Dealing With It
They stare, they whisper, they wonder.
That’s the reaction of spectators when they see sophomore Alex Elliott ofMarshallHighpitchfor the first time.
Then it hits them.
“He’s like Jim Abbott,” someone observes.
Elliott was born without a right hand, just like Abbott, who pitched 11 seasons in the major leagues.
After Elliott releases the ball, he transfers his glove from his right arm to his left hand, catches the ball from the catcher and repeats the routine.
“When I first started, it would take me forever,” he said. “Now I’m pretty quick. When I’m on the mound, I don’t even think about it. I think of throwing strikes and getting people out.
“If they hit it to me, I’ll make the play. The handicap is not going to stop me from getting the ball and helping my team win.”
Elliott, 6 feet 1 and 140 pounds, has started against Glendale, Cleveland and Lincoln. He’s 1-1 with a 1.56 earned-run average as the No. 2 pitcher for Marshall, defending Northern League champion.
“He’s exactly like Jim Abbott--he’s persevered his whole life,” said Gabriel Cerna, a Marshall assistant who first saw Elliott pitch in youth ball. “The good thing about Alex is whether we’re up or down in a game, he’s the same. Nothing fazes him.
“Maybe it’s because of what he has and having to work so hard for it, nothing will ever get him down. All these kids have all the talent in the world and have everything God gave them but don’t work as hard as Alex does.”
Elliott has been playing baseball since he was 8. He was aware of Abbott growing up and remembers visiting New York in 1993 and watching Abbott pitch a no-hitter for the New York Yankees on television.
“Yeah, it was inspiring,” Elliott said. “It showed me somebody could do it, so I could do it.”
Elliott is the youngest of four children. He was born a month premature in a New York hospital. His parents, Melissa and Richard Elliott, were given no reason by puzzled doctors why Alex was born without a right hand.
“You just take him home and love him,” Melissa said.
From an early age, Elliott showed he wasn’t going to be inhibited despite being different than his friends.
He began wearing a prosthesis when he was 8 months old to help him walk, and it was refitted as he grew. By the age of 4, he declared his independence.
“Alex didn’t like to wear his prosthesis at all,” Melissa said. “It was heavy and cumbersome.”
The doctor asked, “When do you think you’ll want to start wearing your prosthesis again?”
“In about 10,000 years,” Alex replied.
He competed in sports with his friends, playing soccer and basketball. But baseball is what he did best. He learned to pitch and hit one-handed in a Silver Lake youth league.
Opponents constantly try to bunt the ball, thinking Elliott would have difficulty fielding his position. But he has trained himself to make plays. Hard-hit balls up the middle, however, are a problem. He becomes a target.
“I’m very susceptible to getting hit,” he said.
Coaches have been impressed with Elliott’s poise and ability to throw strikes. He’s in the middle of a growth spurt, so his velocity should improve, but his strength is using off-speed pitches to induce ground balls.
“He’s pretty good,” said Cleveland Coach Joe Cascione. “He kept us off balance. We bunted once and he fielded his position well.”
Elliott said not having a right hand doesn’t affect him as a pitcher. It has taken away from his hitting, though.
“I’d be a fabulous hitter,” he said. “I might not even be pitching. I’d be playing right field or first base.”
He has established goals for his pitching future.
“I want to be very good in high school,” he said. “I’m just starting. By the time I’m a senior, I want to be awesome.”
His father jokes that people overlook that his son is “the only blond Jewish left-hander on the Eastside.”
“He’s a very strong-willed, stubborn kid,” Richard said. “He’s not sensitive to the murmuring. Since he was a little kid, people have asked, ‘What happened to you? Are you hurt?’ He says, ‘I was born that way.’ He’s always been looked at and it doesn’t seem to affect him.”
It’s harder for Elliott to tie a shoelace or put on a belt, but he never complains and never will.
“When you’ve lived your whole life with one arm, you can’t picture yourself with two arms,” he said. “I’m doing fine. I’ve adapted.”
Elliott is a typical 15-year-old, with the same aspirations as any young pitcher. He doesn’t consider himself the next Jim Abbott.
“I envision myself being Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson,” he said.
He’s gotten this far, so don’t dismiss Elliott’s dreams.
Eric Sondheimer’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or email@example.com.