Tyler Smith has had a passion for baseball for as long as he can remember.
As a toddler, the Southington, Conn. fourth-grader born with only one fully developed hand could name all the players on the Boston Red Sox.
On his second birthday, Tyler received a wiffle ball set. And within an hour, his mom says, he taught himself how to play with it.
“He tucked the little ball under his chin, then picked up the bat with his right hand. The ball fell, and Tyler hit it,” recalls his mom, Pamela Smith, 36, an office payroll clerk. “When that happened, we all looked at each other and said, ‘I think we’ve got a baseball player.’”
Since then, Tyler, 10, has been one of his local little league’s standout players. No matter the position—pitcher or catcher, shortstop or first base—he adapts with ease. When Tyler pitches, he tucks his mitt under his left arm, throws with his right hand, then quickly puts the mitt on. And when he steps up to the plate, he wraps his left wrist around the bottom of the bat and swings for the fences.
Coaches don’t even notice, says his mom. “They’ll ask, ‘Why is your kid playing with one hand?’ We’ve never told him what to do—he’s just kind of figured it out. That’s just Tyler. He’s always wanted to do things on his own.”
“You look at him and you would never know he has a disability,” adds Connecticut Little League District 5 administrator Maryellen Holden. “I don’t think anyone looks at Tyler and sees anything but Tyler, and a love for the game.”
For his part, Tyler says that playing with one hand “isn’t hard at all.”
“When I first started, my friends were kind of like, ‘What happened to your hand? I would say, ‘Oh, I was born with it.’ Once I got to know everyone, it was like nothing is different.”
Nicknamed “the vacuum” as a young shortstop—”I’d never let a ground ball go past me”—this year he’ll play first base. He’s also hoping to put up some home runs. Says Tyler: “Hitting is probably my best skill.”
His big dream? “I want to be a professional baseball player for the Red Sox,” says Tyler.
At this rate, he’s got a good shot.