Since his youth baseball days, Brandon Holsworth has always had help on the diamond.
This summer, as the ace of the Silver Spring Spring-Takoma Park Thunderbolts, he's showing he might not need it.
Holsworth, a deaf pitcher from Gallaudet University, is dominating his competition in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. The 6-foot-4, towering right-hander has a team-best three wins and 1.27 earned-run average, leading the Silver Spring pitching staff despite playing without college teammate and interpreter Danny O'Donnell for part of the summer.
“They say 87 percent of communication is not verbal, so we find ways around it, but he has such an outgoing and enthusiastic personality that it's fun to catch him,” catcher Robert Lucido, Jr. said.
Holsworth, a rising senior at Gallaudet, is hoping his performance in the competitive college wood bat league can help him earn a spot in the Major League Baseball draft.
“I'm really doing everything I can to be the best I can during this season because this is the one opportunity before I go into my senior year,” Holsworth said through O'Donnell. “I don't know if I'll have another opportunity to face competition like this.”
Holsworth, who was born deaf, grew up playing baseball and basketball. Communication has been his biggest barrier athletically, his father Chris Holsworth said, but with assistance and support from family and teammates the talented right-hander has dealt with the challenges. In little league, his father would be in the dugout to help him communicate with teammates. In high school, he had a state-hired interpreter, as was required by law in Michigan. In college, he found a fit at Gallaudet, where his teammates and coach — former Major League Baseball player Curtis Pride — are fluent in American Sign Language.
Holsworth learned about the Thunderbolts through O'Donnell, a fully hearing teammate at Gallaudet last season, whose parents are deaf. O'Donnell, a pitcher, has acted as an interpreter for Holsworth during his meetings at the mound.
O'Donnell missed two weeks, according to Lucido, but Holsworth remained effective without him in the lineup, relying on baseball signs, lip reading and body language, and resorting to pen and paper when all else failed, Lucido said. Using his fastball (90 miles per hour) and changeup, Holsworth took command on the mound during that stretch, just as he has done all summer, and the previous season with Gallaudet.
In 15 starts last spring, Holsworth went 8-3 with a 2.18 ERA, 85 strikeouts and 32 walks.
“It's just hard to put it into words. As a father of any kid, let alone one with a disability. Of course he'll be quick to tell me that he doesn't have a disability. It's other people's disability not being able to communicate with him,” Chris Holsworth said. “I'm just very proud. I'm a very proud dad.”
Thunderbolts manager Doug Remer said Holsworth's baseball IQ and personality are what set him apart from other pitchers, and make him a MLB prospect.
“In my mind there's no doubt he's going pro,” Remer said. “There's still a lot of potential that he hasn't even reached yet.”
Added Lucido: “There'll be times when the rest of the team will be quiet and the team may be down for whatever reason. And Brandon is the one talking everyone up and encouraging everyone, and he can't even hear himself. It's a pretty cool thing to see. You can tell he loves the game.”