The first time I saw Jim Abbott pitch was after a game in March of 1986.
I had just done the radio play-by-play for a Rollins College vs Michigan game as part of Baseball Week, the oldest college baseball tournament in the country, held every year at Alfond Stadium in Winter Park, Fla. When the game was over, I was packing up my gear and noticed a Michigan pitcher out on to the mound. He started to throw a side-session of sorts. It didn't take long for me to notice the pitcher only had one hand. I stopped what I was doing and just watched. The park was dim as some of the stadium lights had been turned off, but Abbott fired pitch after pitch. It was a typically pleasant, breezy Florida evening as the slight pop of the glove echoed a bit off the bleachers. One of the Michigan coaches stood near by, offering pointers and praise to the young lefty. Abbott went at it for a while before shutting it down, seemingly pleased with effort. There was nothing remarkable about what I had just witnessed, but it certainly was captivating.
The first time I met Jim Abbott was this past Wednesday.
Abbott came to ESPN to make some appearances and promote his book, "Imperfect: An Improbable Life". I was looking forward to meeting him, in part, because I wanted to tell him the story of me watching him at Rollins all those years ago. Little did I know, Abbott had a story about that week much better than mine.
Around three in the afternoon I was told Abbott was in the ESPN lobby, so I hustled down to find him and introduce myself. I relayed my story to Abbott, who seemed interested in what I had to say, but was quick to put an embellishment on my story that makes it much better.
"You know," he said, "two days later I got my first college win right there at Alfond Stadium against North Carolina."
"Really?" I said.
"Yup. I came in the game in the 9th inning with two outs, a tie game and a man on third. After I threw my first pitch, when the catcher threw the ball back to me, the runner on third broke for home because (the North Carolina coaches) didn't think I could transfer the ball out of my glove to my hand and throw it home in time. I threw the guy out at the plate to end the inning, we scored in the next inning and I got my first college win by throwing only one pitch."
Memories are possessions. We all have them, and tuck them away in the nooks and crannies of our mind for safe keeping. Thanks to Jim Abbott, I need a little more room for the storage of my memory of him.