Jim Abbott has an 'Imperfect' story to tell

GLENDALE — Ryan Halamicek has met Nolan Ryan and played catch with Bob Feller, a pair of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame pitchers, in Arizona.

Halamicek, 7, came to Glendale on Tuesday night prepared to meet another former big league pitcher. Except this proved to be something different for the Wrightwood resident, who stood in line to meet and greet Jim Abbott, a longtime major leaguer who was born without a right hand.

Donning an Angels cap and jersey, Ryan and his father, Kevin, had some baseball cards and Abbott's recently published book, "Imperfect: An Improbable Life," signed by Abbott during an autograph session at Barnes & Noble at the Americana at Brand. As an added bonus, Abbott took a couple of minutes to play catch with the younger Halamicek with Abbott showing him how he pitched and fielded a ball.

"I'm real lucky I could play catch with him," Halamicek said. "I wasn't expecting it and it means a lot to do that."

A phenom from the University of Michigan, Abbott, now 44, was drafted in the first round in 1988 (eighth overall) by the California Angels. He went 87-108 with a 4.25 earned-run average with the Angels, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers between 1989-99.

As a rookie, Abbott became an immediate fan favorite from coast to coast. When he prepared to pitch, Abbott would rest a right-handed thrower's glove on the end of his forearm. After throwing the ball, he would slip his hand into the glove in time to field a ball that a two-handed pitcher would be able to grab. Abbott would then remove the glove by placing it between his right forearm and torso, slip his hand out of the glove, and remove the ball from the glove to begin a fielding play. It was a routine he practiced and perfected as a child while playing catch with his father in Flint, Mich.

Abbott's benchmark moment came Sept. 4, 1993, when he pitched a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians at Yankee Stadium. He was mobbed by his teammates, which included Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs, Bernie Williams and his catcher, Matt Nokes, near the pitcher's mound and showered with applause from the crowd.

Almost 20 years later, the memories still burn bright for the affable Abbott, whose autobiography, co-authored by veteran baseball writer Tim Brown, captured the images of that afternoon on the mound and also chronicled his childhood and the obstacles he had to overcome to enjoy a lengthy career.

"That was an unbelievable day," said Abbott, who appeared in 263 games and struck out 888 in 1,674 innings. "There was the thrill of counting down the outs after the sixth inning.

"With this book, I wanted to pay tribute to the people who took their time to help me out. It blows me away 13 years [after retiring]. I wanted to be the best that I could possibly be out there on the field."

Abbott's book tour has stretched from New York to Chicago to Glendale, with stops along the way in Michigan since early April. He's been busy greeting fans — including some who never saw him perform — for nearly two months.

Abbott, whose best season came in 1991, when he went 18-11 with a 2.89 ERA and finished third in the American League Cy Young Award balloting behind Roger Clemens and Scott Erickson, said the idea of writing a book was hatched about two years ago.

"I get a lot of people who still approach me about the no-hitter," said Abbott, who won a gold medal with the 1988 United States Olympic baseball team. "I met Tim Brown and he said there's a very good story to tell about the no-hitter and my career.

"There's inspiration and you talk about the successes and failures that you've gone through. It's been a great experience."

About 100 autograph seekers snaked through the line on the store's second floor. Pictures were taken with Abbott with some of the fans sharing their moments watching him pitch.

Bill Fanning made the trek to Glendale after missing a similar Abbott signing session in Fullerton on Saturday.

"I remember him pitching and he's pretty cool," said Fanning, an Orange resident who had a copy of the 283-page book signed so he could send it to his brother-in-law in Texas. "You get to hear some inspiring stories and get the author's autograph."

Bill Xanthos of La Quinta attended the signing session to meet the former Wolverine.

"Seeing him pitch was phenomenal," said Xanthos, who attended graduate school at Michigan. "I heard a lot about him when he was at Michigan.

"Just watching him pitch and seeing him switch the glove was incredible."

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