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American Annals of the Deaf

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Reflections: My Life in the Deaf and Hearing Worlds
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experience. My friend and I each had a new baseball for the players to autograph as we circled around the room, interrupting them while they were eating. I even had the chutzpah to ask one of the players—Wes Westrum, the catcher—what his name was because I couldn’t read his handwriting. Fortunately for me, I heard him mumble “Westrum” the first time and didn’t have to ask him to repeat it. The highlight of the morning came when we were ready to leave: Mays, the “Say Hey Kid” himself, emerged from the elevator in his slippers and signed the balls for us. Unfortunately, I have no idea where the autographed baseball is now—its value would probably support me in grand style in my retirement.

~*~*~*~*~

Following little league, there were basically two baseball options in Salt Lake. One was the so-called Cops League and the other was the Babe Ruth League. I don’t recall why one of the leagues was called Cops, but presumably the police department sponsored the program. Like many of my friends, I tried out for both leagues, fully expecting to be selected by a team in each league.

The tryouts for the Cops League occurred first. After they were over, there was a general meeting on the baseball field, and each team’s manager read the names of the boys who had been selected for their team. There were at least five or six teams. I was not selected on the first team, or the second, or the third . . . and I became puzzled. I found it hard to believe that they wouldn’t pick me; after all, I had led my little league in home runs the year before. Surely someone knew that! But after all the teams had been announced, there I was sitting on the bench, almost by myself. I couldn’t believe it. That was more than fifty years ago, and I still remember crying my eyes out as I slowly walked home (it was a long walk) and wondering what I was going to do next. In fact, I walked and stumbled right into my father’s office at our church, perhaps seeking some type of divine, or at least paternal, intervention.

So much for the Cops League; at least the Babe Ruth League was left. Lucky for me, I was selected for a team in the Babe Ruth League, a league that was obviously much better than the Cops. In fact, one of my friends who had been selected for teams in both leagues decided to join the team playing on a real baseball diamond. (The Cops League didn’t play on a full-size field.) I was not a star on my team as a thirteen-year-old, but I got some hits and some playing time in the outfield and at first base. I also lost some weight, something that the manager of the team strongly suggested I do.

My major league prospects took a turn for the worse the next year when I decided to spend the summer in Wisconsin, at the ramshack, playing golf and working around the huge yard (where I designed my own miniature golf course). I also had time to get some speech and lipreading therapy from Aunt Grace. I still thought I was a pretty good baseball player, however, and tried out for my high school team a year or so later, which proved to be Cops League déjà vu all over again (although I didn’t cry, at least not all the way home, this time).

I was surprised that I wasn’t chosen for the baseball team in high school. It is certainly possible that I was not as good as I thought I was and that the other guys were better. However, I think it is entirely possible that my hearing loss had something to do with it. Baseball is played on a big field, and with managers and coaches yelling instructions from one end to the other, it is certainly possible that I missed hearing their instructions. Moreover, there was no way I would have known that I had missed something. If, for example, they yelled at me to “hit the cut-off man” while I was in center field 250 feet away, and I threw it to the wrong base or over the guy’s head, the obvious conclusion was that I wasn’t paying attention or didn’t even know what a cut-off man was.

I must admit that I didn’t come up with this air-tight explanation until recently. At the time, in high school, it wasn’t cool to tell everyone that I was hard of hearing (not that it was particularly cool to make this an issue in elementary or junior high school, either). I had to tell the teachers, or at least give them a note from my parents, because I wanted to sit in the front, but otherwise I wasn’t eager to spread the word. I had been told by the ear, nose, and throat specialist that I had been seeing off and on since the encounter with the Christmas angel chime that a hearing aid would not be useful for me. I don’t know if that assessment was accurate for the type of hearing loss I had—I could hear lower frequencies fairly well but not the higher ones. However, because I wasn’t anxious to have an aid, I wasn’t about to argue with him. (I have what is called a sensorineural hearing loss, a term I didn’t know existed until much later; at the time, I was simply told I had “nerve deafness.”)

A few years ago I was reading Gina Oliva’s book, Alone in the Mainstream. Part of the book includes her account of her formative years as a deaf girl growing up in Connecticut. One thing Gina and I have in common is that we are both still quite active. (Gina was a physical education professor at Gallaudet until her retirement in 2009, and although my baseball-playing days are long gone, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to ride my bicycle—more on that later.) In her book, Gina describes the same kind of thing I recall experiencing as a frustrated adolescent baseball player: not getting chosen for a school team and wondering why, especially since she, like me, had usually been selected first for sports teams when she was younger. Gina attributed her exclusion, at least in part, to communication difficulties and perhaps missing something important along the way. Talk about the proverbial light bulb going on in my head! This must be at least part of the explanation for my truncated high school athletic career. What could I have done differently? Why didn’t I think of that explanation in high school and do something about it?

~*~*~*~*~

Questions like this have come up consistently throughout my life. Judging from the conversations I’ve had with other deaf and hard of hearing people as well as some of the memoirs they have written, these kinds of questions are fairly typical for those of us with a hearing loss. After mentioning a few more of my experiences, I will discuss some sociological concepts and insights that might help explain the reluctance to “do something” that many people experience when faced with ambiguous and frustrating communication situations. Although this reluctance is sometimes difficult to deal with, there are nevertheless some situations that can be structured or changed in ways to make communication easier and more rewarding.


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