A world of silence doesn't slow Pride Tigers' deaf outfielder has solid homecoming

Sidelight

June 06, 1996|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,SUN STAFF

It was special enough that Detroit Tigers outfielder Curtis Pride had two singles, reached base on an error, and scored three runs Tuesday in front of 300 friends and family.

But it was even more special considering he didn't hear their cheers.

Pride, 27, of Silver Spring, was born 95 percent deaf. He is the fifth deaf player in major-league history and the first since Cincinnati's Dick Sipek in 1945.

Pride said he aspires to be more than just the first deaf ballplayer in more than 50 years.

"I don't want to be known as Curtis Pride a deaf ballplayer," he said in the Tigers dugout before the game. "I want to be known as Curtis Pride, a good ballplayer."

He has been good so far, hitting .261 with three home runs and eight RBI overall and .316 (18-for-57) in his past 19 games.

Last night, playing in place of injured right fielder Melvin Nieves, Pride made his first start for the Tigers against a left-handed pitcher. He went 0-for-2 with an RBI groundout.

"He's a major-league player," Tigers third-base coach Terry Francona said. "He learns, he works hard, he's part of our ballclub."

It took the multitalented Pride parts of seven minor-league seasons before he got a major-league call-up.

A world-class soccer player, he played on the under-18 U.S. National team in 1985. From 1986 to 1990, he attended William and Mary on a basketball scholarship while spending his summers in the New York Mets organization. He graduated with a degree in finance.

"That was my proudest moment," Pride's father, John, said as he sat two rows behind the Tigers dugout. "He worked harder to get a degree than to be a major-leaguer."

Pride nearly quit baseball after hitting .227 with Double-A Binghamton in 1992, his last season with the Mets.

Pride hooked on with the Montreal Expos organization and by the end of 1993 was in the major leagues. On Sept. 17, 1993, he got his first major-league hit, a two-run double in front of a sellout crowd at Olympic Stadium.

The crowd gave Pride a five-minute standing ovation that he couldn't hear. He said his chest started vibrating from the noise. Third-base coach Jerry Manuel told Pride to tip his cap.

"It was probably the most special moment of my entire life," Pride said. "It's something I'll never forget. I get very emotional about it. I felt the crowd cheering for me."

After spending 1994 in the minors and playing 48 games with the Expos in 1995, Pride made the Tigers out of spring training and participated in the first major-league Opening Day of his career.

Francona and first-base coach Ron Oester use hand signals instead of yelling to Pride when he's on the base paths. Pride wears a hearing aid and reads lips but does not know sign language.

The toughest challenge is in the outfield, where the rule is if Pride calls for it, he gets it. Pride said he has never had a collision.

"You have to make some adjustments," Francona said. "It's not a perfect world. He overcomes those obstacles awfully well."

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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