In the game of baseball, the odds are stacked against those who play it.
Ted Williams, the all-time record-holder for career on-base percentage and arguably the greatest hitter all-time, failed to reach base more than half the time he came to bat.
Ty Cobb, the owner of the best career batting average in MLB history, failed to get a hit almost 64 percent of the time.
Hitting a round ball with a round bat is one of the toughest things to do in sports, and tossing that same, 9.5-ounce ball of cork, yarn and canvas over an 18-inch-wide plate is no walk in the park.
And all that is if you have two hands.
For Waxahachie freshman Cristian Gonzalez, the typical obstacles baseball players face are child’s play.
He was born with a rare hand disorder called Symbrachydactyly. People with Symbrachydactyly are born with short or missing fingers. Cristian’s left hand didn’t fully develop.
According to the Texas Children’s Hospital, it occurs in just one in every 32,000 live births.
Cristian, 15, pitches and plays first base for the Waxahachie Indians. And he does it differently than most anyone you’ve ever seen play the game.
“I’ll catch [the ball], and as soon as I catch it I’ll put it under my arm,” Cristian said of his unique transition from catch to throw -- obviously a vital skill in baseball. “Then I’ll lift the glove up with my other hand and the ball will come out, and I catch the ball. Then I’ll throw it.”
Keep in mind that an average base-runner in high school takes about four or five seconds to run from base to base. In the game we went to watch Cristian pitch, each of the first four outs came on ground balls back to the mound.
“Smooth” is the word Waxahachie head baseball coach Tracy Wood used to describe Cristian on the baseball field.
“You’re just kind of enamored a little bit with the smoothness of the way he throws the ball and moves the glove and the way it all works,” he said. “It’s pretty impressive to watch.”
“Now everything is real fluid, nothing’s mechanical,” said Cristian’s step dad, Zack Vasquez, who gets credit for helping Cristian develop the fundamentals of one-handed baseball. “It’s like second nature now. Just putting in a lot of work. He’s gotta work twice as hard, really.”
The most fascinating thing about watching Cristian pitch, though, is that you may not even notice what he’s doing, unless of course you’re looking for it.
Wood shared an anecdote from one of the school’s baseball camps last year. He was already privy to Cristian’s rare ability, but his varsity players weren’t -- even while watching him play.
“We had been at the camp for two hours before they even knew about any disability that he might’ve had, because that’s how smooth he is when he catches and throws,” Wood said.
Cristian said an umpire once went the majority of a game without noticing what was happening.
“He called a balk on me because I wouldn’t put the glove in all the way,” he said. “That’s when he realized I had one hand because he realized I couldn’t hold the glove at the same time.”
How can you watch a game without noticing a kid pitching with one hand? Part of that answer is simple: He’s a pretty darned good baseball player.
He had logged three of his team’s four wins in district, his parents said. He got the win when we watched, falling just short of a shutout -- and both Cristian and his coach told us he didn’t have his best curveball that day.
“He’s a key member of the team,” said Brad Davis, the freshman team’s coach. “Almost every time he pitches, it’s nails. He’s the ace where you got that automatic win.”
Cristian has dreams of continuing his baseball career throughout his four years at Waxahachie High School, and even beyond. And he has the right people in his corner.
“I think before it’s all said and done this kid will be a varsity baseball player,” Wood said.