Jim Abbott makes his best pitch ever

Pitcher Jim Abbott warms up his pitching arm at the Angels' spring training camp in Tempe, Ariz., February 18, 1997. TOM STORY/AFP/Getty Images

(CBS News) It's a Rite of Spring: baseball's Opening Day! When hope springs eternal for players and fans alike. Nobody's perfect, of course. But there are countless stories of baseball heroics . . . including the one Lee Cowan has to tell us now in this Sunday Profile:

Out of all the baseball games played in the last few days - this victory was especially sweet. "Nice playing! Nice playing! Colin, nice playing, bud. That was a good hit. You have a great swing!"

As Little Leaguers go, every player here is special. Each is facing either a mental or physical challenge.

"Oooh! Almost! Use that other hand to trap it in there, trap it in there. Nice toss!!"

But the man they donned their uniforms for today was here to show them that baseball doesn't discriminate.

Kid: "What happened to your hand?"
Jim: "I was born like this. I had to learn how to play baseball with just one hand."

"Sometimes it's as simple as that, just breaking the ice - Hey, I was born this way, I had to learn to do things a little bit differently, and you know what? Here I am."

Jim Abbott with a fan.
CBS
And learn he did. From struggling Little Leaguer to University of Michigan standout, to Olympic gold medalist . . . and that's all BEFORE he made Yankee Stadium jump to its feet.

An all-around athlete who did more with one hand than many players dream of doing with two.

Jim Abbott said he was never NOT interested in sports. "I never remember NOT being a fan," he said.

He also said that, despite only having one hand, he thought he could do it all. "I thought I could throw, I thought I could kick, I thought I could run, and whatever it took to get into the game, I was going to figure out a way to do it."

He's still figuring out ways to do it. His latest sport: Golf. "I'm fortunate that I have this much of my arm to work with, and this much of my hand to be able to guide the club and balance it," he said.

He's spent his life teeing up expectations and knocking them out of sight. But he thought once he got married - retired from baseball, had two daughters - that questions about his hand might stop.

Instead, it was his youngest, Ella, who innocently asked one no one else ever had. "She said, 'Dad, do you like your little hand?'" Abbott recalled. "And that took me down a path of thinking about, 'Do I like this? Do I like what it has meant to my life? Where it has taken to me?' And my answer to her was, 'Yes, I do.'"

His book, "Imperfect," is the rest of the answer to her simple question.

Abbott said it was about the time he began going to school when he became aware he was different. "I think we all do, right? When I was in kindergarten, at that point in my life I was wearing a prosthesis, I wore a metal hook that was big and clunky and cumbersome, and obviously drew a lot of attention, and so I think walking into that classroom for the first time was when I first noticed, 'Hey I'm not like the rest of the kids.'"

"Was being teased and taunted out on the playground debilitating?" Cowan asked.

"It was hard, there's no question about it," he replied. "You know, I went around a lot of the times with my hand in my pocket. I still do. Even now, in certain situations, and not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just habit."

Jim's parents, Mike and Kathy Abbott, didn't know why their son was born that way. Neither did doctors. But they weren't about to let it stand in their son's way.

"There wasn't coddling," Jim said. "You know, if I came home from a playground or a game, or something and said 'I didn't get picked,' or 'I wasn't a part of that,' I was encouraged to get right back in there. And my dad and mom would talk about walking up to people, introducing yourself, and don't shy away from that, and that was incredibly important."

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