Is Not What's Gone - But What's Given
Speech from Jim Abbott, one-handed famed professional
baseball pitcher, 2005
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Not too long ago
a little girl in my neighborhood was born without a hand.
She was born just after my own second daughter Ella was born.
Her parents were obviously shaken up. About a week later, I saw
them at a neighborhood function and they came over to me and
asked what my thoughts were, if I had any advice, for them and
for their daughter. My advice? This is their daughter's life and
they were asking my advice? Talk about humbling. What do you
say? I had nothing very smart to say.
I told myself I wouldn't let that happen again. That it was
important that I could share what I have learned.
I've learned that there are millions of people out there
ignoring disabilities and accomplishing incredible feats. I
learned that you can learn to do things differently, but do them
just as well. I've learned that it's not the disability that
defines you, it's how you deal with the challenges the
disability presents you with. I've learned that we have an
obligation to the abilities we do have, not the disability.
I was born without my right hand. I have never felt slighted. As
a kid I was pretty coordinated and growing up I loved sports. I
learned to play baseball like most kids, playing catch with my
Dad in the front yard. The only difference was that we had to
come up with a method to throw and catch with the same hand.
What we came up with, is basically what I continued to do my
whole life. I used to practice by pretending to be my favorite
pitchers. I'd throw a ball against a brick wall on the side of
our house, switching the glove off and on, moving closer to the
wall- forcing myself to get that glove on faster and faster. I
imagined myself becoming a successful athlete.
Growing up, sports were my way of gaining acceptance. I guess
somewhere deep inside I was thinking if I was good enough on the
field then maybe kids wouldn't think of me as being so
different. Honestly I hid behind sports. I wanted the attention
that comes from being successful, but I was very reluctant to
draw any attention to my disability You know it's funny, there
was an article in the L.A. Times recently about a high school
pitcher who has been doing very well--- despite missing one
hand. He mentioned my name as an example but went on to say he
didn't want to be like me, he wanted to be like Randy Johnson.
At first my feelings were hurt, but then I understood. That's
exactly the same way I felt growing up. I didn't want to be
defined by a disability. Focus on my pitching and not my hand.
I loved throwing a baseball. It is so important to find
something in life you feel crazy about. Because you are so
passionate you naturally practice, the hard work that it takes
to do something well will come easily.
You know how it worked out. I got to play baseball at the
University of Michigan, 2 United States teams The 1987 Pan
American team and the 1988 United States Olympic team. Even
though I played in the major leagues for almost 10 years the
Olympics are still one of my favorite memories.
You know in my career I once won 18 games in a year, I also lost
18 games in one year. I was fortunate enough to go straight from
the Olympic team to the major leagues. Never spending a day in
the minors. I was also sent down to the minor leagues after 8
years in the big leagues. In 1996 I went 2-18 with a 7 run era .
I couldn't get anyone out. I was in the first year of a long
term contract with a team near my home. It was supposed to be
That following year I was fired. Drove back to California,
crying all the way. I spent that summer up in Michigan hurting
and wondering if my career was over. Somewhere deep inside I
wasn't sure. So I called the Chicago White Sox for a try out.
They gave me a chance to pitch again. I would watch the major
leagues on t.v. with the rest of those kids and it felt like a
million miles away. That had been my life. I was away from my
family who I know thought I was crazy. Then I got the call I was
going to Chicago back to the show. That was the good news, bad
news your facing the Yankees Sat. night. They were about 100 and
15 at the time. I went on to win that game against the Yankees
that night. In fact I went 5-0 the rest of that Sept.
I would like to tell those parents back in my neighborhood how
wonderful my own parents were, and are. They encouraged me to
participate, but didn't dwell on every move I made. I don't ever
remember a concession to the fact that I had one hand. Maybe
even a little more was expected. I will always be thankful that
they never allowed my hand to be used as an excuse.
I would like to tell that little girl, "Go out and find what it
is that you love. It may not be the most obvious choice or the
most logical but never let that stop you." Baseball was hardly
the most the most logical choice for someone with one hand, but
I loved it, so that's what I pursued. No matter where the road
takes you don't give up until you know in your heart you done
everything you possibly could to make your dreams come true. You
owe nothing to disability, ignore it. When you fail, get back up
and try again. Leave no room for an excuse. Don't listen to what
you can't do. 99% of the time I never think of missing a hand. I
have never been envious of someone with two hands. Listen to
that voice deep within you, it knows, when you've done your
Somehow when things are said and done there will be some
accountability imagine someone coming up to you at the end of
your life and saying "you've been given these talents what did
you do with them." There is a certain potential we owe it to
ourselves to live up to. Work hard, don't look back, celebrate
the blessings in your life.
For more information on Jim Abbott, visit
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