Pritchard among tops of LL Stars

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   Ethan Pritchard leads his Mapes Piano Rockies team in hitting and is one of the best defensive outfielders in the Carter County Little Leagues. What makes these feats remarkable is that Pritchard is not able to hear.
   Pritchard has been deaf since a case of meningitis at 18 months old. Now, the age of 10, Ethan has adapted well to his disability, so well, that he's viewed as one of the best players in this entire county.
   "There's no doubt it, he's one of our best players," said his coach Mike Hardin. "He has the highest batting average on the team. He's definitely one of the best players in the whole league.
   "I would say if he's not one of the best outfielders in this league, someone would be hard pressed to be better than him. He's fast and he's real good catching flyballs. He covers a lot of ground. Twice, this year I've seen line drives hit out to left center and he's laid out there to catch them."
   Behind the plate, his stats are exceptional. Over the course of the season, Pritchard is batting .755 with an on base percentage of .776. Ten of Ethan's hits have been for extra bases, including a home run in the Rockies' game this past Saturday. Before Tuesday's game against the Devil Rays, Ethan had driven in 19 RBI's and has scored 21 runs on the season.
   Communicating with Ethan was a challenge, but for Hardin, the transition was easier than expected. "The year before last, he played for Claude Anderson," his coach explained. "The next year, we joined teams and Claude helped me learn how to communicate with him. He's real good at lip reading and when we're running the bases he's real good at watching for the signals.
   "That's no different as far as watching the coach and learning to run the bases as any other kid. That's baseball. Some kids may have more of an advantage where they hear a coach, but sometimes when you give a kid a go signal and hollar for him to stop. He don't have to worry about all that."
   An undiagnosed heart defect at five weeks old was the beginning of a host of medical problems for Pritchard. Plenty of people have encouraged Ethan through the tough times, whether it's been his parents Curt and Lisa Pritchard, his brother Logan, grandparents, coaches like Hardin, Anderson and James Wash or adults he's made friends with at church like Arden Hill and Harold Lingerfelt.
   Because of the defect, baseball is the only game Ethan's cardiologist will let him play. But, baseball is a game Ethan loves as the coach says you can tell by his interaction with teammates.
   "He's real sharp, a real fun-loving kid," said Hardin. "He's a little prankster. On the field, he knows what to do when he catches it. We go over in practice hitting the cut-off man and he's real good about that. He's got a real strong arm. He's a real asset to the ballclub."
   For the team, the visual aspect of seeing him out there playing at such a level, is inspiration for each of his teammates to do their best. "We've had a real good year and are in second place," said Hardin. "I think he is a real good motivator for the rest of this team. He goes out and does his job and doesn't complain about what he's had to overcome. What do they have to complain about?
   "I started coaching in 1990 at Central, coaching football and there's not been a year when I've not been coaching something. I've coached boys and girls. I love all the kids that have ever played for me, but you come across one or two kids that are always going to have a special place in your heart. Ethan is one of those kids. It's been my privilege to be his coach."