Baseball pitcher excels with only one hand Tennessee-Martin pitcher Carter Smith poses before a college baseball game in St. Louis (AP photos)
Baseball pitcher excels with only one hand
Lexile

Rick Robinson was settling into his new job as the college baseball coach at Tennessee-Martin. One day, he was moving some things around his office. That's when he came across a few articles that had been written about the previous year's team.

He made a somewhat startling discovery. His best returning pitcher had just one hand.

Now, Carter Smith is turning into one of the best pitchers in the Ohio Valley Conference. The 6-foot-2 left-handed senior has been solid for the Skyhawks. Smith leads the conference with a 2.03 ERA in 31 innings. He has struck out 29 batters. An ERA is the average number of runs a pitcher gives up every nine innings.

Most gratifying for Smith is he's being looked at as a good college pitcher. Not a curiosity.

"It's great that it's a good story. But what I really wanted is to have success at this level," Smith said. "It's just working hard, staying persistent and being willing to put the time in to get better."

The 22-year-old from St. Louis was born without a right hand. It didn't stop him from grabbing a ball and glove as a youngster. He would play catch with his five siblings. He learned how to throw and catch through trial and error. He slowly perfected the technique that would allow him to have success playing baseball.

When he pitches, he throws with his left hand while balancing the glove on his right forearm. After he lets go of a pitch, he quickly slips his left hand into the glove. It enables him to field a potential line drive, bunt or hard grounder. If he catches the ball, he pulls the glove off with his right arm. Then he lets the ball fall into his left hand and gets in position to throw again.

It sounds difficult. But Robinson said Smith does it so seamlessly. It's barely noticeable.

"Honestly, I'd rather have him on the mound fielding a bunt in pressure situations than anyone else," Robinson said. "He's so smooth with it."

Smith's system is similar to that of former Major League Baseball pitcher Jim Abbott. He was also born without a right hand. He played 10 seasons in the big leagues. He won 87 games and even pitched a no-hitter.

Smith said his dad took him to Busch Stadium in St. Louis to watch Abbott pitch in the 1990s. It helped reinforce that having only one hand didn't have to stop him from playing baseball.

Abbott now is 47 and lives in California. He said he was excited to learn about Smith's success. He also can relate to one of Smith's biggest goals. He, too, wanted to be known as a good pitcher instead of the guy who plays with one hand.

"When you grow up missing a hand, you know what it's like to want to fit in and want to be a part of something," Abbott said. "Being a good teammate means not always wanting to call attention to yourself. So I know the battle he's going through. I'm proud that he feels that way."

Smith said he's tried to never let one hand affect what he can or can't do in athletics. He even played basketball as a freshman and sophomore in high school. Then he decided to concentrate on baseball.

There have been a few adjustments in college. He's learning to hide the ball a little better during his windup and delivery so batters can't pick up the pitch from his grip. But for the most part, his system has stayed the same since he was 6 years old.

He said teams have tried to lay down a few early bunts to see if he can field his position. But after a couple outs, they try a different strategy.

"It's never bothered me," Smith said. "I just look at it as a free out. "

Smith was voted a team captain during the offseason. He has validated his teammates' decision with great performances.

Robinson said Smith keeps opposing batters off-balance despite a fastball that tops out between 86 and 88 miles per hour. Instead of pure velocity, he relies on good command. He also can throw a slider and has a deceptive change-up.

"Not only is he a really good pitcher for us, but he brings the love of baseball to the field every day," Robinson said. "We have yet to find anything he can't do. When you watch him handle himself on the mound, it's pretty incredible."

Smith hopes his career can continue at the professional level next year. But if it doesn't, he's well prepared. He's majoring in sport management. He has made the OVC Commissioner's Honor Roll the past three seasons.

Critical thinking challenge: How can you participate in professional sports without being a player?

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COMMENTS (28)
  • jasonn-Cut
    3/31/2015 - 11:05 a.m.

    IIt was interesting because I never knew someone could pitch that good with one arm.

  • orahf-
    3/31/2015 - 01:43 p.m.

    One way you can participate in professional sports is to coach. You can be with the team during the game. They can have equment manager so they can get stuff together for the game. They have manager who take video of the game.

  • galvinc-
    3/31/2015 - 01:43 p.m.

    This story is about a baseball pitcher Carter Smith . hes a one man pitcher he plays for the Teanese Martins .
    They need a coach equipment manager they need the field clean and tidy

  • lukea6th
    4/02/2015 - 10:44 a.m.

    Cool would that be a big pane in the butt? If so then he should get a robot arm. Would that hurt in the water.

  • TaylorM-Kut
    4/02/2015 - 08:46 p.m.

    Rick Robison has accomplished a lot through his life he is trying to do a lot also and trying to make it in the bigger leagues.

  • josephisa-Mag
    4/06/2015 - 11:20 a.m.

    I wish I could watch Smith play in real life because of how he throws as a pitcher.

  • caitlynnk-Hyl
    4/07/2015 - 12:10 p.m.

    That is impressive. It is mind blowing. That takes a lot of courage to do that. I wonder if some one toughed him or if he toughed himself. Dose he still play for that team if so i want to go see one of those games. That was a wonderful atrial. This is a very inspiring atrial and it has a very good message. I wonder how long it took him to prefect this method. Thank you for sharing this atrial to me.

  • KnightA-Sua
    4/09/2015 - 07:07 p.m.

    You can be part of a team even if you don't play the game. I watch a lot of sports on TV with my family. There are always a lot of people around that are part of the team, but not playing the sport. There are managers for the players. There are people with water for the players. There are always at least one to two coaches. So, it might be more fun to play a game, but there are many other important people on the team.

  • KerrF-Sua
    4/09/2015 - 07:55 p.m.

    You can you participate in professional sports without being a player if you are cheering on your team. You could encourage them and make then not feel down. you can tell them that they are doing great because they are doing great in at least one thing. That is what you can do to help feel like a player and participate even though you are not a real player.

  • KapapaZ-Sua
    4/09/2015 - 08:05 p.m.

    Many people are professionals in a sport one question how can you participate in professional sports without being a player. You can be a coach in a sport like baseball. You can be a professional referee in Football that makes the best calls. You can be a professional trainer in track. These are ways you can participate in sports without being a player.

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