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WooSox Host Deaf And Hard Of Hearing Awareness Night

Jarren Duran (Courtesy Woosox

WORCESTER, Mass.—The Worcester Red Sox hosted Deaf and Hard of Hearing Awareness Night at Polar Park on April 29. The WooSox partnered with local charities as they carried on the tradition of Deaf Awareness Night dating back to their time in Pawtucket. The team donned jerseys with WooSox spelled in sign language that were auctioned off following the contest. The team brought in a sign language interpreter to sign the national anthem, and the nightly Fan In The Booth, where one fan announces each player that bats in that inning, was done via sign language.

Baseball has a long history of signing, and it’s become as commonplace as any element of the game. Unspoken cues and signs are common throughout a nine-inning game, from the umpire’s signals of balls and strikes to the signs used by catchers or base coaches. The concept of signing is a familiar one in the game. Signing in baseball has its origins with a hearing impaired player by the name of William Ellsworth Hoy.

Playing for a professional club based out of Oshkosh, Wisc., Hoy is often credited as the originator of hand signals in baseball as a way for umpires and coaches to signal ball and strike calls while Hoy was at the plate. Though the claim has been disputed, as a number of umpires and players lay claim as the originators of signals and signs, there’s evidence that signals were used to communicate ball-strike counts to Hoy while he was an active player. Hoy played in the major leagues for the White Sox, Reds and Browns around the turn of the century alongside Hall of Famers like Connie Mack, Ty Cobb and others.

Hoy is not the only deaf major league player in history. Curtis Pride enjoyed a 10-year major league career with seven different major league teams from 1993-2003.

WooSox assistant general manager Brooke Cooper organized the event and spoke about the team’s tradition of having a deaf awareness night dating back to the club’s time in Pawtucket.

“We did deaf awareness night in Pawtucket, we worked with the Rhode Island School for the Deaf and some of our sponsors have ties with Rochester Institute of Technology and the National Institute for the Deaf,” Cooper said. “We brought it over to Worcester and we weren't really sure if it was something that would resonate here. We quickly found that it does resonate here.”

Over 400 people purchased tickets through a special Deaf and Hard Of Hearing package, while many others were there for that specific reason even if tickets weren’t purchased through the specific promotional package.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing awareness is a topic that resonates with my family first hand. My oldest son, Bennett, was diagnosed with mildly severe hearing loss at the age of 5. He wears hearing aids in his daily life, and we as a family have experienced the benefit of organizations like the Learning Center For The Deaf in Framingham, Mass.

Bennett, an avid baseball fan, ballpark nacho aficionado and Little League player, accompanied me to the game. His story is familiar to many children who deal with hearing loss at a young age. There was a delay in speech and an accentuation of other senses, particularly sight. Over the first few years of his life his hearing loss wasn’t identifiable. He passed multiple hearing exams and could hear enough to react to vocal cues and loud noises. What we didn’t know was his range of hearing was limited to very high and very low sounds. A majority of mid-range sounds were unintelligible to him, and most speech registers in that mid-range of sound.

A defining moment in my life as a parent was walking out of the Learning Center for the Deaf on a June afternoon in 2016 when Bennett received his first set of hearing aids. As we walked to our car in the parking lot with his hand in mine, he looked up at me and said “Daddy, I can hear the cars!”

This was the first time in his life that he heard the ambient noise of tires on a road.

That put in perspective the sounds and noises he never heard before that many of us take for granted. Since that day, Bennett has excelled in school and socially. He plays a variety of sports including baseball, football and basketball and enjoys video games and riding his bike with his friends.

Despite his disability, he is not defined by his hearing loss. He is, however, a living example of what these sorts of awareness nights at sporting events provide: a glimmer of insight and reminder of the tremendous abilities many deaf and hard of hearing people possess.

The support for Deaf and Hard of Hearing causes is exemplified by the interest and popularity of the club’s special Deaf Awareness jerseys.

“We've seen in releasing the jerseys online just the organic interest,” Cooper said. “The team’s shirts got a wide variety of coverage locally and nationally and the club produced T-shirts with the sign language logo on it.

“It's so important to us as we care deeply about being an inclusive ballpark. And, really, I think that's a reflection of Worcester, who really prides itself on its diversity and being an inclusive city."

The newly built Polar Park, opened in 2021, was created with a variety of fans in mind. The facility features designated areas for fans who experience different sensory challenges.

“We have our sensory friendly room and fan services, which is a quiet private area for families and children who might have sensory sensitivities,” Cooper said. “Tomorrow, we'll celebrate Autism Acceptance Month here at the ballpark. We'll have an additional autism affinity area in one of our suites and will really highlight the autism community in our pregame ceremonies. In terms of other inclusive characteristics at Polar, we also made our first 'peanut free zone', because there are a lot of families who have children with peanut allergies. Those families can't always experience the game the same way other families can. That as a parent (myself) breaks my heart and we want everyone to be able to come to the ballpark and have a good time.”

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