Curtis John Pride, First African American Disabled Baseball Player

By Gary Norris Gray
Updated: August 6, 2005

EL CERRITO, CA.—One sunny, warm, fall afternoon after our yearly disabled baseball series ended. The guys gathered around and started talking about the major leagues and what player they favored. Most of us believe that it would never happen in our lifetime because the major leagues required so many different skills. We all asked, “How could they run fast enough? How could they field the ball? How could they pitch? If they were deaf, how could they hear the crack of the bat? How could they hear the coaches when they are screaming instructions?” We would all be surprised thirty years later in Yankee Stadium, New York City, Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta Georgia, and Olympic Stadium, Montreal, Canada. History would be made.

First of all, most disabled African American males in America would like to thank Curtis John Pride for putting on that New York Mets Minor League baseball uniform. Second this fine young gentleman took on every sport in high school and succeeded in most, overachieving seem to be Mr. Pride’s greatest asset.

John Curtis Pride would open the door for all other disabled baseball players giving them hope that they too can be in America’s summers past-time.

John Curtis Pride was born December 17, 1968. At the age of two Pride’s parents knew that their child would be deaf with the many audiological tests in his young life. He went to school the in metropolitan area of our nation’s capitol Washington D.C. His parents enrolled him in the Montgomery County Public School System Auditory Services infant program. Somehow African American parents of disabled children start their schooling just a little sooner then others. My parents did the same with me. Call it HEAD START for parents of disabled children. – In the late Sixties and mid -seventies most parents of gifted disabled children, started their child education at the age of two and a half to three years old. Most parents think that their children must get a head start on able-bodied children to make up for their disability. Pride is a classic example of this educational thought.

Pride was then fully mainstreamed (putting disabled children with non-disabled children) in his neighborhood school in the Washington, D.C. area from grade seven until graduation at John F. Kennedy High School in 1986. He had an outstanding athletic career his whole life, playing soccer, basketball, and baseball. He seemed to excel in everything that each game gave him at Kennedy High School. He went to Beijing, China with the United States National Soccer Team. Participating in the Junior World Cup. He played so well that Kick Magazine named him one of the top 15 players in the world. Mr. Pride became the first disabled person to ever receive this honor.

The New York Mets drafted Pride, in his senior year of high school; He also signed a letter of intent to the College of William and Mary for a full four-year scholarship in basketball. His parents wanted him to attend college and get that coveted education before baseball. Through a very unique arrangement, the Mets and the college signed a contract that let him be a part-time baseball player while he studied at William and Mary.

Pride played point guard and started all of his four years at William and Mary. He graduated in 1990 with a degree in finance with a wonderful grade point average of 3.6.

He was not the first disabled player in baseball; that honor goes to Jim Abbott who pitched for the California Angels and New York Yankees. Abbott was the first disabled person to attain a no-hitter. Mr. Abbott was born with one hand. So when he pitched, he had to put on his glove right after he threw the ball with his stub hand. That just amazed many baseball fans at the speed, Abbott did this. He was an effect-fielding pitcher too.

In 1992 Curtis Pride signed with the Montreal Expos as a minor league free agent, the New York Mets did not resign his contract. He performed well in the minors, with a 324 batting average with 21 home runs and 50 stolen bases. Ending his minor league career with a 425 batting average and 40 home runs and 75 stolen bases.

His first major league at bat in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium he got a run scoring double. The crowd went crazy, giving Pride a five-minute standing ovation. Pride had made it to the major leagues in style. In 1996 Pride was invited to try out in the Detroit Tiger organization. He played the entire year with the Tigers officially making him the first deaf African American player in the Major Leagues.

Pride liked the standing ovations. In 1997 Pride hit a home run his first time at bat for the Boston Red Sox. Only seven other Red Sox players in history have ever done that. Once again, the crowd gave him the five-minute standing ovation. John Curtis had proven that he could play this very difficult game without hearing a sound.

He was the first African American with a disability to play in a World Series with the Atlanta Braves. The team that claimed to be “America’s Team,” the most successful and widely followed team in the majors. Ted Turner’s Super Station made sure of that. Everybody could watch Pride and the Atlanta Braves.

Curtis Pride has won so many awards for his accomplishments and he has created pride in the disabled community. Here are some of the awards that this fine athlete has coveted over the past ten years. He has also created a fund for other disabled children in America, together with Pride. This organization has an annual whiffle ball game in Atlanta, Georgia. Every disabled child can play in this game, no matter what his/her disability may be.

Mr. Pride has received many other awards: The Alexander Graham Bell Association Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement. The United States Junior Chamber of Commerce: One of Ten Outstanding Young Americans of 1995 The New York League for the Hard of Hearing: Personal Achievement Award The Massachusetts Eyes and Ear infirmary: Reynolds Society Lifetime Achievement Award. The Major League Baseball: Roberto Clemente Award for Outstanding Community Service Boston Baseball Writers Association: Tony Conigliaro Award (presented to a major league player who has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination, and courage).

I would like to thank Sports Star USA, Together with Pride, and Barber and Associates for this information that made this article possible.