The Surprising Power of Kindness

Tim Richards   -  
The Surprising Power of Kindness

Jimmy Abbott was born September 19, 1967, without a right hand. When he started school his classmates teased him mercilessly. Despite his disability he developed a love for baseball. When he began playing catch with his dad he soon threw away his chunky prosthesis and eventually became so good at tucking his glove between his arm and body and throwing with his left hand that he could field as well as any player.

Jimmy was becoming a great baseball player but his shoes kept coming untied and would trip him up. His third-grade teacher, Donn Clarkson, noticed what was happening and spent hours learning to tie shoelaces with one hand. After mastering the difficult task, he taught it to his student. The impact was amazing, Jimmy reasoned if someone would go to that much trouble for him, nothing was impossible and he worked even harder to become a better pitcher.

When Abbot graduated from high school in 1985, he was picked by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 36th round of the Major League Baseball draft. He declined their offer and instead enrolled in the University of Michigan.

The young pitcher played at U of M for three seasons and led the team to two Big Ten Conference Championships. In 1987 he won the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the US and became the first baseball player ever to win the award. He was named the Big Ten Athlete of the Year in 1988. That year he pitched the final game for the US Olympic team. Since baseball was only a demonstration sport at the time he only won an unofficial gold medal for the US.

The California Angels picked Abbot in the first round of the 1988 MLB draft. In 1989, though he had never played a minor league game, he was placed in the club’s starting rotation. He finished fifth that season in voting for the American League Rookie of the Year.

Later Abbott was traded to the Yankees. He pitched a no-hitter on September 4, 1993, against the Cleveland Indians. He retired prior to the start of the 1997 season.

According to The One Year Book of Amazing Stories, Abbott often said, “his many achievements and awards don’t compare to Mr. Clarkson showing him how to tie his shoes. That third-grade teacher remains the greatest influence in his life.”

Clarkson had no idea the impact his kindness would have on the disabled third grader and we do not know how our actions may influence others, but we are to be kind. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “…the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” (Galatians 5:22, NLT, my emphasis) We never know how a simple act of kindness may change someone’s life. God used Clarkson’s kindness to alter the trajectory of Abbott’s life in a way no one could have imagined. He can use your kindness too.