No limit to his determination

Havre de Grace's Chris Crowe won't let a birth defect limiting the use of his left arm prevent him from pursuing his passion of playing baseball.

March 29, 2006|By MARY BETH KOZAK | MARY BETH KOZAK,SUN REPORTER

On the wall of Chris Crowe's bedroom is a poster of former major league pitcher Jim Abbott, with a quote that reads, "I work very hard and I felt that I could play the game and the only thing that could stop me was myself."

For Crowe, a junior reserve outfielder for Havre de Grace, Abbott's words are an inspiration.

Abbott was born without a right hand and went on to have a 10-year career in the majors.

Similar to Abbott, Crowe only has full use of one arm due to a birth defect. Though Crowe has both hands, he has very limited use of his left hand, which is about a third of the size of his right.

"We've always treated him like he has had two good arms. And all his friends are the same way. It's never stopped him from what he wanted to do," said James Crowe, Chris' father.

According to his mother, Karen, Crowe's arm was wrongly bent in the womb, cutting off the circulation and stopping the growth. He was born nine days early, and his arm was purple. Karen Crowe said that if he were not born early, he most likely would not have the arm today.

"A lot of my concerns have been eased just through his outgoing personality," she said. "It's all Chris."

Despite the birth defect, Crowe refuses to let it limit or define him. He is also the kicker on the football team and was on the swim team for his first two years at Havre de Grace.

"People are like, `Wow,' when they see me play," Crowe said. "I don't see myself as different because I just think there are millions of people who are worse off than me. Sometimes I'll get down on myself and say, `Why did God do this to me?' but then I remember there are lots of people without limbs."

Sports have been a refuge for Crowe. He has had to deal with people staring, teasing or taunting him for years.

"The uncomfortable adolescent stage is tough enough on a lot of people, and you add in a couple of other issues that other people may have to deal with ... Chris does a great job handling it and basically doesn't even let it apply," Havre de Grace baseball coach Doug Heeter said.

Crowe also has earned the respect and admiration of teammates.

"Some people kind of make fun of him, but he just turns his shoulder and ignores them. He doesn't let it bother him," teammate Emanuel Oals said. "We look at Chris and see his determination and how he plays the game and how he takes it seriously. I admire him."

Baseball is Crowe's passion. He can recite facts quickly and even watches old film of players such as Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig. He and his father have collected 120 signed baseballs from stars such as Ken Griffey Jr., Cal Ripken and Randy Johnson.

"I love the smells, when you get a new glove, or see the fans out there," Crowe said. "I've always watched it and basically know all there is to know about the game."

In the outfield, Crowe models his technique after Abbott. When he catches the ball with his right hand, he flips it in the air and tucks his glove under his left arm. Crowe then catches the ball again and throws it.

"I like how he does his glove thing and I think actually some people look up to him for that," Oals said.

Hitting is a little more difficult for him. Although he starts with both hands on the bat, he has to release his left hand before contact. He often gets bruises on his knuckles from trying to grip the bat too hard, but never lets it bother him.

"It's more of a challenge hitting than in-the-field play," Heeter said. "It's almost like a one-handed swing. He makes decent contact with the bat. He holds his own at the plate. It's not so much power as it's the placement of the ball at the plate."

Crowe, who stepped up his academics last quarter and had a 3.7 grade point average, wants to be a motivational speaker. He admits, though, that he can be hard on himself, especially when it comes to sports.

"I guess it's because I should be able to do it. I sometimes think that maybe because I have this disability, I can't do it," Crowe said. "I get frustrated because it makes me feel weaker and I don't like that."

Crowe's moments of self-doubt are fleeting, however, and he is proud of overcoming his disability.

Perhaps someday, there will be a poster of Crowe on someone's wall, serving as inspiration.

marybeth.kozak@baltsun.com

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