By Mark Maloney
As a Morehead State outfielder, Mike Patrick (pictured) must be able to respond at the crack of the bat. One problem. Patrick can't hear that crack. He is deaf. Not totally deaf, but deaf enough.
Patrick describes himself as "like 90 percent deaf." What little he can hear comes through his right ear. He says doctors think he may have been born with the condition. Or it may have been caused when he struck the corner of a fireplace when he was about two months old. The condition wasn't confirmed until he was about three years old. He wore hearing aids for a time, but stopped. "Hearing aids makes everything louder, not clearer, for me, if that makes sense," he said. "I'm not embarrassed by it. I just didn't think it helped." Patrick is a 6-foot-1, 205-pounder from Rock Hill, S.C. His usual spot in the Morehead lineup is batting second and playing left field, although he also has seen time in center and as designated hitter. Communication is important in the outfield, but Patrick is the one who has to speak loudest. "Usually if I call for the ball, my teammates know to get out of the way," Patrick said. "Because when I'm running, the wind, I guess it blows past my ear and I'm 100 percent deaf. I can't hear anything when I'm running." The same is true on the base paths. Patrick relies solely on hand signals from Coach Mike McGuire in the third-base coaching box. Words are useless.
Patrick gets the job done, though. "And I bet most opponents and his teammates don't initially know (that he's deaf), and that's a credit to him, how well he's handled what would be a major adversity to many people," McGuire said. "He hasn't let it hinder him. And he's done very well in the classroom here, and I think that's a credit to him as well." In fact, Patrick already earned a degree in sports management last December. Now, as a fifth-year senior athletically, he is in graduate school. Even as a tyke, Patrick seemed destined to play baseball. "When I was a little baby, I used to throw my pacifiers at my doctors," he said. "And my parents just knew I was going to be a baseball player. "My dad (also named Mike) played baseball at Clemson University back in the late seventies. And my uncle (Cecil) played professional baseball – semi-pro baseball. Baseball's just always been in my family and that's how I was raised to be." Patrick looked up to Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones. Yet, he became an outfielder at nine, an age when the most talented players are more apt to be found pitching, catching or in the middle infield. He went on to play for Northwestern High School in Rock Hill. A first-team all-state selection as a senior, he hit .405 with a .506 on-base percentage. When it came time for college, Patrick chose Winthrop University, just five miles from his home. He played in 77 games, including 53 starts, over two seasons there. He hit .149 as a freshman, .271 as a sophomore. Included in that second season was his only homer for Winthrop, a three-run shot in a 3-1 upset of North Carolina. But Patrick longed to get away from home and experience college life on his own. Former Winthrop coach Joe Hudak, who had a son who played high school ball with Patrick, caught wind of a possible transfer. Hudak tipped off one of his former assistant coaches – McGuire. "Joe just called me about him. Knew he was a good outfielder, had some tools, had some power," McGuire said. "Felt like his swing was a mess, but told his dad if anybody could fix him, we could. And he came and visited, and it's been great. He's really bought in. He came here wanting to get better as a player. A lot of kids come to school and they think they're a finished product, when the reality is they all need to get better. But Mike came here knowing he needed to get better, he wanted to get better and he has gotten better." Patrick says he has no regrets. "I'm glad I went from Winthrop to Morehead State," he said. "It's a home away from home. I honestly never thought I'd end up in Kentucky, but I just love the small-town feel and I've got the greatest teammates. I love my coaches." After sitting out the 2015 season due to transfer rules, Patrick was set to be MSU's starting left fielder in 2016. About a week before opening day, though, he was hit by a pitch and broke a hand. He missed the first week-and-a-half of the season, had his cast removed, then joined the lineup. That lasted about two weeks. Then, he was hit on nearly the identical spot, breaking his hand again. This time, he spent about a month on the shelf. His season statistics -- .211 with three homers and 13 RBI – were "a tough assessment of his ability," McGuire said. This season, though, Patrick is in good health. And he has made adjustments. Adept at hitting fastballs, he had problems swinging at too many breaking balls in the dirt in the past. But going into this week's action (as of Wednesday, April 12), he is batting .333 with seven homers and 26 RBI over 31 games this season, including 26 starts. "I just have a different mentality at the plate," Patrick said. "It's more of a 'I don't care what's going on.' I'm just trying to control the strike zone and keep it simple. One pitch at a time. Not worrying about anything on defense, what happened the last at-bat, what's going to happen in the future. You're thinking about the moment. It's one pitch at a time." He's been stellar in the field, too. He played error-free last season, and has only one error (with three assists) this campaign. Add to that an extraordinary focus. A focus honed by the mostly silent world he knows. "To know what's going on every day, I have to pay extra attention," Patrick said. "I have to be able to look at you. I look at your lips. I pay attention when it's time. If I don't, I don't know what's going on. "Like in class, for example. If the teacher turns his head or her head to the board to write stuff down and he or she's talking, I don't know what's going on. So I usually sit in the front row of the class to make sure that they're looking at me the whole time. … It's just something I'm used to and it's made me learn how to handle adversity very well." He is a big reason why the Eagles are 22-11 overall (8-4 in Ohio Valley Conference). Morehead State Athletics Photo