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July 13, 2003

Breaking the sound barrier

From: Record-Journal, CT - Jul 13, 2003

By John Pettit, Record-Journal staff

Southington's Jay Maule watched with pride recently as new New York Yankees outfielder Curtis Pride homered against the Red Sox in one game and smacked a game-winning infield single in another.

Maule and Pride have never met, but they do share a common bond that goes beyond their love of baseball. Both players are deaf.

Pride was the toast of New York. He talked about feeling the crowd erupt. Maule could certainly relate.

"I've never really heard a crowd at a baseball game, but there have been some times where I can just feel the excitement through the ground," Maule said. "It's like you have a sixth sense."

Maule, a former three-sport athlete at Southington High, has followed Pride's career — from Montreal to Detroit to Atlanta to Boston to Montreal to Nashua of the independent Atlantic League to the Yanks — very closely.

"When he showed up on the Yankees, I was so proud," Maule said. "Only a few people can relate to what he's been through. I really can understand what he's gone through. Just for him to make it to that level is amazing."

Maule, a standout outfielder at North Carolina-Greensboro and with the Manchester Silkworms of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, said he has always considered Pride a role model. He kept Pride's baseball card in his bedroom as a youngster and made several attempts to contact Pride, although he is not sure if he sent the letters to the correct address.

"I would love to meet him," he said. "It's one of my dreams. I remember when I was a little kid I wrote to him a couple times. I always admired him."

Both Maule and Pride said they have used their deafness to their advantage.

"Being deaf definitely makes me more motivated," Pride told the New York Times. "I don't want people to look at me differently because of my disability. People tend to look at deaf people differently and feel sorry for us. That motivates me. Even though I am disabled, I am able to accomplish a lot."

Maule said he is forced to focus more because he cannot hear.

‘While most people rely on hearing, I'm so focused on every pitch and every at bat," he said. "I rely on my eyes."

He credits his parents, Paul and Denise, for pushing him to succeed.

"They really have supported me through this," he said. "Without them, I wouldn't be here because of the ups and downs I went through. When I first started sports, it was a disaster. I had no clue what was going on. My dad really helped me. People didn't realize that I couldn't hear. Everything was moving so fast. My dad had to take me aside and explain what was happened. I had to learn at a slower pace. I feel like I pick up things really well. I wouldn't be here today if I didn't."

Maule was a soccer, wrestling and baseball star at Southington, but baseball is his best and favorite sport.

"He's such an aggressive kid," former Southington baseball coach John Fontana said. "His work ethic is beyond belief."

Maule, who cannot hear without hearing aids, has shined at the college level, too. He hit .318 with a team-high nine home runs and 38 RBIs as a sophomore last season for UNC-Greensboro. He also stole eight bases in 11 attempts after twice tearing his ACL. He red-shirted his first season at UNC-Greensboro and missed the majority of his freshman year with the left knee injuries.

UNC-Greensboro coach Mark Gaski did not return calls seeking comment. Fontana called Maule "one of the better kids we ever had at Southington.

"If he didn't have those injuries down south, that kid would be a star," Fontana said. "He worked so hard to get back. I think his handicap has made him a fighter and he will never, ever let any injury or anything put him down."

Maule said a solid season on his repaired knee gave him the confidence to compete aggressively.

"I did great, but I always think I can do better," he said. "I'm really proud of how I did. I worked so hard to come back. My knee feels great. It couldn't be better."

Maule's summer couldn't be better either. He's batting cleanup and starting in right field for the Silkworms. He said the NECBL, with it's 42-game regular season schedule and quality pitching, is giving him a taste of what minor league baseball is like.

"It's great," he said. "I love it. I couldn't think of anything better in the world to do. You get to play against people from all over the country. You get to compare your abilities with them."

Maule is hitting .234 with four home runs and 10 RBIs for Manchester. Coach Anthony DiCicco said Maule is a "real character" as well as a popular teammate who has shown speed, power and a good glove in right field.

Ed Slegeski, the Silkworms general manager who signed Maule to a summer league contract, said Maule is the "the kind of kid that you want your daughter to bring home.

"He's the consummate team player," Slegeski continued. "He's not into stats or anything like that. He's into getting the job done. He's a great kid. He's actually considered one of the better outfielders in the NECBL."

Maule said he is studying pre-med at UNC-Greensboro, but that he really wants to play baseball professionally in the future.

"I think he's got a chance for a lot of reasons: His work ethic, his strength, he's a very smart kid and he's got all the tools," Fontana said. "He throws, runs and hits with power. I would never say he couldn't do anything."

There is one thing that Maule promises to do if he does make it as a professional. He said he wants to be a role model for other deaf children like Pride is for him.

"Without a doubt," he said. "I really try and help people with disabilities now because sometimes their confidence is down. The world today really beats down on them. If I can show them, ‘Hey, there's a window of opportunity,' maybe it will help them out."

Copyright © 2003 The Record-Journal