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Courtesy Natalee Righetti -- The Righetti triplets in an undated family photos. From left to right are Nicolette, Wesley and Natalee. Natalee Righetti has recently published a book detailing growing up as a triplet, her struggles with cerebral palsy and her family life as the child of a Major League Baseball player, Dave Righetti.

When Natalee Righetti decided to write a book about her life, she set about the project the same way she does everything: just a little differently.

She typed one-handed on her laptop.

The result was the aptly titled autobiography "Beautifully Different" where Natalee, the daughter of Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti, describes growing up one of triplets whose premature births resulted in health complications for each of them -- including the cerebral palsy that caused permanent muscle weakness throughout the left side of her body.

"I never really wished that I had two good hands or two good legs," said Natalee, 21. "The way we came into the world was such a special thing, and it was amazing that we were even alive. Even if life can be full of challenges, I wasn't going to let my disability prevent me from doing what I want."

That includes writing a book that she hopes will inspire other young people. It also offers a glimpse into the private family life of one of the Bay Area's most recognizable sports figures. Dave and his wife, Kandice, long preferred to raise Natalee, Nicolette and Wes out of the spotlight so the children's lives could be as normal as possible.

But now they're proud that the story has been told by someone who knows it best -- the child who has overcome the most.

"She really brought our life together but wrote it through her eyes," Dave said. "There have been people over the years, like sports writers, who wanted to talk about these things, and I really never have. But to have her do it is just really special. It's certainly not easy putting her life out there the way she has."


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There's a reason why Kandice calls them "our miracle kids."

The slim, self-published volume tells of how -- because their mother could not carry children -- they were conceived through in vitro fertilization with Kandice's sister serving as the surrogate. Born at just 27 weeks and each weighing less than 3 pounds, they wouldn't leave the hospital for two months and then embarked on a childhood filled with doctors, therapists and procedures.

Natalee, who was born with hydrocephalus, or fluid in the brain, endured the worst. The resulting brain damage caused the partial disability on her left side, including limited use of her arm. She took her first steps with a tiny walker and had epileptic seizures as well as five surgeries.

Nicolette lost her hearing after an allergic reaction to a medication at age 1 and would attend the Jean Weingarten Peninsula Oral School for the Deaf until she was 9. She had two cochlear implant operations that now provide 80 percent of normal hearing. While Wes needed eye surgeries, he has dealt more with learning issues.

Dave, who during his 16-year career threw a no-hitter as a Yankees pitcher and also saved 46 games in one season, occasionally talked publicly about the triplets' health problems when they were very young. But by the time his playing days were winding down, the well-liked local sports figure known as "Rags" had stopped doing interviews about them so they wouldn't be on public display.

What fans never saw was how hard it was on the stoic baseball man and his wife.

"There were a lot of restless nights and long drives to the ballpark," said Dave, a San Jose native who became the Giants pitching coach in 2000. "It seemed like every month there was some new trouble. I tried to be strong and tough for my family, but looking back, it just wears you down when you see your kids like that. But I know it was toughest on them."

Natalee fills in details as she writes with a raw honesty about growing up in Los Altos, determined not to be left out of the things all the other kids were doing. There were years of difficult physical therapy sessions and, in some ways, even more painful emotional moments of struggling to find acceptance.

"There was a time when I was very self-conscious about getting looks," said Natalee, who today wears a constant smile and seems perfectly at ease with herself. "One time a softball coach from another team was watching me play and said: 'You know it's easier using two hands.' I just said: 'For me, not so much.' "

A mature response for someone who was about 11 at the time, playing on a Bobby Sox team with her sister. Their father taught Natalee to play like Jim Abbott, the former major-league pitcher who because he had only one hand would catch the ball and then quickly take off his glove so he could throw it. She also played volleyball until her sophomore year of high school by bumping the ball with one arm and developing a knack at serving.

"What I've learned is it's important to do whatever you want and not be worried about not being good enough," said Natalee, who organized a Disability Awareness Day while attending Mountain View High School. "There's always a way around challenges if you look for them."

It helps when your siblings have your back. At a photo shoot in the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve last week, it was evident how the three -- now junior college students -- look out for one another. Wes made sure Natalee kept her balance as they walked down a tricky dirt path. Natalee, in turn, was repeating questions for Nicolette just in case she didn't hear them.

"It's not like we thought about it while growing up, but in a way we've always been in this together," said Wes, a music technology major who plays guitar and sings. "We were all connected in that we tried to understand what the other ones were going through."

That was especially the case for the sisters.

"It took a lot of training just to speak," said Nicolette, who has gravitated toward dance. "Because we both had to work so hard, we're always talking about how to handle things."

Doing everything one-handed has taken a toll on Natalee's good shoulder, forearm and hand -- making it difficult for her to drive. But for someone who describes herself as a "differently abled person," it's just something else to overcome.

"Everyone has challenges," she said. "But I think for kids with disabilities, it's really important to know that they're not alone in whatever they're going through."

Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.

Natalee Righetti
Age: 21
School: Foothill College
Favorite movies: Romances such as "The Notebook" as well as such baseball films as "The Sandlot" and "Field of Dreams"
Favorite saying: "Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens." (Kahlil Gibran)
Favorite team: Giants (of course)