In front of 50,000 fans he helped beat the Cuban national team in 1987.
During the same year he carried America’s flag at the opening ceremonies of the Pan American Games.
He won the James E. Sullivan Memorial Award as the top amateur athlete in the country and then signed a contract with the California Angels after being chosen in the first round of the 1988 Major League Baseball draft. Later, in 1993, he accomplished a feat few more able-bodied pitchers experience in their professional journeys, by throwing a no-hitter versus the Cleveland Indians.
Flint native Jim Abbott’s career milestones and accolades were more numerous than those of the average, talented athlete – and he achieved them all despite being born with only one hand. His life is the focus of the biographical film Set Apart: The Jim Abbott Story, scheduled to air at 4 p.m. Oct. 14 on Fox TV. Viewers are advised to consult their local listings to confirm broadcast times.
“I am from Flint and so I grew up watching Jim play,” says Mike Ramsdell whose Under the Hood Films is collaborating with Fox Sports Films and IMG Original Content to produce the documentary.
Ramsdell’s fourth feature film, Set Apart is a departure from the artist’s traditional documentary content, which often addresses international issues and conflicts.
“I usually make socially driven films” including stories that discuss “how the western world can be part of the solution,” says Ramsdell.
But following his most recent project, he wanted to tell a story that was “more regional, more local,” and didn’t require him to devote attention to international subject matter, which was favorable for personal reasons, Ramsdell says.
“I had a copy of Jim’s book and I read it and I said, ‘Man, this hasn’t been done yet.’”
Abbott resides in California, but still has personal ties to Flint and has supported charity, community efforts and organizations including the Boys & Girls Club. Ramsdell got in touch with the baseball legend, describing Abbott as “a gentleman,” who was, at first, a bit hesitant. Abbott wanted a better idea of “what story” Ramsdell specifically wanted to tell, the filmmaker remembers.
“I want to tell the story you want to tell,” was Ramsdell’s reply.
After communicating through much of 2017 the men developed a vision for Set Apart and filming at Flint locations began.
“Fox jumped on it right away,” Ramsdell says.
He was drawn to the story for reasons beyond the sheer intrigue of its central figure.
“All good sports stories exceed the boundaries of just sports,” Ramsdell adds. “There’s a reason why sports stories are considered metaphors for life.”
“Jim’s story is one of incredible perseverance, but more importantly, what drew me to him was his understanding that the struggle is the blessing,” he says. “Telling stories of perseverance, telling stories of staying in the grind, to use a wrestling term, those are all great. But telling the story of how the struggle is the gain, that is a more elevated conclusion.”
A member of the Michigan Baseball Hall of Fame, Abbott also played for the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago White Sox, and New York Yankees.
Ramsdell launched Under the Hood Productions in 2000. His works include the Netflix documentary When Elephants Fight, executive produced and narrated by Robin Wright, and The Anatomy of Hate: A Dialogue to Hope.
“I just basically honed in on using film as a way to bring a better, more engaged understanding to issues and explain how people can be better informed abut addressing those issues,” he says.
Ramsdell and Abbott are considering a special screening of Set Apart for local audiences sometime near the holiday season. Part of his and Abbott’s goal in the telling of the documentary was to convey how the city helped shape a 10-year pro career that few had imagined could exist.
“He is not only a good story, but he is as much a product of Flint as anything,” Ramsdell says. “It was important for us to remind people of that: Flint is the home to a lot of incredible people who do incredible things.”