The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, the announcer calling “strike three!” It was the atmosphere at a baseball game that inspired Benjamin Reece ’01, ’08 assistant clinical professor of speech-language pathology, to create Better Speech and Hearing Night at the Ballpark.
Professor Reece approached the Stockton Ports Minor League Baseball team with his idea and was met with an enthusiastic response. The first year he started with 100 tickets, planning for each speech therapy client to bring one caregiver. As the date of the event drew closer, Professor Reece began to get discouraged by the apparent lack of interest. After a discussion with his colleagues he realized that each client’s support system extends far beyond one guardian. When he opened up the event to include the client’s whole support system the tickets sold out in two weeks. They increased the number of tickets to 600, which astounded the Port’s management. “That had never been done before on an inaugural event,” explains Professor Reece.
“My first goal is to increase awareness of speech and hearing disorders,” said Professor Reece. “My second goal is to recognize the work that goes into overcoming a communication disorder.” He emphasized that in addition to the exhaustive efforts by the client throughout the speech therapy process, their success is possible as a result of a network of support. In addition to the speech-language pathologist, “the caregivers who take them to therapy, the siblings who are affected by the communication disorder and the extended family.”
At that first event, a client who was profoundly deaf and had a cochlear implant assisted the announcers in the radio booth. Professor Reece explains that when an individual receives a cochlear implant early on they do not hear the whole range of sounds; it is a process and the device is tuned over a period of time. He shares that only a week before the game, the client had been mapped for the “s” sound, a critical sound when announcing “strike one, strike two!”
Hosted by California Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Better Speech and Hearing Night at the Ballpark has now spread beyond Stockton. The Modesto Nuts, Sacramento River Cats, Oakland A’s, Lake Elsinore Storm and Inland Empire 66ers have all held similar events. Past events have included individuals from the speech-language pathology community singing or signing the National Anthem, throwing the first pitch, announcing the lineup and leading the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.
Professor Reece shares that it is hard to describe the experience when a speech-language pathologist has the opportunity to sit at a baseball game with a client and their family, whom they may have worked with for several years. It gives them the chance to interact in a different context. One factor that motivated Professor Reece to organize this event was working with children with autism. He identified a need for an event where families would feel that their child was accepted and where there would be no judgment if they needed to leave early because the child felt overwhelmed.
Professor Reece is amazed by the positive response from the community, which often takes shape in unexpected ways. He shared a story from one baseball season at a Port’s game, one of the mothers brought her son who has autism to a concession stand. The cashier wasn’t given special training in preparation for the event, but was aware that it was Better Speech and Hearing Night at the Ballpark. She took the mother’s order and then asked the child directly what he wanted to order. At first he shied away, but the cashier was very patient and eventually he communicated to her what he wanted. The mother was touched and she shared that this was the first time that her son had ordered for himself.
“We can take out passions and create community event around these passions. Baseball isn’t the point,” emphasizes Professor Reece. “Take what you are passionate about outside of work and use it to bring awareness.”
By Anne Marie H. Bergthold