Carter Smith rarely asks for a helping hand, although he makes an occasional request for assistance in putting on a necklace or opening a bottle of Gatorade.
Smith, a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Tennessee at Martin, is determined to make life as normal as possible, even though he was born without a right hand.
“I try to find a new way to do something,” Smith said. “I have never really had to adjust. I have had it my whole life. It comes natural.”
As natural as playing baseball.
Smith is a left-handed pitcher for the UT-Martin baseball team, which is scheduled to play Tuesday at the University of Memphis. As a starter this season, Smith has won three and lost three. Mixing an 86-mph fastball with his favorite pitch, a change-up, Smith has struck out 22 batters in 34 innings.
“When he has pitched, we have had a chance to win,” said baseball coach Bubba Cates. “He is a strike thrower.”
Before each pitch, Smith holds his glove with his right limb. After the pitch, he immediately puts his left hand in the glove. When he fields the ball, he pulls off the glove with his right arm, snatches the ball with his left hand and throws.
“It’s kind of neat that he has figured out a way for that to work for himself,” Cates said.
The 6-foot-3 Smith doesn’t bat in college, although he hit one-handed from the right side of the plate his first two years of high school. He also played football in middle school and basketball in college. He began playing T-ball at age 4.
“My parents would never tell me I couldn’t do something,” said Smith, who grew up in Town and Country, Mo., a St. Louis suburb. “They definitely encouraged me and supported me in everything I did.”
He was an all-conference baseball player as a junior at Parkway West High School.
Smith doesn’t mind being asked about his arm, but he refuses to be labeled as handicapped or disabled.
“I don’t think it shakes Carter,” said Taylor Cox, a 2011 Arlington High School graduate from Bartlett who is Smith’s teammate and roommate.
“He does not let it get to him. He is not scared of it. He is not self-conscious of it. He lives with it. He deals with it and handles it very well for a guy who was put in that position. Some people might try to blame God, but that has made his relationship stronger.”
Smith and his parents, Larry and Julie Smith, are members of Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton, Mo. He attended Young Life in high school. On his baseball cap, he’s written his favorite Bible verse: 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
“That is something I try to think about before I do a lot of things,” said Smith, who prays and reads the Bible daily. “Spiritually, I want to keep growing, keep learning, keep walking in my faith. Hopefully, by my actions, I let Christ shine through me. By my words, too, and the things I do or won’t do. I think Christ expects me to lead people to him by example.”
Smith and Cox are preparing to join UTM’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes leadership team. They attended an FCA retreat in January. “It changed us all,” said Cox, who was baptized in February at New Home Baptist Church in Martin. Smith also attends the church.
“You would never know anything was wrong with Carter,” said Zach Cochran, FCA campus minister. “He is one of the most joyful people I know. Carter humbles me the way he enjoys life so much.”
Smith said his father encourages him by sending devotionals and telling him to be persistent. The young pitcher also was inspired by Jim Abbott, a former Major League pitcher who was born without a right hand. Abbott played for five Major League teams from 1989-99 and pitched a no-hitter in 1993.
“Ever since watching him when I was a kid, seeing him pitch and seeing what he could do, that definitely inspired me to keep working hard,” Smith said.
Last summer, Smith met an 8-year-old St. Louis baseball player who was born with no hands.
“I tried to inspire him and give him words of wisdom to keep working hard,” Smith said.
Smith works hard on and off the field. He has a 3.7 GPA in sports management.
“I don’t think there is anything I can’t do,” he said.
“I want to use baseball as a platform to glorify God and bring others to Christ,” he said. “Jesus means everything. It is the most important thing in my life. Once you become a Christian, everything else kind of shrinks in how important things are to you.”