May 25, 2013

Colt grad dreams of the big league

By Christopher Smith

— He may never fully hear the crack of a baseball bat, but that’s OK.

Hearing impaired in both ears at age 5, Blake Phillips said he didn’t mind the moments of silence — the moments when his throws went straight to the catcher — as a starting pitcher for the Coahulla Creek High School Colts baseball team.

Phillips’ days with the Colts are over, but he hopes to throw plenty of silent missed swings if he ever gets his dream job as a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves. For now, Phillips said he’s just happy to be done with high school.

Phillips graduated with the Coahulla Creek class of 2013 at the trade center Friday night.

“I love this baseball team,” he said of the Colts, speaking through Whitfield County Schools sign language interpreter Andy Toth. “I always want to play baseball. I want to be on the Atlanta Braves. And I know that I just have to believe and to be strong and do what I have to do. Whatever the challenges may be.”

Confidence seems natural for Phillips, but he says that didn’t happen overnight. Before his days as a Colt, he was “painfully shy” because of his hearing disability that resulted in a speech impediment.

“In high school things were improving,” he said. “I was more outgoing. But it wasn’t until I came to Coahulla Creek (in 2011) that I became confident. They have a great baseball team and that helped me grow.”

Phillips is preparing to play baseball this fall at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., which is a school for students with hearing disabilities. The team is coached by Curtis Pride, a deaf former major leaguer who played from 1993 to 2006, including a stint with the Braves. Phillips also played shortstop and third base for the Colts.

Coahulla Creek coach Michael Bolen described Phillips as “one of the cornerstones” of the program and a “quiet, confident leader” who earns respect through actions rather than words. He earned Bolen’s respect when he made the transition from third base to shortstop.

“Being around him and moving him out of that comfort zone at third base, where he didn’t have to communicate as much or do as many things, him taking on that challenge shows his character,” Bolen said. “Whatever you are expecting from him, I promise he expects more.”

If Phillips never makes it to the big leagues like Pride, Phillips said he will be content with his second love: graphic design.

“That’s why I came to Coahulla Creek,” he said. “I felt like I wanted to come here. The opportunity here to use more of the technology. Things like Abode Photoshop. I really enjoy it. If I never make it to the major leagues and that doesn’t work out, I would love to do graphic design. I love those programs.”

More than programs, Phillips said he loves — and will miss — his friends and teachers.

“They welcomed me in here, you know? I just want to say thank you to them,” he said. “Thank you so much to all my friends and teachers — thank you for helping me in my life. I’ve really had a great time working with all of you.”