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Shaquem Griffin inspiring former MLB pitcher with similar story

Jim Abbott caught the highlights of Shaquem Griffin's 20 bench presses, linebacker position drills and 4.38-second 40-yard dash from the NFL Scouting Combine over the weekend, and he was as surprised as anyone to see Griffin post the fastest 40 time for a linebacker ever at the combine.

"I didn't realize he was that fast," Abbott said by phone Wednesday afternoon.

The fact Abbott was stunned by the time is impressive because few have been watching Griffin as closely as the former 10-year Major League Baseball pitcher.

Abbott's introduction to Griffin came when Abbott was watching his alma mater, Michigan, play Central Florida in September 2016. The announcers made reference to the fact Griffin didn't have a left hand, and Abbott, who was born without a complete right hand, took notice. From that moment on, Abbott was a Shaquem Griffin fan.

Abbott won 87 games in his MLB career, including a no-hitter against the Indians in 1993, despite having to throw with his left hand and then put his glove on that hand as the ball was en route to the plate. Abbott defied expectations, as Griffin has begun to.

"I'm incredibly impressed with his athleticism, his strength, his speed. But most of all, his determination," Abbott said. "I don't know, maybe I'm reading into it, but when I watch the highlights of him play, but it just seems like there's a burning desire to prove himself. He seems like he's very determined to prove he can compete with the best of the best. And I'm sure this combine performance is going to give him more confidence he can do that."

Griffin's speed is one thing, but the fact he was able to lift 225 pounds 20 times with a prosthetic clip on the bar was the moment that fascinated many observers.

Abbott, a former high-school quarterback, said he used to bench press without a prosthetic and would instead rest the bar on his right hand, "or whatever there is of it," he said with a laugh. Being a pitcher, Abbott's workouts weren't as intensive as Griffin's. He mostly did enough work with his right arm just to ensure he stayed physiologically balanced and didn't overdevelop the left side of his body.

"I have tried to put myself in his shoes and try to imagine playing linebacker or safety," Abbott said. "It's just a matter of doing things a little differently. Just being creative and finding ways to adjust and adapt to what's being called for. It's still amazing. The athleticism to go up against the very best of the best is really cool."

Abbott did just that himself on the mound for a decade and is now using his experience to inspire others as a motivational speaker. He was in Florida on Wednesday, preparing to give a speech to a company that had brought him in to address its employees.

"I'm really proud of my career, to be honest," he said. "It had its share of ups and downs. I just try to pass what I took away from my playing days on to other folks in other occupations. The idea of just how much is possible in this world, like Shaquem is proving.

"Despite other people's expectations, despite the circumstances you might face in your life, there's so much that is possible. That's the message I try to convey."

Much as Abbott has inspired others, he's drawing inspiration from Griffin, to whom he sent this tweet on Saturday: "You can see the determination in every step. Way to go @ShaquemGriffin."

Abbott and Griffin have never met or spoken, though Abbott is hoping to make that happen soon.

"I know one thing, he's a helluva lot tougher than I ever was," Abbott said. "I just admire his determination. I admire his willingness to go out there on the football field and go up against tremendously talented, athletic, huge people. And there's no fear there.

"He's earning every bit of it. There's no doubt about that."

Follow Mike Garafolo on Twitter @MikeGarafolo.

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