Take Me Out to the Ball Game
Baseball is no stranger to special events and promotions during games, but American Minor League Baseball team the Rochester Red Wings have raised the bar with an upcoming match against the Pawtucket Red Sox.
The Red Wings have teamed up with the Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) and the Rochester School for the Deaf (RSD) to make 28 April Deaf Culture Day.
Red Wings players will wear special jerseys and caps, featuring the team name spelled out in American Sign Language (ASL). Sign Language Interpreters will be positioned all around the ground, the national anthem will be interpreted, and a videoboard display will feature a NTID staff member teaching baseball-related signs to the crowd.
During the game, portions of the game will be captioned, and special visual presentations will highlight Deaf individuals who have made a significant impact in society. Students, faculty and staff from NTID and RSD receive discounted tickets, and the ASL jerseys will be auctioned off after the game with proceeds benefiting both organisations.
Pictured (At Back, left to right): Rochester School for the Deaf Superintendent Antony McLetche; NTID President Gerry Buckley, Rochester Red Wings President, CEO & COO Naomi Silver, Red Wings General Manager Dan Mason; (At Front, left to right): RIT Mascot Ritchie the Tiger and Red Wings Mascot Spikes
Deaf Culture Day was the brainchild of Sean “Skip Flanagan”, NTID alumni and now Coordinator of Athlete Development at the college, and follows on from Deaf Culture Nights developed in partnership with the Pawtucket Red Sox for the past three years.
“Baseball has been a mainstay in my life since day one,” Skips says. “I grew up playing baseball, and was fortunate to have the opportunity to play baseball here at RIT, as well as the independent leagues up in Maine. The sport has dictated a large part of my life and has helped me get to this point.”
Pictured: NTID Athelete Development Coordinator Sean "Skip" Flanagan
NTID President Gerry Buckley says he is “thrilled” to have the support of the Red Wings, describing Deaf Culture Day as a chance for everyone to connect, and hopes it will become a yearly tradition.
“It’s a celebration of the diversity of this community and all that we have in common,” he says. “So often we read stories of the divisions in neighbourhoods and communities, but this day will help to remind us that there is more that brings us together than divides us,” he says.
Rochester has a rich and diverse Deaf and hard of hearing community that dates back to the opening of the School of the Deaf in 1876 and today has America's highest Deaf population per capita, due in no small part to the establishment of NTID as an RIT college, the first and largest technological college in the world for Deaf and hard of hearing students.
Pictured: NTID President Gerry Buckly with the Redwings ASL Cap and Jersey
For Red Wings General Manager Dan Mason, the idea of embracing a special event celebrating Deaf Culture made perfect sense.
“Given our very large Deaf population in Rochester we thought it would be a big hit with the community,” he says. “Indeed, it has turned out to be a big hit!”
Dan says it was important from the start to make sure he listened to the Deaf community to ensure the messaging, purpose and planning of the event was authentic and respectful to Deaf culture. A steering committee was formed featuring senior staff from RSD and NTID, along with the son of Deaf education pioneer (and longtime Red Wings season seatholder) Robert Panara.
“We wanted to be sure we promoted this event in the proper way and made it as much fun for the members of the Rochester Deaf community as possible,” Dan explains.
Pictured: Frontier Field, which will host Deaf Culture Day on 28 April
Dan says one consideration was how to effectively educate hearing fans as to what it would be like to attend a game with hearing loss.
“The 7th inning of the match will be a ‘signing inning’” he says, “with no music and no public address announcements.”
The songs Take Me Out to the Ball Game and God Bless America—traditionally sung during a break during the 7th inning called “the 7th inning stretch”—will instead be performed in ASL by RSD students.
It should be noted that these considerations for the Deaf community are not a huge departure for the Red Wings, who already feature interpreters during every match for announcements and the national anthem.
Pictured: A close up of the ASL Cap and Jersey which will be worn by Red Wings Players
The idea of embracing Deaf Culture in sport is moving slowly but surely. The Pawtucket Red Sox will host the Red Wings and return the favour on 7 June, with a Deaf Awareness Night planned, featuring many similar activities, and Major League Baseball Team the Washington Nationals held a Deaf Awareness Night on 26 April including the production of a special ASL shirt.
“We’re seeing an expansion of varying initiatives across different organisations and different sports,” Skip says. “I have been in talks with some professional organisations on possibly growing more events like this. It takes a village!”
If you're up early, you can watch the Deaf Culture Day match live at MILB.TV or RedWingsBaseball.com from 3:05am (AEST) Monday 29 April!