He steps into the batter's box. That open stance gives him a great view of the ball coming toward him. He looks strong at the plate, but then again,
has always looked strong at the plate.
Seeing him there with his batting helmet tugged down tight just over his eyes, you couldn't tell. If you didn't know, you couldn't tell. Phillips fits neatly into everything, from his classes at Highland Regional (Blackwood, N.J.)
, to the everyday social fabric of a high school student, to when he's playing second base for the Tartans.
If you didn't know, you'd have to pay close attention.
Phillips doesn't hear the beautiful metallic "ting" each time his bat connects with the ball. But he can tell by the strong vibration that courses through his hands and arms, and the vapor trail of the ball, that he's made good contact.
He can tell when he's rounding third base after a walk-off home run that wins a state playoff game by the line of fans along the cyclone fence with their hands waving up by their ears that he's done something memorable.
The surrounding world may be silent to Pierce. But he can tell what he does on a baseball field or in a classroom.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound senior is a special baseball player. Perhaps made even more so by the fact that he's deaf.
He's never let it define him. He's never felt impaired by it. A three-year starter at second base, Phillips hit an astounding .507 as a junior last year, establishing a school record for hits in a season with 51 over 28 games. He then followed that up by going 13-for-17 in the postseason, which included a walk-off homer in a 4-for-4 playoff game against Lacey.
Pierce's parents, Steve and Patty, never deterred their son from anything. Pierce was born deaf, and instead of pouting about it, they acted. They enrolled Pierce in Marie H. Katzenbach School for the Deaf in Ewing, N.J., when he was 3 years old. Patty and Steve immersed themselves in the deaf culture, becoming fluent in sign language. Pierce was mainstreamed by third grade and he's attending Highland with the help of Jeannette Walden, his interpreter.
"I played sports growing up, I loved it, I had normal friends and I knew I was different, but it didn't bother me," said Pierce through his mother Patty. "I felt awkward talking to other people when I was younger, but I adjusted. I'd get some looks. But in time, everything came natural. I loved playing baseball and deck hockey. I love fishing. But I have to use my eyes all the time to pay attention to everything around me. My teammates all know that a fly ball close to second is mine and allow me to call them off."
This year, Pierce is hitting .425 and batting out of the third spot because Tartans coach D.J. Gore had to make some lineup adjustments due to injuries. He's already won one game with a two-run single against Kingsway, and he's carrying a 3.7 GPA and a 1,510 SAT score.
Pierce has been fortunate. His parents have always treated him as they would a hearing child. He's never encountered any ignorance by his peers, and teenagers can sometimes be cruel. Never with Pierce, whose warm smile and engaging personality have made him easily accepted by the Highland community.Continue reading