IM this article to a friend!

March 23, 2003

Teen bat boy won't let deafness slow game

From: WPTV, FL - Mar 23, 2003

By Mike English Sports Editor
March 23, 2003

Spring training is a time for young baseball players to show off their "stuff" and try to win a spot on a Major League roster.

Jupiter Hammerheads fans can look over the Florida Marlins' 40-man spring roster and see several familiar names -- outfielder Chip Ambres, infielder Josh Wilson and catcher Josh Willingham -- all players who spent the 2002 season in Jupiter.

But the Jupiter fans might find some other familiar faces on the field that aren't on any roster.

For spring training, the Marlins and Cardinals use several young volunteer bat boys on a rotating basis and several of them have toted bats around for the Hammerheads.

One of the familiar faces belongs to 15-year-old Ryan DiGiovanni. Hammer-heads fans probably saw DiGiovanni at one of the 45 Jupiter games he worked last summer.

But what they probably don't know is that DiGiovanni is deaf.

"I have been deaf since birth," DiGiovanni wrote in response to questions he was recently asked. "My parents are deaf and my two sisters are deaf."

His older brother Dave, however, is not deaf and often signs for his brother.

DiGiovanni, a Jupiter resident for the past 10 years, attended Lighthouse Elementary and Jupiter Middle School but now attends the Florida School for the deaf in St. Augustine.

He comes home on weekends to spend time with his family ... and to work spring training games.

"I've always enjoyed working as a bat boy," DiGiovanni wrote. "I did about 45 Hammerheads games since I started on June 10."

Always a baseball fan, DiGiovanni attended games at Roger Dean Stadium on a regular basis.

"I watched some games and talked with some players," he wrote. "I enjoy collecting autographs from future superstars."

It's been a joy having Ryan around, Hammerheads General Manager Brian Barnes said.

"We had some 'issues' with some of our bat boys last year and went through a lot of them early on," Barnes said.

"DiGiovanni came in about the middle of the year," he said. "He's been great. We've never had any problems after he came on board. He has great work habits.

"He kind of fell into our laps and now he's one of our regular bat boys. Hopefully, it will stay that way."

Bat boys for the Hammerheads and the Palm Beach Cardinals are paid.

This spring, DiGiovanni got "called up" to the Majors. He'll work 10 Marlins games and six Cardinals games this month.

"I would be honored if I could work as a bat boy for the Marlins during the regular season," DiGiovanni wrote. "It has been my dream to work at Pro Player as a bat boy in the Big Leagues. "I love my job."

A bat boy's lot isn't glamorous.

DiGiovanni wrote that his duties include preparation work like folding towels, filling up water coolers, preparing the game balls for the umpires.

"During a game, I collect bats from home plate and hand baseballs to the umpire," DiGiovanni wrote. "After the game, I clean the clubhouse and when I'm done with my job, I enjoy talking to some of the players in the clubhouse."

Brother Dave also helps out around the clubhouse and helps DiGiovanni communicate with the players. "I'm grateful that he can sign and help me," he wrote.

On the field, he carries a pen and a folded up sheet of paper and communicates with the other two bat boys with notes.

"It's not any different working with him than anybody else," said Stewart Patrick, 15, who will work five Marlins spring games.

The bat boy crew for a recent game against the Dodgers included Patrick, from Jupiter, and Jessie Kahn, a 13-year-old New Yorker on a school break.

The bat boy pre-game duties include making sure the rosin bag is on the mound and the pine tar rag and bat swing weights are in the batter's circle by both dugouts.

DiGiovanni tended to all those chores between innings. On game day, the trio shifted duties between the dugouts. Between hitters, he trotted out and retrieved the loose bats.

Kahn's duties include chasing down loose balls.

"If there is a foul ball, I have to run as fast as I can to get it and I bring it back and put it into the used ball bin," Kahn said.

While he's at school in St. Augustine during the week, DiGiovanni stays active playing basketball, soccer and baseball and wrestling. "I'm currently playing on a tennis team for my school," he wrote.

But the weekends are Big League for DiGiovanni.

"Jupiter is my hometown. There is no better place than Jupiter," he wrote.

Anyone interested in becoming a Hammerheads or Palm Beach Cardinals bat boy can drop by Roger Dean Stadium and fill out an application, Barnes said.

Applicants must be at least 14 years old.

© 2002 - The E.W. Scripps Co.