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Never mind that Montreal Expo general manager Dan Duquette says Triple A prospect Curtis Pride has a "chance to play every day in the big leagues." No matter what the G.M. says, Pride knows he will never hear his name announced at a big league ballpark and will never hear the roar of the crowd at Olympic Stadium...or anywhere else, for that matter. "One big advantage to being deaf is that I don't hear opposing fans boo me," says Pride with a sly smile.
Which is good, because Pride has given them plenty to jeer about this year. Before being called up to the Ottawa Lynx on June 21, he hit .356 with 15 home runs, 39 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 50 games for Double A Harrisburg. Through 14 games with the Lynx, Pride, a lefthanded leadoff hitter, batted .296, with five stolen bases in seven attempts.
Born 95% deaf, Pride, 24, asks only that he be treated like everyone else. In seventh grade he insisted on attending a neighborhood school in Silver Spring, Md., rather than one with special programs for the hearing-impaired. Pride graduated from John F. Kennedy High with a 3.6 grade point average and starred in three sports. As a striker on the JFK soccer team, he earned Parade All-America honors; as a point guard on the basketball team, he was offered a full scholarship to William & Mary; and as an outfielder on the baseball team, he was drafted by the New York Mets in the 10th round of the 1986 free-agent amateur draft.
Pride accepted the scholarship to William & Mary, where he started at point guard and graduated with a degree in finance. Each summer between 1986 and '90 he also played in the Met farm system. But after seven years—in which he batted .247—Pride was released by New York after the '92 season. The Expos signed him last December.
"With Curtis as our centerfielder, it might sound kind of scary that we have a guy directing traffic out there who can't hear," says Ottawa manager Mike Quade. "It hasn't been a factor, though." Pride never learned to sign, but extensive speech training has enabled him to articulate with remarkable clarity.
While other outfielders get a jump on a fly ball by listening to the crack of the bat, Pride relies on his eyesight. Last winter he underwent vision training to improve his speed of recognition. "I can tell how hard a ball is hit by the angle it comes off the bat," he says. "If I misjudge the ball, I have my foot speed to make up for it."
Because Pride could probably read a bad ventriloquist's lips from across a crowded room, discerning what an opposing manager says to his pitcher during a conference on the mound hasn't been much of a challenge. Does he obtain useful information about what the pitcher is going to throw next? Hardly. It seems that the advice most managers dish out runs along the lines of "Don't throw him anything good." So much for an extrasensory advantage.
As the only deaf person known to be playing pro baseball, Pride says he would like to be a role model for kids with hearing disabilities—but he already is: In the off-season he teaches special education in the Montgomery County (Md.) school system. Last winter Pride kept in shape by playing basketball with members of the Baltimore Orioles. "The toughest guys on the court," says Pride, "are Cal Ripken, Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina. They say I bring up the level of play, make them play harder."
When asked what his fellow gym rats thought about his abilities on a baseball field, Pride replies, "They haven't seen me play." Oh, but they will, if he continues at his current pace.