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. 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 while striking out 29. 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 to 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 that 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, who was also born without a right hand. He played 10 seasons in the big leagues, winning 87 games and even throwing a no-hitter.

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

Abbott, now 47 and living in California, said he was excited to learn about Smith's success on the mound. He also can relate to one of Smith's biggest goals: Wanting 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 before deciding 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."

Like most playing Division I college baseball, 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 (131)
  • Eugene0808-YYCA
    3/30/2015 - 02:36 p.m.

    This is an amazing story because Carter Smith pushed himself when he was young, to figure out a way to throw and catch a ball. The system he used right now, he used since he was six years old! This is one of the stories of making a breakthrough and succeeding. Well, I think he is going to be a great pitcher in baseball. I wonder how he manages to swing the bat when he is in the offensive. I am pretty sure that he will find a way to swing the bat when he plays offense.
    Critical thinking challenge: How can you participate in professional sports without being a player?
    Answer: You can participate in professional sports without being a player by umpiring or doing anything outside of the mound.

  • BrynnDani
    3/30/2015 - 03:44 p.m.

    I am very inspired by this story. It takes a tremendous amount of dedication to achieve what this kid has. He did not let his disability define him and he does not expect special treatment because of it. He is a great role model for kids everywhere.

  • lanes-And
    3/30/2015 - 03:56 p.m.

    you could be the water boy or you could help manage or towel boy you could also help the real players train and exercise or be ball boy.

  • Miab1127
    3/30/2015 - 06:00 p.m.

    Wow that is really empressive he can play with one hand or at least be on the team and participate in a way or shape and dorm he is really amazing keep it up!!

  • DominicP-Kut
    3/30/2015 - 06:42 p.m.

    This is amazing. This mans pure persistence and grit amazes me. If i had one hand i would have given up long ago. I think the hardest part of this mans career is that people are constantly reminding him he has one hand and there are so many that could replace him. All & All the moral of this is don't give up.

  • dylanswerdlow1
    3/30/2015 - 07:03 p.m.

    Rick Robinson is being heard around the world. He's a college baseball player with only one hand. He plays as pitcher which is even more astonishing. The man currently plays in Tennessee. He was born without a right hand and has fallen in love with the sport of baseball since he could walk. Hopefully Rick Robinson will be able to go to pro and become a legend.

  • MaxMicheletti
    3/30/2015 - 07:09 p.m.

    This article is about a baseball pitcher with only one hand. He was born without his right hand, but still has a high ERA. An ERA is an average number of runs a person hits. No one thinks of him as a curiosity, which is fine with Rick. He is a great pitcher, but is still learning things from his coach. He has been playing baseball since he was 6 years old. Wow! This is very impressive! I don't know how he does it. It must feel really cool to strike out a hitter that has tried to take advantage of you.

  • AndreasG-Kut
    3/30/2015 - 07:41 p.m.

    I think it amazing how resilient this disabled person is. I mean he throws pitches that most pitchers dream to throw. I forgot the name but there was a pitcher who had one hand that pitched then quickly put the mitt on.

  • MailanN-4
    3/30/2015 - 07:44 p.m.

    This is really inspirational and I like how this boy Carter Smith has not let his disability of only having one hand take over what he can do he knows that he can do so much better than just lying around so instead he has pursued to be a baseball player so he plays left-handed since he doesn't have a right hand and never had it because he was born with out a hand. He is a very inspirational boy that I'm sure has encouraged many people to pursue and do it they want to do instead of letting their disadvantages and disabilities take over them.

  • AlarrahM.
    3/31/2015 - 08:34 a.m.

    I think It would be very hard too play baseball cause what if your not good with that hand. I think that base ball is already complicated but with one hand is worse.

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