You must know Jim Abbott, the one-handed former Major League Baseball pitcher who won an Olympic gold medal in 1988 and tossed a no-hitter for the New York Yankees on Sept. 4, 1993.
And you might also know Northglenn (Colo.) junior catcher Jaide Bucher, who like Abbott was born without her right hand. Despite being born after Abbott retired from baseball, Bucher lists the 48-year-old as her idol — and even once earned a comparison to the 10-year Major Leaguer.
“It was like Jim Abbott,” Rifle (Colo.) High athletic director Troy Phillips told USA TODAY High School Sports in a 2014 profile of Bucher, “except she was playing a much more difficult position to play for someone with one arm.”
Indeed, Bucher and Abbott are on opposite ends of the battery, so it made sense for the good folks at Gatorade to arrange a meeting for the two for the company’s “Win From Within” series.
Bucher and her idol played catch, showing off similar throwing styles. Without a hitch, they both catch with their left hand, exchange the mitt to the end of their right forearm and throw again with their left hand. And by the end of the exchange, it’s unclear who’s idolizing who.
“I’ve been blown away by meeting this great young softball player,” said Abbott. “Her story is phenomenal. You talk about strength and confidence from within; she has so much that it’s like oozing out. You just pick up on that smile. You pick up on her determination and her quiet resolve to show the world what she can do.
“To come up here and meet Jaide and surprise her and to see the look in her eyes, I mean — frankly, my career ended after she was born — but to think that maybe she saw something in my play, and in turn from the coaches that I had and my parents and the people who helped me to play, and to see that story carry down and keep moving on and to see all the support and love that she has from her family, to see her excitement out here on the field, that’s what it’s all about.”
Bucher is carrying Abbott’s torch quite well, making Northglenn’s varsity squad as a freshman. She batted .311 with eight walks, nine RBI and 10 runs scored in 45 at-bats as a sophomore this past spring, leading the Norsemen (12-9) to the 2015 Class 5A regional tournament semifinals.
“Working with Jim Abbott was amazing,” said Bucher. “He’s my idol, and ever since I was little I always dreamt of meeting him and being able to work with him and talk to him. And he definitely helped push me to work harder. He was a professional baseball player, he’s famous and he has one hand, so I was like, ‘Oh, if he can do it, I can do it.’ He obviously worked hard enough to get to professional sports, and so I can do that, too.”
For the record, Abbott was the eighth overall pick out of the University of Michigan in the 1988 amateur draft and won 87 games for the California Angels, Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers from 1989-99, including a career-high 18 victories in 1991. Inspirational.