The young baseball player stood with his knees bent and his eyes focused straight ahead, sweat shining on his forehead.
He scooped up a ball that rolled toward him, then tossed it to his coach.
Seven-year-old Oliver Henderson’s motion was so quick, so effortless, it was hard to notice there was anything different about him.
Ollie, as his parents Nora and Travis Henderson call him, was born without a left hand.
He pays little attention to it, and when other kids ask him about it, Oliver simply says, “I was born that way.”
He’s not thinking about it on this day, in the thick of the summer on a ballfield in South Omaha.
He’s not thinking about it when his coach tosses him a ball, and it lands square in the glove on his right hand. In a flash, Oliver slips the glove under his left armpit, pulls the ball from the glove with his right hand, then zips the ball back to coach Josh Kelley.
“Good job,’’ Kelley tells him.
The Hendersons say they became his foster parents when Ollie was 9 weeks old and adopted him when he was 1½.
His parents say their approach has been simple: treat him like any little boy. He has adapted, they say, to having just one hand, whether at school, home or the ballfield.
Oliver’s perseverance and skills on the field inspire his family, his coach and other parents.
Dr. Paul Esposito, an orthopedic surgeon at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, has known Oliver since he was a baby. Esposito said the boy is missing a hand because of either a vascular problem or a condition known as amniotic band syndrome, both of which would have occurred before birth.
It’s possible there was not adequate blood flow to his arm, preventing his left hand from developing, Esposito said. The syndrome involves a tear of the amniotic sac during pregnancy, which can causes fibrous bands to form and then attach and tighten around a limb of an unborn baby, blocking growth of a hand or foot, for example.
Current studies estimate that amniotic band syndrome occurs in 1 out of every 1,200 live births.
Children born without a hand, he said, rarely require a prosthetic one, even as they grow older.
“They figure out how to do everything they need to do on their own,” he said.
Nora Henderson, Oliver’s mom, said that’s what her boy has done.
He gets frustrated sometimes because some tasks can take longer with just one hand. But he manages just fine.
When he puts on his socks, he slides one over the wrist of his left arm. Holding his left wrist near his foot, he stretches open the sock with his right hand and slips it on his foot.
When he has to take the cap off a marker at school, he holds the marker in his hand, then puts it under the opposite armpit. He closes his armpit on the cap, pulls the marker and the cap slides off.
When he’s at the plate, he grips the bat with his right hand and rests the end of the handle on his left wrist, then swings.
Travis Henderson began teaching his son baseball when Oliver was 4, and used former major league pitcher Jim Abbott as inspiration. Abbott, who played a decade in the major leagues, was born without a right hand.
Henderson watched videos of Abbott playing and used what he learned to teach his son.
Ask Oliver about his favorite athletes, and he will tell you about Shaquem Griffin, a linebacker who played for Central Florida and was drafted this year by the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. Griffin lost his left hand at age 4 due to complications from a medical problem before birth.
Oliver realizes that Griffin faces the same challenge he does and loves watching Griffin play.
Oliver has tried other sports, such as wrestling, and he wants to join a basketball team this fall.
But baseball is his favorite; he plays in a league run by the Police Athletics for Community Engagement organization, known as PACE.
On Thursday his team, the Brown Park Gauchos, played the North Omaha Grays on a warm, sunny evening.
Oliver, looking sharp in his gray baseball pants, blue jersey and cap, played first base and then third as his parents looked on.
Taking the plate to bat midway through the game, Oliver let one pitch pass for a ball. He swung at the next for a strike.
He waited for the next pitch, holding the bat just as his dad had taught him in the backyard.
He swung, swatting the ball down the third base line. Dad clapped, his mom cheered.
And Oliver smiled.
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