Think of all the sounds you hear at a baseball game. The vendors, the organ, the crack of the bat hitting the ball, the crowd cheering or booing. Now imagine if you could not hear any of that, as you tried to play the game and were also not able to hear the action. Yes we hear action when we play this game, like “ get back, slide, go, stop, run or I got it!”, the list goes on and on.
Hearing impaired athletes play individual sports, like golf and tennis. I was wondering, how do they play a team sport?
I recently sat down with Wendy Ehrhardt, a Nationally American Sign Language Interpreter (ASL), to get an understanding of just how they do it. Wendy works with hearing impaired kids who play baseball, basketball, wrestling and football and tells me they get no special treatment.
With baseball she said, they communicate when on the bases just like everyone else, with signs from the coaches. Also teammates will learn signing and that helps everyone. Not being allowed to use any hearing devices on the field, because of the possibility of injury from contact, makes it that more difficult to play.
Baseball lead the way with the signing of pitcher Ed Dundon in 1883, the first deaf player to play in the major leagues. But the most successful was centerfielder William “Dummy” Hoy who played from 1886 to mid 1902.
Hoy was given credit for creating the hand signals that umpires use to distinguish strikes, balls, safe, out, fair, foul, etc. The nick name “Dummy” was common back then and even though we are more aware of the insensitivity of that, people use offensive terms to describe people with disabilities to this day. This past year, we even saw a person running for president mock the disabled. Shame, shame.
In Baseball, playing the outfield is the hardest position for a hearing impaired player, presenting numerous challenges. In recent years, another centerfielder who played in the major leagues, was Curtis Pride. He signed with the Mets as a 17 year old in 1986 and played pro ball at all levels until the age of 39 in 2008. One of the things he did, was to concentrate on his vision to compensate for his deafness. Having to go on the sight of the ball hitting the bat instead of it’s sound.
The bottom line in evaluating a player will always be, “CAN HE PLAY”? Curtis Pride is a good example of that. His determination and drive to overcome his disability, resulted in a long productive career in baseball. People need to look past a person’s disability, someone who is different in anyway from the “normal us” and see the true potential in an individual.