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March 15, 2007

Chapman's challenge

From: Agoura Hills Acorn, CA - Mar 15, 2007

An ear infection took Will Chapman's hearing when he was a year old, but Calabasas' senior center fielder never let the disability limit his play on the baseball diamond

By Thomas Gase

Will Chapman has played on the Calabasas High varsity baseball team for four years, but his favorite memory as a Coyote didn't come until two weeks ago.

On March 5, Calabasas upset nationally ranked Chatsworth High 12-8, and Chapman was a big part of the win, going 2-for-3 with a double while also getting hit by a pitch. The Coyotes' enthusiastic home crowd cheered Chapman and his team after the final out was recorded, but Chapman didn't hear them. In fact, he never has.

Chapman has never heard the crack, or in this case, the ping of the bat. He has never heard a teammate offer him congratulations following a home run. He has never heard any of this because he has been deaf since suffering an ear infection when he was a 1-year-old.

Chapman's disability, however, hasn't stopped him from playing the game he loves.

"It doesn't matter that I'm deaf; I know I can still play this game," said Chapman, through his interpreter, Jose Palacios. "I see the fans cheering me sometimes, but to be honest, I tend to ignore them and focus on the game. I don't want to worry about if they are cheering me or not. I have to get down to business and focus on my batting."

Chapman is hitting .333 this year with five RBI and two doubles. Last season the center fielder batted .420 with a home run through the first seven games before suffering a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the rest of the season.

Chapman's stellar hitting since his freshman year was good enough to earn a scholarship to UC Davis.

"Last summer we invited him to come up, see the campus and play for the first time," UC Davis head coach Rex Peters said. "I liked the way he played the game, and I think he's a good enough athlete that I'm hoping to have him play center field for us next year."

B e f o r e Chapman becomes an Aggie, Calabasas head coach Bret Saberhagen is glad to have him on his team for one more run at the Marmonte League championship. During his time with the Boston Red Sox, Saberhagen played with outfielder Curtis Pride, who, like Chapman, is also deaf.

"It's pretty impressive when you have someone with a handicap play a team sport," Saberhagen said. "It's one thing to be deaf and play an individual sport, but to be playing a team sport where you have to communicate with other players, that really says a lot." Chapman made the varsity squad in his first year as a Coyote and immediately had to make some adjustments on the field. For instance, when on the base paths, Chapman has to read the pitcher's pickoff move especially well since he can't hear the first base coach yell "Back!"

While playing the outfield, he can't hear another player call him off on a fly ball, which has forced him to use other methods to avoid a collision.

"I will use a hand signal in the outfield to tell the left or right fielder that it is their ball and they should take it," Chapman said. "All the other times I will call for the ball and wave them off. That's a reason why I love playing center field. It's easier because you are the boss of the outfield and have priority on fly balls in that position."

Chapman always has to deal with people who've never played with a deaf teammate, but he said he has never had a problem with another player.

"Sometimes it's weird because there are a lot of people that have never played with a deaf person before," Chapman said.

"However, once they see me play on the field, it seems to be normal with them," he said. "It doesn't matter if a person is deaf or not; it only matters what your skills are like on the field. I never think I can't do something because I'm deaf. I just rely on my skills and talent."

Although Peters has never coached a deaf player at UC Davis, he said Chapman fit in just fine when visiting with his team last summer.

"It was kind of a test with us to see how we would communicate with him once he got here," Peters said. "I was happy when the other players seemed to like him a lot, and the whole process turned out to go much smoother than I thought it would.

"We had to do a little research on our part and make sure we could accommodate him with everything once he was here. And it turns out, thankfully, that we can," Peters said.

Chapman has a number of interpreters who work with him during the day, usually one with him during his classes at school and one with him while on the baseball diamond. Palacios is one of Chapman's interpreters on the field and has thoroughly enjoyed working with him over the past two months.

"I worked with him a few times last semester, but I have been working with him constantly for the past two months," Palacios said. "I'm hoping to get a full-time job working with him because he's a good kid, and to be honest, I love watching him play baseball."

Another person who enjoys watching Chapman play is Victor Carlos, Chapman's grandfather. Carlos signed with the Cincinnati Reds but couldn't play for them when he got drafted by the Navy during World War II. To this day, Carlos remains one of Chapman's main influences for playing baseball.

"Baseball has been a part of my life since I was a 2-year-old, and my grandfather has always been my idol," Chapman said. "Growing up, he used to watch the games with me on television, and that made me want to play the game myself."

Chapman has especially enjoyed playing at CHS this season on a Coyote team he called the best he has ever been on and with a coach that he said is the best he has ever had.

"This field is so great, and I have to thank my coach for that," Chapman said. "The field has become my home for the last four years, basically. This year I like our team more than the last three years because we have better hitters and pitchers, and I believe our team chemistry is better than ever."

Saberhagen returned the compliments.

"Will is a very good player, and I think it's always a great story when someone with a disability can go to the next level and play college ball," Saberhagen said. "If he keeps progressing like he has been, you never know- he could have a shot at playing in the minor leagues or even pro ball."

Chapman and the Coyotes will be in action tomorrow at home against Moorpark. First pitch is set for 3:30 p.m.

© 2007 Agoura Hills Acorn