LAKE WYLIE — The kid loves baseball.
So much so, Jacob Martin dares hitters to swing from 45 feet before sliding his hand in a glove. The Lake Wylie 11-year-old plays five positions. He bats right, throws right, fields right. He steals bases on cue, fabricates runs on the base paths.
“It’s just fun,” said Jacob, a Griggs Road Elementary fifth-grader. “I started playing T-ball when I was 4.”
The Martin family looks for activities where Jacob, who was born without fingers on his left hand, can excel.
Baseball was a hit from day one.
“There’s not that much contact,” he said, “so I can play longer and not worry about getting hit.”
Except maybe by a liner back through the box.
“I have to put the glove on my right hand after I pitch the ball,” Jacob said. “I have to do it quick so I’m ready, especially if they hit it up the middle.”
His father, Gerry Martin, attributes the fact his son isn’t treated differently than other players to a welcoming Lake Wylie Athletic Association. Jacob’s skill may have something to do with it, too.
“He’s kind of a rock star around here,” said coach Tim Will, adding that it took about four games for most people to notice Jacob’s different style of play. “Parents finally came up and asked me, is he playing one-handed?”
Jacob once struck out seven batters in three innings, surrendering just one hit. He plays middle infield, center field.
On Thursday his second place Pirates squad started its playoff run in the five-team league.
Will coached Jacob the past two seasons, after passing on him the first time Jacob came up for draft. Jacob singled and scored the game winner against Will’s team late in that first season.
“I said, ‘I won’t do that again,’” Will said.
Jacob began pitching with his glove on the dirt, then under his arm. Now he pitches and puts the glove on in one fluid motion. Playing the field comes even more naturally.
“If I field it I just yank my glove off, take the ball out and throw it to whatever base,” he said.
The biggest challenge, not uncommon to kids Jacob’s age, is putting up with dad. Gerry works in digital media and video production, with enough footage of Jacob’s games for a documentary series.
“Every time I turn around there’s a camera in my face,” Jacob said.
Jacob plays spring and fall seasons. Gerry practices with his son on off days.
The idea to try baseball came when a friend found a Jim Abbott figurine at a yard sale.
Abbott, baseball’s most famous example of the condition he and Martin share, pitched in the majors for a decade and threw a no-hitter for the New York Yankees.
Jacob, brought into Red Sox nation by his Boston-based grandmother, groans. But he sees Abbott’s career in Youtube clips as proof Jacob’s left hand doesn’t have to hold him back.
“His favorite sport is baseball,” Gerry said. “He pitches and he hits. He runs the bases. As he grows older, I’m trying to help him with his confidence level.”
Gerry plans to spend his summer looking for a high school program. Not a baseball team, but a class of students and a teacher who might want to help grow that confidence in Jacob.
There’s a national movement to 3D print prosthetic, functional hands for kids like Jacob. They can cost less than $100.
“It’s definitely a disruptive technology that’s changing the world of manufacturing,” Gerry said.
Gerry wants to partner with a school in York County. He has similar cases showing how it works. He could find a 3D printer himself, but likes the model of other kids working with manufacturing or technology students.
“Coming from his father won’t be as cool as it would be with these cool high school kids,” Gerry said.
Gerry wants to tackle the project as his son heads to middle school, a time when students can feel isolated by their differences.
If Jacob feels any different now, he doesn’t show it. He takes his swings and takes infield like anyone else. He shoos at rainclouds.
He’s a bottom line ballplayer, who can’t think of much else he’d rather do with his time. Or of any good reason why he can’t.
John Marks • 803-831-8166