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A Baseball Fan Who Knows His Signs

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A Baseball Fan Who Knows His Signs

A Baseball Fan Who Knows His Signs

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

It's time again for StoryCorps, the oral history project that's traveling the country. Today, a man with a passion for baseball - even though he hasn't heard the crack of a bat since he was a boy.

Mr. ROBERT PANARA: My name is Robert Panara. I just became 89 years old, but I became deaf from spinal meningitis at the age of 10.

WERTHEIMER: Deafness never stopped Robert Panara's love of baseball. He told his friend, Greg Livadas, about some memorable encounters.

Mr. PANARA: My father knew how much I loved baseball, and Babe Ruth was my hero. And this was 1931. So he wrote to the Yankees and he asked if I could possibly meet The Bambino. And they arranged it. So, he went to the ballgame that day.

We sat about 10 rows from the field. And before the game, my father gives the letter from the Yankees to the usher, usher goes down to the dugout comes back with the Babe - big fellow, huge. He says, hi kid. How you doing? Shaking hands with The Bambino was a dream come true.

And later on I realized my father, he was trying to get my hearing back.

Mr. GREG LIVADAS: So, your father thought that the shock of meeting him…

Mr. PANARA: Oh, yes, The Bambino, wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PANARA: But I still remained deaf, I suppose.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PANARA: And I remember later on taking my son to Memorial Stadium. After the game, my son says, hey, dad, I have a ball; I would like one of the players to sign it. Brooks Robinson, the third baseman, came out and - exact words -excuse me, but my son wondered if you could give him an autograph.

And Brooks, he looks at me and then he signs with his hands, are you deaf? I said, hey, you know sign language. Where did you learn? He said, well, I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas only eight blocks away from the School for the Death. So, I used to play with the deaf kids. He became my idol after that.

Anyway, to this day, I live, breathe and die baseball. I look at it as my religion. The stadium, it's my second home.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: Bob Panara with his friend Greg Livadas at StoryCorps in Rochester, New York. Their conversation will be archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. You can find the StoryCorps Podcast at the new NPR.org.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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