people's expectations are.' That is incredibly inspiring, and whether you have one hand, two hands or whatever abilities you have, it pushes you to make the most of it."