Making themselves heard Softball: The Silent Oriole Club, one of two all-deaf women's teams in Maryland, has qualified to play for the National Softball Association of the Deaf national championship starting today in Minneapolis.

September 18, 1997|By Brant James | Brant James,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Barbra Seravalli is a real chatterbox at third base. The receiver of her high-speed transmission this particular morning is Debbie Perkins, who stands astride a trench of a batter's box, cap backward, flitting her aluminum bat across the makeshift plate.

Perkins has not had a good set of swings early in this Sunday batting practice, and Seravalli apparently has some clues as to why.

But the morning in South Baltimore's Carroll Park is silent, except for the low hum of downtown a mile distant on the !B horizon and the occasional windblown sounds of a boom box entertaining early picnickers.

Perkins sways her bat again with her left hand, her right firing a quick sign-language response back to the third baseman. Seravalli signs again, both players smile and the next pitch rockets off Perkins' bat and into center field, the aluminum ping especially striking against the quiet.

Neither Perkins nor any of her teammates on the Silent Oriole Club Women's Softball Team could hear how well she made contact. But they don't really have to. They know how well they play by watching, and this summer they've watched themselves earn the right to play for the National Softball Association of the Deaf national championship today through Saturday in Minneapolis.

"People don't realize that deaf people can do everything but hear," Seravalli said.

The all-deaf women's slow-pitch team is by no means a weekend recreational activity. Its players are quick to emphasize the Silent Oriole Club's competitive nature and success.

They blitzed a co-ed "non-deaf" league in Laurel this summer, going 16-2, and earned the right to travel to Minnesota by beating teams from Trenton, N.J., and Rochester, N.Y., for the Eastern Athletic Association of the Deaf championship.

Team manager Steve Williamson, who played on five national deaf champion men's teams, doesn't let the point of the team's success get lost on a newcomer.

Williamson, a postal worker in Southern Maryland for more than 20 years, keeps news clippings and a car trunk full of trophies as proof of its quality. It's apparent he isn't boasting, but simply showing the zeal of a man whose team has accomplished much in obscurity.

The publicity is not the thing; it's the recognition of accomplishments.

"I've loved softball for a long time," said Williamson, who, like many of the players, can read lips. "I played from 1967 to 1992, and it made me happy to be able to start coaching. I coached women for four years, and three times we were regional champion. That's what I get out of it. That's why I love it."

His passion for the Silent Oriole Club is shared by his players, several of whom live in the area just to be able to play on the team.

About half of the players either graduated from or attend Gallaudet University in Washington after playing softball in high school. Several of them, including Seravalli, joined the Baltimore team when a Washington-area all-deaf squad folded two years ago because of financial problems. (Maryland still has one other all-deaf team, in Montgomery County.)

Perkins, a pitcher, moved from Chicago and began playing for area deaf teams 19 years ago. She, Seravalli and catcher Beth Hortie have played together on various teams for a decade.

"We've had to move around some because of teams having money problems," Hortie said.

For Seravalli, the team's importance goes beyond success on the field.

"It's important for the deaf community to have sports, a tournament like the one in Minnesota," she said. But, she adds, "We're ready. We're experienced. We think we can win it."

Softball is well-suited to deaf athletes. A disciplined team can function well in silence. The Silent Orioles overcome one of the stickiest, and most dangerous, problems with simple hand gestures.

"If two people are chasing a fly ball, the player who wants it just waves her hands," Seravalli said. "When you're deaf, your other senses get better, so we have better vision to see the other person."

The Silent Oriole Club, Inc., which sponsors the team, has been in Baltimore since 1921, when a city policeman informed a group of deaf men they could not stand along the sidewalks all day.

The 12 men formed the club, now the oldest of its kind in the country, and found a hall for their activities with the help of the policeman. Nearly 76 years and several location changes later, the club is located on East Preston Street, and boasts 150 members.

Williamson brings his team off the field this Sunday morning for a brief, mid-practice discussion of the coming trip. His message is well-received, and the players wiggle their fingers in group applause.

The pinging of aluminum begins again, mingled with the sound of a new song on the radio, the growing hum of the city and, otherwise, silence.

Pub Date: 9/18/97

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