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Listening to his heart

April 16, 2007

The Portland Beavers’ Ryan Ketchner could become the major leagues’ first deaf pitcher since 1908

Monday, April 16, 2007
BRIAN MEEHAN

OregonLive.com, OR – When Ryan Ketchner takes the clay mound, the beloved sounds of baseball become elusive. The crack of the bat is a distant, muffled pop. The roar of the crowd sounds like a breeze through the palms in South Florida where he grew up. The national anthem becomes an exercise in lip-reading.

But all this is a sidebar to the makeup and mission of the Portland Beavers 24-year-old southpaw. Ketchner may be vying to become the first deaf pitcher in the major leagues since 1908, but he doesn’t focus on that. Ketchner is a trail blazer, but for him the path is the simple one he shares with 23 teammates in the Triple A clubhouse at PGE Park.

“He doesn’t talk about that at all,” his wife, Tana Ketchner, said about her husband’s historic quest as a hearing-impaired athlete. “He just talks about the big leagues. He just wants to play.”

Ketchner, who grew up in Palm Beach County, Fla., one of baseball’s most competitive wellsprings, has carried his big league dream since he emerged as a dominant pitcher at John I. Leonard High School. Ketchner, who has been 90 percent deaf since birth, never let the loss of hearing diminish his dream.

He will start today as the Beavers play the Fresno Grizzlies in an 11:05 a.m. game. When he takes the mound, Ketchner will be thinking about a minor change in his delivery, not the major adjustments he has made flawlessly to flourish in a hearing world.

“I think for Ryan baseball bridged the gap with other people,” said his father, Tim. “Ryan used the game to show them and himself that he was as good as they were — and in a lot of cases, better.”

When Ryan was 16 months old, Tim and Kim Ketchner became concerned that their son had not begun to speak. They took him to a pediatrician.

“The doctor said, ‘I don’t think he can hear,’ ” said Tim Ketchner, a firefighter in Sebring, Fla. Tests at a Miami hospital confirmed that Ryan had only a 10 percent hearing capability. The couple enrolled their son in a preschool program for hearing-impaired children. Ryan learned sign language and how to read lips and speak — however slow and laborious.

“It was hard on him to learn how to be vocal,” Tim Ketchner said. “But in the long run I think it worked out better for him.”

Ryan went to mainstream public schools and thrived with the help of an interpreter. He learned to deal with teasing classmates and turned to baseball as a leveler. His father said he took to the game intuitively, and made every all-star team from T-ball up.

By The Oregonian

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  1. Anonymous
    April 16, 2007 at 11:46 am

    I hope his dream comes true.

  2. Seek Geo
    April 16, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Wow, I had no idea there is any deaf ballplayers at this moment. That is so awesome. I’m very happy for him!

    I grew up playing baseball for 7 years and I was awarded for MVP twice. But I had to give up my dream when I moved to deaf school because I was given two choices, one is to stay at school to play ball or goes to Australia as exchange student for one year. I figure since there weren’t any deaf baseball players since 1900’s so I assumed Major League won’t give Deaf players a chance.

    So I gave up my dream to go to Australia and never went back to playing since then.

    Did I regret? Sure but I’m still hoping to see a Deaf professional player to take the field one day.

    Thanks for sharing the article! Please keep us posted.

    -SG

  3. Stinky-Mountain-Man-Matt
    April 16, 2007 at 11:33 pm

    There was a Deaf pitcher for the Kansas City Royals. This was roughly ten years ago.
    However, he broke his wrist in one of the trainings and never formally pitched a professional game.

  4. April 17, 2007 at 12:28 am

    Nice blog!

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