It is a traditional and routine play in a baseball game: a fly-out batted ball goes in the direction of the center field. Nephtali Flores pinpoints the ball in the air and catches it without any trouble.
It’s just at that moment when the action takes a rather unexpected turn.
To catch the ball with the glove he is wearing on his left hand, the 17-year-old takes off his mitt quickly to place it immediately on the stump that serves him as his right arm.
Flores was born with only one arm.
With his left hand empty, Nephtali takes the ball out of the glove that hangs below his right armpit and throws a perfect pitch to second base to prevent the runner, who was on first base, from ever advancing.
“I do it naturally, I was born that way, I have never known what it is to have two arms,” says Nephtali, who plays for the Santa Ana High School baseball team.
Nephtali shows the same ability he has in the field when at the bat, hitting or swinging with the necessary strength and speed that allows him to connect the ball solidly.
“Don’t get too confident, he hits very well,” the Santiago High School coach yelled at his pitcher, in a recent game.
On his first turn at the bat, Nephtali hits a powerful line that looks almost unstoppable, but it goes directly into the hands of the left fielder.
“He’s a very complete player. He has great speed, shows good defensive play and hits well,” says Enrique Buenrostro, Santa Ana High School‘s manager. “He can do anything just like any other player.”
This is Nephtali’s last year in high school, and come next summer, he will begin to prepare to attend Cal State Fullerton, where he wants to study Technological Sciences and to join the school’s baseball team, one of the best in the country for that sport.
“I can do and accomplish what I want to do in my life. I’ve never felt less than any other person. I do not like feeling sorry for myself or anyone to feel sorry for me,” says Nephtali with great fortitude.
“His mental strength is impressive,” says Buenrostro.
Four years ago, when Nephtali approached Buenrostro to ask him for a chance on the team, he doubted that the young man could play ball.
“I said: ‘Let’s see what you can do’ and he didn’t take long to prove that he’s a real player,” says the coach. “I immediately realized that he is a very special person, who’s emotional strength is much stronger than any physical obstacle he may face.”
The Number One Captain
Nephtali is the oldest of four children. He is the team’s captain and his uniform displays the number 1. His outgoing personality has earned everyone’s respect.
“He is an example and an inspiration to all of us,” says Francisco Rodriguez, the Santa Ana team’s catcher, who has known him since they both played in Little League in El Salvador Park, located in Santa Ana, Nephtali’s hometown.
“Yes, there were people who wanted to make him feel inferior but, since childhood, Nepthali has managed to succeed by showing everybody that there is nothing that can stop him,” says Rodriguez.
Nephtali’s teammates identify him as a hardworking young man, committed to improving every day and who likes, from time to time, playing jokes on the team. His batting average is .346, the highest on the team in the current season.
Outside the field, Nephtali also has someone who follows him closely. Someone the young man identified as his best friend.
“He’s a role model,” says Odalis Sanchez, a 16-year-old who never misses any of Nephtali’s games. “He puts his heart in everything he does, he never gives up. I am very proud of him.”
It is very likely that Nephtali’s mental and emotional strength comes from his Salvadoran father and Mexican mother. They never asked doctors a medical explanation to try to understand why their son was born with only one arm
“There was nothing to ask and nothing to understand. God knows what He does, we are a family of faith,” says Nepthali’s father, Roberto Flores, whom, with a lump in his throat, holds his tears back.
“As a parent I have nothing more to ask out of life, I am very proud that my son is a role model for so many people,” he says.
His Dream: To Meet Jim Abbott
Nephtali Flores says Jim Abbott is his role model. This pitcher with one arm (left) went on to play 10 seasons in the majors, starting his career with Los Angeles Angels and threw a No Hitter game in 1993 while playing for the New York Yankees.
“I never saw him play [in person], but I watch his videos. I think all he did in the Major Leagues is cool,” says Nephtali, who has repeatedly tried to contact Abbott, now 48 years old.
“Jim answered to one of his messages, but he has not been able to talk or meet him personally and that’s something my son wants very much, because he would like Jim to tell him what he did to get into the Majors,” saysFlores, father of this exemplary Angelino player.