Life threw him a curveball, and Jake Hines tossed it right back. The relief pitcher with the Toronto Maple Leaf baseball team of the semi-pro Intercounty Baseball League competes with no right hand. We spoke to him from his home in Hamilton.
You’re obviously quite able on the baseball diamond, even without a right hand. Is it something that you give much thought to?
I don’t think of it, mostly. I was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around my right arm. Shortly after that, they amputated it below the elbow to prevent any further complications. There are times when I reach for something, when I could use a couple more inches. But it’s not a problem in my day-to-day life at all.
Now, when they see you pitch, baseball fans of a certain age will automatically think of the former major league pitcher Jim Abbott, who was born without a right hand. But I won’t assume that he was your inspiration. It could be a former Blue Jay such as Jimmy Key or Todd Stottlemyre, right?
No, it was Jim Abbott. When I was younger, he was in his prime. I was already interested in baseball, but when I saw him pitch on television, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I never met him, but we did correspond through a couple of letters.
Did you get much heckling from kids on opposing teams, when you were younger?
I did. I would hear kids in the other dugout, referring to my arm. They’d say, “How can you let a guy with one arm get you out?,” and things like that. Also coaches would try to pull the bunting move on me. Players would think I wouldn’t be able to field the ball.
Was it a sound strategy? Could you field your position well?
I could. And I still can. I actually spent more time than any other person I played with working on ground balls and comebackers. Also, I would go to the bullpen and have people throw baseballs at me as hard as they could, after I threw a pitch.
So, we don’t want to bunt on you. But what about your pitching? What’s the scouting report on you? How hard do you throw?
I throw in the mid-80s [mph], I would guess. I haven’t had a radar gun on me in 10 years.
I used to throw harder, in college. My fastball has movement on it. I get a lot of ground balls. But my best pitch is my curveball. It’s known in the league. I see batters just sitting and waiting for my curveball. They know it’s coming. It’s a big, hard-breaking curveball that you can see leaving my hand, and if you can make contact with it, good for you.
The Maple Leafs are a semi-pro team. If you were called by a major league team, could you get a big-leaguer out with that curveball?
I could get a major league hitter out, yes.
It’s not going to happen, though, at your age, is it?
Probably not. I’m 30 years old. A major league team isn’t going to sign me at this point.
That’s okay. The Maple Leafs need you here. But you’ve struggled a bit this year. What’s going on?
I was doing well. Then we played the Barrie Baycats, my former team, in Barrie. I don’t know what what it was, but I had a little bump there. And ever since then, I’ve been trying to get back to where I was. Physically, I’m still there. Mentally, I’m still there. But something isn’t clicking. It’s coming, though. Time will tell, but I think I’ll get there.
The Toronto Maple Leafs play the Burlington Bandits, July 6, 2 p.m., PWYC, Dominico Field at Christie Pits, 750 Bloor St. W.; and against the Barrie Baycats, July 9, 7:30 p.m.