When Preston Hiles was born 17 years ago, his father, Larry, made a promise to Preston’s mother, April.
“I’m never going to stop him from doing anything,” Larry recalled saying. “And we haven’t.”
Preston was born with a deformed right arm, but that hasn’t slowed the Johnstown-Monroe High School junior in extracurricular activities.
He handled kickoff duties for the Division IV state semifinalist football team last fall and currently is a pitcher for the baseball team.
“I started baseball when I was 5 and I didn’t start pitching until I was 10,” he said. “I played first base before that. Everyone pitched on the team, so I started pitching as well.”
Preston winds up, throws to the plate and quickly takes the glove from his right arm. He then places it on his left hand to field.
He made his first start of the season March 31 in a 9-2 loss in the second game of a doubleheader at Heath. He surrendered nine runs, five earned, on 10 hits with two strikeouts and three walks in five innings.
“I have had plenty of people tell me that I couldn’t do a lot of things,” he said. “I have had several people tell me that I shouldn’t pitch because I could get hit by (a batted) ball, but all pitchers run that risk. They don’t believe that I can do things because of my arm.”
After his sophomore year, Preston and his family moved from the Centerburg school district because his father serves as pastor in the Johnstown Christian Church.
Johnstown coach Tony Cleveland said he’s glad to have Preston on the team.
“His attitude is great. He’s disciplined, and he works hard,” Cleveland said. “He’s gaining confidence as a pitcher, and he hits the ball better than a lot of people with two arms.
“I know he wanted to win (against Heath), but he had four errors behind him. He did a good job of pitching out of some jams, and I think this was good to build on.”
Preston said he initially holds the bat with two hands, but follows through on his swing with only his left arm.
“I think some people look at Preston and automatically limit what he’s able to do,” his father said. “In baseball, he has had a chance to pitch and he can hit as well. He just wants to be a kid playing baseball, not a kid with a disability.”
A few years ago, Preston got a boost from someone with a similar experience. Jim Abbott, who also had a deformed right arm, was an All-American at the University of Michigan and later pitched for four major league teams from 1989-99. A left-hander, he threw a no-hitter on Sept. 4, 1993, for the New York Yankees against Cleveland.
“(Abbott) called me at home and told me not to let people bring me down,” Preston said. “He said people had doubts about him at all levels, but he didn’t listen. He said that he couldn’t let it bring him down.”
Preston’s father takes great pride in what his son has accomplished.
“I remember coming home from a game once where Pres-ton had won the game and went 4-for-4 at the plate and I thought about just how amazing that was,” his father said. “I also couldn’t believe how much I took it for granted at times because I see him every day.
“I compare it to someone who lives by the ocean. They forget just how beautiful and amazing that the water can be because they see it every day. It’s that way with Preston. God has given me the opportunity to be around him all of the time and see all of the things he can do. And I’m blessed to have that opportunity.”