Former Tiger Pride was one of few deaf players to make it in big leagues

Curtis Pride won a spot with the Detroit Tigers in spring training in 1996 and hit .300 for the team that season.

When Curtis Pride did something special on the baseball field he knew the fans were happy because the could feel the ballpark rumbling. He could never really hear the cheers.

Pride was deaf from birth due to the rubella virus. As a child he worked hard at his verbal skills and did well in school. He was also a skilled athlete, especially at basketball and soccer. In college at William & Mary, Pride was the starting point guard. He played for the United States at the FIFA U-16 World Championship in China in 1985, where he scored the winning goal. In 1986, Parade Magazine named him a High School All American in soccer. At 17 years old, Pride was drafted in the 10th round of the 1986 draft by the New York Mets. A fast runner, Pride also had a very strong throwing arm. He never made it to the majors with the Mets, but was in the Montreal organization in 1993 when he was called up to The Show.

When he debuted with the Expos, Pride became one of the few deaf players to appear in the major leagues. Because of his tremendous communication skills (Pride had 5% residual hearing which allowed him to speak effectively, and he was an excellent lip reader), Pride was very capable on the diamond. He played left field for the Expos in 10 games late in ’93. On September 30, he hit a ninth-inning, pinch-hit, two-run homer to win a game for the Expos on Miami. After the 1995 season Pride was a free agent and signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers.

In Detroit, Pride blossomed in his first chance to play regularly in the majors. In 1996 playing under Buddy Bell, Pride hit .300 in 95 games and showed some pop – hitting 10 homers while swiping 11 bases. He was a shining spot in an otherwise dismal season (109 losses for the team). That season, Pride received the Tony Conigliaro Award, given annually to the MLB player who “best overcomes adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage.”

He was back with the Tigers in ’97, but struggled and was given his release in August. The Red Sox snatched him up and in Pride’s first at-bat with his new club, he hit a pinch-hit homer at Fenway Park. It was one of the finest moments of his career. As he rounded the bases, Pride could see the thunderous applause he was receiving, and having it come from such great fans made him feel wonderful.

Unfortunately, the Red Sox let him go after the season, and Pride bounced around after that: from Atlanta, back to the Red Sox, back again to Montreal and the Mets, to the Dodgers and Pirates, then to the Yankees and finally the Angels for three seasons to end his major league career. With the Halos in 2004, Pride achieved a longtime goal to play on the post-season, appearing in one game in the Angels series against the Red Sox. But he wasn’t done playing the game he loved – he made a career as a minor leaguer.

In all, Pride played 23 seasons in professional baseball, finally retiring after the 2008 season in the Independent League. He played for nine organizations, appearing in 421 major league games, and more than 1,400 minor league games. Pride hit 153 homers in the minors and stole more than 300 bases and scored more than 900 runs at that level.

He continued to be associated with the game after retiring as a player, and in 2008 he accepted the head coaching job at Gallaudet University, a federally chartered university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing located in Washington, D.C. It was the first school for the advanced education of the deaf and hard of hearing in the world, and is still the only higher education institution in which all programs and services are specifically designed to accommodate Deaf and hard of hearing students. Though athletics at the school have rarely ever been successful, Pride has worked hard to field a competitive team at Gallaudet.

It would be difficult to find an athlete who achieved as much as Pride did while being what society calls “handicapped”. But of course, Pride isn’t handicapped at all. He’s just faced with unique challenges. And Pride never let those challenges discourage him.

In 2010, Pride was appointed to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition by President Barack Obama.

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