Baseball pitcher excels with only one hand
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
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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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  • Joni-Pav
    3/31/2015 - 10:35 a.m.

    I agree young lad this guy was in a stupor but he was a trooper. Baseball is his passion and he is really a true bright and shining star. :):):):):):):):):):):):):):):)

  • Laurad-Pav
    3/31/2015 - 10:38 a.m.

    Carter Smith worked hard to get where he is today. He should be really proud of how far he has come. His story is really empowering. People should take him as a role model. You can do anything you want to do no matter if you have two hands or one. All you have to do is put in the time and effort to reach your goals.

  • Reillym-Pav
    3/31/2015 - 10:39 a.m.

    This is so inspiring! It really shows how good Carter Smith is when his coach says he rather him on the mound than anyone else. He has really overcome this obstacle and showed people that you can achieve anything with the right mindset.

  • Reillym-Pav
    3/31/2015 - 10:40 a.m.

    This is so inspiring! It really shows how good Carter Smith is when his coach says he rather him on the mound than anyone else. He has really overcome this obstacle and showed people that you can achieve anything with the right mindset.

  • Elenao-Pav
    3/31/2015 - 10:43 a.m.

    It truly is so fascinating that a person with this obstacle in their life can overcome it, and achieve so much throughout their career. It is not easy to get out there in the business world, but with a mindset like his I believe that if we all follow his inspirational hard work we can become as achieved as him.

  • arifv-Tho
    3/31/2015 - 11:44 a.m.

    I didn't know that a person can play with one hand. I could not do it with one hand. There are not a lot of people that play baseball with one hand.

  • JoshSBlue
    3/31/2015 - 11:59 a.m.

    It is very inspiring that he can do what he does so well. He is an inspiration to all of us. i think he will continue to play baseball and I think he should.

  • TR2001Blue
    3/31/2015 - 01:03 p.m.

    You can practise with the team but not play in an actual baseball game. You can help the team from the side lines telling them when and when not to go.

  • vancer-Che
    3/31/2015 - 01:47 p.m.

    Cool, just because he was born without a hand he still pitches. Ever heard of three finger Brown, way to stay in there and not give up.

  • makaylar-Che
    3/31/2015 - 01:48 p.m.

    this is a great story because he has two left hands and pitches with one and the other one he has a glove on and its great because he is really on and he was playing it in high school and now professional and still going that's a good thing.

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