FRONT ROYAL — They are sounds that ring throughout the Shenandoah Valley on most summer nights — the crack of a wooden baseball bat, the pop of ball meeting glove, fans cheering for their hometown Valley Baseball League team.
They are the sounds of America’s Pastime, distinct and easily distinguishable by most of those familiar with baseball. And yet for Front Royal Cardinals center fielder Edgar Lebron, sometimes those sounds escape him.
When Lebron was around 18 months old, a trip to the hospital revealed that he was suffering from severe hearing loss. With the help of hearing aids, Lebron can enjoy the sounds of the ballpark on most nights. Only when the wind blows does Lebron struggle to pick up those sounds, he says.
But being mostly deaf hasn’t slowed down Lebron on the field.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” Lebron said prior to the Cardinals’ game against visiting Charles Town on Monday evening. “I’m proud of who I am. I just go out there, I want to show people what I can do on the field. I just want to go out there and have fun.”
Lebron has learned to adjust to his hearing impairment on the diamond, particularly while playing center field, where on-field communication is paramount.
Front Royal assistant coach Adam Lairamore, who also coaches Lebron as an assistant at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Kentucky, said the corner outfielders who play on either side of Lebron are taught to use hand signals to communicate to avoid collisions with Lebron while tracking fly balls.
“That was one of my biggest worries, was a ball in the gap,” said Lairamore, who has coached Lebron since last August when Lebron came to Lindsey Wilson after previously playing at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. “Edgar’s got more range than some guys and can get to balls that some center fielders can’t — how’s that going to affect our corner guys? Are we going to have any major collisions or anything? But that was really it and him as well as all our other guys, they’ve done a good job of making that adjustment.”
Lebron said his teammates have adjusted well and been very receptive to developing an alternate form of communication on the field, and he added that he’s been candid with his coaches in regards to what works and what doesn’t in terms of that on-field communication.
“They were kind of a little shocked when they found out that I have hearing loss and I cannot communicate very well,” Lebron said of his teammates. “But at least they’re trying to help me out and make me feel better about my team and my teammates. We get along pretty well.”
Aside from a few instances of miscommunication in the outfield — which Cardinals manager Brad Neffendorf said were the result of general defensive mistakes rather than Lebron’s hearing impairment — Lebron has shined in the outfield for North Division-leading Front Royal so far this summer.
In 33 Valley League games, the rising college senior hasn’t committed an error.
“He’s been real good for us in the outfield,” Neffendorf said. ” … He’s even gotten better here lately, just some plays he’s made out there that are pretty outstanding, actually saved us some runs.
“He covers gap to gap pretty well — better than, I think, the rest of the guys that we have that can do it,” he added. “So you’ve got to play him out there. Defensively he’s going to work hard. He understands where he needs to be at all times, backing up bases. He plays hard, which is hard to get everybody to do for the entire summer.”
At the plate, the lightning-fast Lebron fits right into Neffendorf’s aggressive coaching style. Quite literally the fastest man in the Valley Baseball League — he won the 60-yard dash competition at last Sunday’s All-Star Game in a blistering 6.25 seconds — Lebron has 17 stolen bases this summer, the second-best mark in the VBL.
Lebron is also batting .299 with four doubles, 15 RBIs and 21 runs scored and he’s second on the team in the latter two categories. He’s also fourth on the team in on-base percentage (.401).
Neffendorf has primarily slotted Lebron in the second spot in the Cardinals’ lineup this summer, where his speed allows him to stay out of the double play, but Lebron has also batted cleanup for Front Royal at times due to his ability to drive in runs.
Though Neffendorf referred to Lebron as a “goofball” who sometimes even pokes fun at himself, Lairamore called the center fielder one of the hardest workers he’s ever coached.
“He has a goal for himself and he does everything in his power to meet that goal,” Lairamore said. “He’s always striving to get better. He’s one of the biggest competitors I’ve ever met. … He wants to win, he wants to succeed and that’s the best part of his game to me.”
With one more season remaining at Lindsey Wilson College, Lebron, from Richmond Hill, New York, is determined that his baseball career won’t end with his college graduation.
“It’s my dream to play professional baseball,” Lebron said. “I’m going to work hard for it. It doesn’t matter. I’m not giving up on that. I’m not giving up on my dream. If nothing happens then you know what, I’m not going to give up. I’m still going to do a lot of things I can do to make my dream come true.”
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org