Undoubtedly there are challenges to being legally deaf. For Lee Thompson, there are also benefits. Namely, he does not have to listen to doubters.
Given that he turns 27 this week and still has a year of college eligibility remaining, there are plenty who seriously question whether he has any potential to become a professional baseball pitcher.
"Over the years I've kept trying to get somewhere professionally," Thompson says. "Sometimes they'll say, 'Well, you don't throw hard enough.' They don't really see the whole game. If they were to come watch games, they probably would understand why I would be worth something.
"I just have a passion and love for it."
Over the past seven years that passion has flared consistently each summer, even as he has spent time at two different universities and worked a series of odd jobs, some of which were fraught with significant physical risk.
No matter where he was or what he did, he always came back to baseball. This summer, he did so with the Nashville Outlaws, a first-year summer collegiate team filled with players who were six to eight years younger.
The Outlaws added him after the start of their season thanks to a recommendation by pitching coach Jerry Bell, who runs a different summer league where Thompson was pitching.
"It's hard to take chances on people you don't know sometimes," Outlaws Coach Brian Ryman said. "Lee was a familiar name and we knew he could come in real quick. He's a big reason we [made the playoffs]."
Thompson actually is a familiar name to many in local baseball circles. A graduate of Donelson Christian Academy, he played two years of college baseball at Trevecca Nazarene University before financial issues forced him to go to work.
Among the things he did to make a living was serving as a FedEx deliveryman. Oh, and he drove a truck for an explosives company. That was a bit of a motivator.
"I've kind of pushed baseball a little bit harder the last couple of years, just wanting to get out of that kind of job," Thompson says. "... I was kind of nervous sometimes [driving for the explosives company]. It kind of taught me some things to learn about life. You have to do what you want to do, enjoy what you wanted to do. I knew that wasn't the route I wanted to be on."
The route he wanted to be on was baseball. Elbow surgery a few years back didn't deter him. In fact, he returned about six months later. For the next several summers, he consistently earned all-star recognition in whatever league he played.
His performance in 2009 earned him an invite from St. Catherine College in Bardstown, Ky. He appeared in 14 games this spring and went 1-0 with a 5.40 ERA but had no plans to return for the coming academic year.
"I'm looking at several options," he said. "Things didn't work out at St. Catherine's academically. I'm trying. ... I know all my hard work is going to continue paying off."
From a statistical standpoint, his benefit to the Outlaws was obvious. He appeared in 11 games (10 out of the bullpen), which was the fourth-highest total on the team, and finished seven of them. He was 1-1 with a 4.18 ERA.
His impact went well beyond the numbers, though, because of the example he set for his younger teammates.
"Lee treats this as if it's professional baseball — from the way he dresses, to the way he walks out on the field, every sense of it," Ryman says.
Of course, that doesn't mean that he didn't have some fun along the way as well. Ryman, who has known Thompson for six years, decided at one point he ought to pursue some reliable forms of communication.
"I asked him one day if he knew sign language," Ryman says.
"He flipped me off."
Thompson was born legally deaf but says he hears high pitches in his right ear and low ones in his left. "I hear words in my left ear and noise in my right ear. So it's kind of unbalanced," he says.
When he pitches, though, he takes out his hearing aids so that all the noise — and resulting distraction — vanishes. At one road game, he was on the mound when the umpire called timeout. Everybody stopped but Thompson, who only realized what was happening as he was about to deliver his pitch. That prompted him to blurt out for all others to hear, "What the fuck?"
"I don't wear it when I'm pitching [because] it just makes me think about my difficulty, how I've overcome it so I can do it on the mound where I can overcome different [situations] in the game," Thompson says. "It's a challenge and something I have to deal with every day, and get over it when I can't hear."
Yet anyone, baseball players or otherwise, can benefit from listening to him.
"It's a great story as far as perseverance, passion and determination," Ryman says. "I've never met anybody who I've been around in the game of baseball who loves it as much as he does and works as hard as it as he does.
"His life is a movie. It is."
We should forget about Benghazi, IRS, NSA? Nixon removed himself from office for lying under…
You can stand in one spot in metro Atlanta and see two military bases, AND…
Actually, Mark, I worked on several campaigns in years past: Fulton for Mayor, Bill Anderson…
@xray - federal aid is federal aid, and when you get more than you pay…