How a Deaf Player Changed Baseball and Softball

Major League Baseball is back in full swing following this past week’s All Star Game, Home Run Derby and the recent completion of the women’s World Cup of Softball tournament. Given these recent events, it is time to give recognition to the many deaf athletes who participate in baseball and softball.

Like other sports, being deaf in softball or baseball poses challenges that athletes need to overcome in order to perform their best and get the most out of their abilities. Situations where being deaf can be problematic are when players need to call for a fly ball, listen for what base to throw the ball to or perhaps verbal cues that signify that a certain play, such as a pick-off attempt, is going to happen. When you see coaches giving the batter “signs,” essentially a series of hand motions that represent a certain play, this actually came about as a way to accommodate Edward Dundon. Dundon was the first deaf-mute in major league history and began his career with the Colombus Buckeyes in 1883. Since then, hand signals have become commonplace in baseball and softball.

Despite hand signals developing from a deaf player, there is still limited visibility when it comes to deaf leagues in softball, and even less in baseball. This is due in part to softball being both fastpitch and slowpitch, with more people participating in slowpitch softball. Baseball does not have the option of a slowpitch game, so it may be less popular among some deaf competitors. However, there are opportunities for deaf players, such as the competitive National Softball Association of the Deaf. This includes men’s, women’s, and coed softball teams as well as a tournament played August 8-10 this year in Columbia, Maryland. As for baseball, there aren’t as many opportunities, but there is the Hoy Baseball and Softball Tournament hosted annually by the Maryland School for the Deaf. This is a tournament held in honor of a deaf Major League Baseball player, William “Dummy” Hoy.

It is surprising how few deaf athletes participate in baseball and softball, given how important and prominent visual cues are in the game. Perhaps the reasons lie in the vastness of the field and how it affects the inevitable need to listen to what base to throw to, or who is going to catch a fly ball. I’ve played baseball for almost two decades and have encountered only a handful of times where my hearing loss affected my performance, such as not throwing to a base when I should’ve or being unaware that a runner was stealing. But the reality is, these things also happen to players with normal hearing.

For athletes who want to excel in baseball and softball, the best thing to do is talk to your coaches and teammates about your hearing loss. This may take some encouragement, but far more often than not, teammates and coaches will be respectful and accommodating because of the shared goal of success/succeeding. For coaches with deaf players, simply treating a deaf athlete with the same respect as other players is the best thing that can be done for a deaf athlete. Working out arrangements with teammates and coaches will certainly improve players’ chances at success in baseball and softball.

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