Thomas Solowynsky felt the nudge of his interpreter. It would be his first opportunity this season to pitch for the Santa Ana College baseball team.
Solowynsky jogged out to the mound in a relief appearance with two runners on base. The opposing team and their fans taunted him, not realizing he could not hear a word they said.
He wound up and released one pitch and watched as the batter crushed it for a three-run home run. Solowynsky would never play again.
There are 92 deaf athletes currently competing at the collegiate level in the United States, one of whom is Dons left-handed pitcher Thomas Solowynsky.
Solowynsky attended University High School in Irvine where he was, not only a four-year letter winner in baseball, but an all-league selection all four years and most valuable player his senior year.
Despite his high school success, Solowynsky has struggled, pitching 1/3 an inning during the regular season with an ERA of 81.0. “He has the right stuff. He’s just got to get a better command of that,” Head Coach Don Sneddon said. “He’s just not refined yet. He’s got a ways to go and I think he’ll get there if he’s patient.”
When their son was 11 months old, Suzanne and Henry Solowynsky took him to a hearing specialist who told them that their son was deaf.
Doctors told them that although he was deaf, Thomas might one day be able to hear with the help of technology and therapy. This, however, meant that they had to refrain from using sign language. “It was hard, we couldn’t communicate with him,” said Suzanne, “When he was about two and a half years old, we decided that this wasn’t working and decided to teach him sign language.”
His family did everything that they could to give Thomas a normal life. At the age of five Thomas joined a tee ball team, and before long all he wanted to do was play ball.
When he was 12 his father died of a heart attack. The family was devastated. “It made me think about what happens next,” Solowynsky said through his interpreter. “My mom had to start working extra hours, and take on the responsibility of taking care of the house and the family.”
While communication has been difficult, it has been made managable with the help of an interpreter.
“Baseball is a universal language, you don’t have to even speak at times,” Sneddon said. “We’re pretty much able to communicate on all levels, but there are some things that we need to have interpreters for.”
Sophomore infielder Austin O’Neal, is taking American Sign Language classes this semester and has enjoyed being able to communicate with Thomas on a deeper level.
“It opens your eyes and you get to see how they [those with auditory disabilities] communicate and how they are able to communicate with someone who can’t speak sign language,” O’Neal said.
Thomas’ goal in life is to show people that just because a person is deaf doesn’t mean that they can’t do things that normal people can do.
“I want people to look at me and see that deaf people can do anything,” Solowynsky said. “I feel like I’m the same as everybody else.”