There aren’t many differences between hearing and deaf athletes playing baseball. The sport already has an extensive sign-language built in (catchers signaling to pitchers; base coaches signing to batters). But like many things in our complex society, hard-of-hearing people still face added obstacles, even in baseball, thanks to stigmas.
Not many people know this more than Curtis Pride. As a young man, Pride was initially told he couldn’t play in a community-club league because he was deaf, but eventually was allowed to join. Good thing. He went on to play 11 seasons in the Major Leagues, one of just a handful of deaf athletes to play professional baseball.
- CP photo by Luke Thor Travis
And on May 12, Pride joined the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in hosting a baseball and softball camp for deaf and hard-of-hearing kids to refine their baseball skills and remind them that becoming a professional athlete is not out of reach.
“I want these kids to learn that they can do anything,” Pride told City Paper during the camp. “Build up their self-confidence.”
- Image courtesy of Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf
- Basic signs in American Sign Language
Traveling youth-baseball coach Kevin Giza started the Perfect Pitch camp seven years ago. He was inspired to do so thanks to his aunt and uncle, who are deaf. More than 60 young athletes got to throw, hit and run in the outfield of PNC Park during this year’s camp. Giza said giving the kids a chance to play on the field is about inspiring them. He says many of the kids already have substantial baseball skills, and the camp is “a small way to give these kids a voice.”
Training deaf ballplayers is less challenging than people might think. During the camp, Pride helped refine players’ swings by gesturing to keep their hips aligned and shoulders square: classic baseball fundamentals. The only difference was that the few times he had to use words, he signed them.
Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf senior Nick Bertone said he was ecstatic to participate in the camp to learn more about baseball, which is his favorite sport. “This is my passion,” he said. “I am not gonna give up on playing. … This teaches us that we can do anything.”
Fourteen-year-old Olivia Larson said she hopes the camp can hone her skills and give her the confidence to pursue playing college softball. “I am hoping this will help to get a college to look at me,” she said.
This is exactly the message Pride wants the deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes to take away. Even though there aren’t many traditional avenues for players with disabilities to make it in pro sports, that doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t try.