- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2018

Curtis Pride stood in the third-base coaches’ box, giving pointers to Gallaudet University baserunner Yebi Areola in the last of the third inning in a recent college baseball game in northeast Washington.

A few pitches later Areola sprinted to home after a teammate hit an infield grounder against Keuka, a New York school. But Areola ran into the catcher, was called out and ejected by home plate umpire Roger Wolfe due to “malicious contact.”

It’s one of the unique challenges for Curtis Pride, 49, the former big league outfielder from Silver Spring in his 10th year as the head coach at Division III Gallaudet.

Pride, who certainly didn’t advise such a maneuver on the bases, pointed out that Areola is a freshman who may not have been familiar with the rules. “You can’t run over the catcher,” Pride said.

Other challenges at Gallaudet, the only university in the country for the deaf and hard of hearing, include fostering communication between infielders and outfielders.

And when it comes to finding athletes, Pride points out there are only so many deaf and hard-of-hearing high school baseball players in the country.

“The biggest challenge is recruiting,” said Pride, who was born deaf but reads lips very well. “I probably have the most difficult job of college coaches for recruiting. I recruit deaf or hard-of-hearing players. There are not that many out there. Once I get the player I have to develop the skill to get them up to the college level.”

But Gallaudet, while 4-28-1 overall through April 28, has had its share of success under Pride.

The Bison won a school-record 27 games and were regular-season co-champs in the NEAC four years ago. Three of his former players appeared in professional independent leagues, and five have played in the Maryland-based Cal Ripken Collegiate League.

And perhaps, more importantly, Pride, who became an ambassador for inclusion with Major League Baseball in 2016, continues to be a role model for many of his student-athletes.

“A lot of kids look up to me,” said Pride, sitting in his office recently. “I want to be able to help them and share my experience with them.”

All of his current players are either deaf or hard of hearing.

“When I was growing up as a kid I remember seeing coach Pride playing on TV with the Angels,” senior center fielder Kyle Gumm of Texas wrote in an e-mail. “My father explained to me that coach Pride was deaf. Later on in high school, I found out coach Pride was coaching at Gallaudet and I was thinking about coming here. It has been a great experience that coach Pride has been able to coach me.”

Dylan Hayes, a senior pitcher/utility player from New York, welcomed the chance to play for Pride.

“It was tough at times but there were a lot of good lessons to learn,” he wrote. “He pushed us to be better players and we developed quicker (maturity wise) because of his coaching. We were also more responsible as students. We stayed focused and learned so much about baseball and life from him. Looking back on the past four years, he was the best coach I have ever had. He made sure we [the team] were good people making the right decisions and doing the right things.”

So does Hayes consider Pride a role model?

“Absolutely. One of the main reasons is his own life story. Coming up as deaf he knew the obstacles he had to overcome. So he has instilled in us to believe you can achieve anything,” Hayes wrote.

Pride didn’t plan to stay at Gallaudet for a decade.

He figured he would stay a few years and then get another job in baseball, perhaps as a minor league coach or manager.

But he continues to split his time between the Washington area and his home in Florida, where he lives with his wife Lisa, a TV sports reporter, son and daughter. Pride figures he spends about half of the year with his parents, who now live at Leisure World in Silver Spring, while working at Gallaudet.

“It’s a tough balance,” he said of commuting. “My family is my No. 1 priority. My wife loves Florida.”

Pride has a photo in his office of meeting President Obama at the White House, and the Gallaudet coach made several trips there during the Obama administration. He said his father, John, a member of the athletic Hall of Fame at Capital University in Ohio, watches CNN “all of the time.”

Pride was a mainstream student at Kennedy High in Silver Spring and was a baseball and basketball standout at Division I William & Mary. He played in the majors from 1993 to 2006, hitting .250 in 421 games.

He is one of the few deaf players to make the majors. The field at Gallaudet is named for one of them: Dummy Hoy, a native of Ohio who broke into the big leagues with the Washington Nationals in 1888 and stole 596 bases in his career.

Pride has a book about Hoy in his office and would like to see Hoy gain Hall of Fame status. That is one of his many causes, including being a role model for his players.

“I want to help them understand what it means to be a productive member of society,” Pride said.

 

THE CURTIS PRIDE FILE

Title: head baseball coach, Gallaudet University

Birthplace: Washington

Hometown: Silver Spring

College: William & Mary

Family: wife Lisa, son and daughter

Did you know? He became one of the few deaf players to make the majors, as he played in 421 games as an outfielder from 1993 to 2006 … He played for the Montreal Expos in 1993, 1995 and 2001. The Expos moved to Washington prior to the 2005 season … Pride was named an Ambassador for Inclusion in 2016 by Major League Baseball. An African-American, he would like to see more minorities get a chance to manage or work in the front office for big league teams. “We still have a ways to go. We have to keep pushing for more diversity and inclusion,” he said.

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