Deaf player makes mark for Canada at World Junior Baseball Championships
Graham Strong , The Canadian Press
Published Monday, July 26, 2010 2:14PM EDT
THUNDER BAY, Ont. - The crack of a baseball bat is one of the most distinctive sounds in sports.
Jalen Harris, first baseman for Canada in the IBAF World Junior Baseball Championships, doesn't hear it quite the same way as most. Harris was born deaf, but when he was a toddler he received a cochlear implant, a small device that gives him limited hearing.
It may sound different, but connecting with the sweet spot still gives him the same thrill.
"If I hit the ball hard, it sounds like when you drop a rock onto the cement," Harris said. "It's nice to hear that sound because you know you hit it."
Deafness has not stopped Harris from becoming an impact player on a Canadian team brimming with talent. He said he doesn't understand why people find it so remarkable.
"Everyone says like, 'Oh, a deaf guy can play baseball?' That's me, I guess," he said.
Harris said that if anything, his deafness is an advantage on the field because there are fewer distractions.
"If you can't hear anything you're just watching the ball," Harris said. "I think it helps a lot."
Still, it takes more than focus to play at the world junior level. Harris credits his dad for pushing him to excel at baseball as well as hockey, which he gave up so he could concentrate on baseball.
"I'm just happy that my dad made me play baseball since I was two," Harris said.
First base is not his natural position -- he usually plays third base or outfield. His stats show how well he has adapted, however. Three games into the tournament in Thunder Bay, he has a .973 fielding percentage with 32 putouts. He has also been involved in six of Canada's tournament-leading eight double plays.
Not bad, especially considering two of those games were against powerhouses Cuba and two-time defending champion South Korea, a team Canada edged 5-4 Sunday.
Harris is batting .250 with a double, an RBI, and a stolen base for Canada, which is tied for second in Pool B with a 2-1 record.
"The beauty of Jalen is that he can play about five positions on the field, so you are able to move him with comfort," said Canada manager Greg Hamilton. "You don't have a fear that he's going to struggle."
Some positions are easier than others. When he is far away in the outfield, everything is drowned out by what sounds like wind rushing by a microphone.
"That's the worst thing about outfield -- it's hard to hear," Harris said.
"(Playing first base) I'm closer to the shortstop and second baseman . . . so I can hear better."
Ultimately though it makes "absolutely no" difference on his performance, said pitcher and roommate Jonathan Paquet.
"I don't (think about the fact) that he's deaf on plays," said Paquet. "He just makes every play like any good first baseman."
Harris turned 18 earlier this month and is looking towards next year's draft. He's already been scouted a couple of times, he said.
"Hopefully I get drafted. If not, who knows," he said.
A deaf player in the majors wouldn't be unprecedented. Curtis Pride played with several teams including the Montreal Expos.
For now though, Harris's focus is bringing home a medal for Canada, something they haven't done since winning bronze in 2006. Canada's only gold in this championship came in 1991, before many of the players including Harris were born.
Canada continues its campaign Tuesday against Panama.
Harris says he's just glad to be a part of the team.
"Best jersey I've every worn so far."