July 24, 2013
By Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
Small wonder that New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera grabbed the spotlight at the latest All-Star game. His perfect eighth-inning relief appearance not only helped the American League win the game, it showcased the kind of success story that Americans love.
Going from a life in a poor fishing village in Panama to the pitching mound in New York City is pretty impressive. It’s hard not to be inspired by the opportunity that America affords people who are willing to work hard and pursue their dreams — and wonder about those who haven’t had those chances.
The now-deceased author and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould once said, “I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” His observation is undoubtedly true. Throughout history, many gifted people have been crushed by misfortune and never had the opportunity to exercise their talents.
What separates success from failure is how an individual transcends the circumstances that confront him. The history of the United States is filled with stories of individuals overcoming adversity that, had they lived elsewhere the world, would have been held in captivity by the circumstances into which they were born.
Take Jim Abbott. Like many boys, he loved baseball. But Mr. Abbott was different. Born in Flint, Mich., in 1967, he seemed unlikely to grow up and play Little League baseball, let alone make it to the major leagues. Mr. Abbott, you see, was born without a right hand, so playing a sport that required every appendage seemed to be a bridge too far to be realized. Someone forgot to convince him of that.
Mr. Abbott wanted to play baseball and be a pitcher, so he set about practicing. He developed a system by which he could deliver a pitch and have his glove in a ready position by the time the ball crossed the plate. He was good. He was so good, in fact, that he was drafted out of high school by the Toronto Blue Jays, but instead opted for college at the University of Michigan.
While at the university, Mr. Abbott led the Wolverines to two Big Ten championships, and he was the first baseball pitcher to be awarded the James E. Sullivan Award as amateur athlete of the year in 1987. It was a major accomplishment for anyone, let alone someone with only one hand. But Mr. Abbott wasn’t finished yet.
After his amazing college career, Mr. Abbott was drafted in the first round by the California Angels and spent the next 10 years living out the dream of every little boy who ever played on a sandlot. What’s more, Mr. Abbott joined the exclusive club of pitchers who have ever thrown a no-hitter when, in 1993, he blanked the Cleveland Indians.
When you first hear his story without being told that Mr. Abbott was born with only one hand, you would never know it, never even think it. But once the surprise of his story wears off, it gives way to an acknowledgment that it makes perfect sense. Mr. Abbott, after all, is an American, and America is all about amazing stories.
Each story of an individual seizing the opportunities presented to him, or creating his own opportunities through his choices, is a testament to a nation that values individual liberty and ingenuity. Only in a society that values the individual will someone like Clarence Thomas — a descendant of slaves, born into poverty and segregation — have the opportunity to become an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Only by returning to our long-standing belief that we are a nation of individuals limited merely by our imaginations, and not by the government, will we continue to reap the harvest of creativity and prosperity that our system is uniquely suited to foster.
- Ed Feulner is founder of The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The Washington Times
Enterprise & Free Markets Initiative of the Leadership for America Campaign
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
Read More >>
Request an interview >>
Please complete the following form to request an interview with a Heritage expert.
Please note that all fields must be completed.
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 200,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Read More
© 2013, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973