Baseball star excels despite complete deafness

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

In Highland (N.J.) High's rise to baseball prominence, a number of factors had to go the team's way. Among them was the emergence of a loaded senior class, with a handful of stars who provided leadership for the rest of the team to follow.

Highlands deaf baseball star Pierce Phillips
Highlands deaf baseball star Pierce Phillips

Of all those seniors, the best hitter may be Pierce Phillips, a standout second baseman who holds the school record for hits in a season and has a knack for both flexing significant power and an ability to make contact in tight counts. There's also something else that makes Phillips different than the rest of his team: He's completely deaf.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Phillips has overcome a lifetime without the ability to hear pop fly calls, cheers from fans or celebratory exclamations from teammates to emerge as one of the best players in the greater Philadelphia region. Phillips uses an interpreter to help him communicate with teammates in the dugout, and his Highland teammates have also pitched in to learn some sign language to help communicate with Phillips himself.

For their part, the Phillips family insisted that Phillips can compete on an even level with any other player on the field.

"It's pretty much the same - no problems," Phillips told the Inquirer through his interpreter, Jeannette Walden.

"All he ever wanted was to be treated the same as everybody else," Phillips' father, Steve Phillips, told the Inquirer. "He never wanted his situation to be held against him, but he never wanted any special treatment, either."

The results certainly speak to Phillips' ability to compete just as well -- or maybe better -- than his prep baseball peers. In the 2010 regional playoffs, Phillips went 14-for-17 at the plate, including delivering a memorable walk-off home run shot.

In fact, the Inquirer reported that the moments after that homer may be more emblematic of Phillips' seamless incorporation into the Highlands team than any other. As the then-junior rounded the bases, his teammates raced out of the dugout waving their arms in a forward arching movement.

They were making the American Sign Language sign for home run.

"[It was] Priceless," Highland coach D.J. Gore told the Inquirer.

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