by Stan Griffin, Deaf Friends International Special Contributor

There have only been a few deaf athletes who have been able to reach baseballís major leagues. The first (and so far the only) pitcher of that select group was Luther Haden "Dummy" Taylor who played for the New York Giants from 1900-1908.

On the horizon now is a young man who may possibly be the second. His name is Ryan Ketchner, and he is the property of the Seattle Mariners. Last year (2003), he pitched for the Class A California League Inland Empire 66ers based in San Bernadino. It was a successful year for the teamĖand for Ketchner. The 66ers were California League champions, and he was chosen the Most Valuable Player of the playoffs. During the season, he won 14 games, tying a club record. The teamís pitching staff led the league in Earned Run Average (ERA).

Class A is three steps away from the majors. The Mariners believe Ryanís "ETA in Seattle (estimated time of arrival) is 2005" and that he is " ... one of (their) most promising pitching prospects." He was a tenth-round draft pick by the Mariners in the 2000 amateur draft. He played on four minor league teams before arriving in San Bernadino. The previous season he played for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and was named their "Pitcher of the Year."

Ketchner is 21 years old, stands 6 feet 1 inch tall, and is a southpaw (throws left-handed). He wears two hearing aids, but they only help him "detect vibrations, not distinguish words." He is a very talented lipreader. Teammates are able to communicate with Ketchner, but they have to remember to "look at him when you talk." He is described as a "real chatterbox." Others say " ... he fits right in ..." playing cards and video games and "joining in jokes like everyone else."

Ryan was born on April 19, 1982 and grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida. He is the only member of his family who is deaf. At the age of 16 months, his parents (Kim and Tim) had him examined by a hearing specialist. Their suspicions were confirmed: Ryan was indeed deaf.

Ryan began playing baseball at the age of six, participating in T-Ball and Little League. Tim Ketchner said playing was a " ... (way) for him to get to know the other kids ... It was good to be part of a group ..."

Ryan played for John I. Leonard High School in Lake Worth and began pitching at age 13. During his years in high school, he met Curtis Pride who lived only 30 minutes from the Ketchners. Pride was the only deaf player in the modern era to reach the majors: he played for Montreal, Detroit, Boston, and spent part of last season in Yankee pinstripes. The two became friends and still communicate through e-mail. They even have the same agent. Ryan says, "I look up to him a lot." Curtis says, "Itís nice to be considered a role model for a lot of people like Ryan." Ketchner has visited the California School for the Deaf, and he hopes to be an inspiration to others, just as Pride is to him.

Ryan Ketchner took a " ... significant step toward the majors last summer ..." and his " ... heart and talent outweigh any absence of sound."

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