MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When you think of a summer evening at the ballpark, a vibrant scene of sights and sounds will flood your mind. The roar of the crowd, the crack of a bat and the vendors shouting up and down the aisle. It all adds to the experience and magic of the game.
However, some athletes experience the game in silence. They cannot hear. Hector Luis is one of those athletes.
Luis and his dad came to Santiago on a Sunday afternoon to get a new pair of hearing aids from the Starkey Hearing Foundation. At least 450 people will be given the gift of hearing on the third day of the Dominican Republic’s mission.
One of the volunteers and sponsors for this trip is Major League Baseball Hall of Famer and current Minnesota Twins coach Paul Molitor. Despite the accolades, this week, he’s simply known as Paul.
During his 21-year career, Molitor was celebrated for his exceptional hitting and speed. While in the Dominican Republic, his reputation is holding true.
“We’re doing 50 to 60 people a day, between my wife and I,” Molitor said. “When you’ve been around the foundation, you kind of have an idea of what you think it might be like, but it’s so much better in person.”
On this particular day, Molitor and his wife, Destini, skipped lunch to continue fitting hearing aids.
“Everything has been great,” Paul said. “The team has been great. We’ve really enjoyed our experience.”
The Starkey Hearing Foundation has strong relationships with professional athletes, especially those on the Minnesota Twins and Vikings.
“Major League Baseball has been really strong for us. We do several missions with them. This year we’ll be doing a mission with All-Star Week which is at Target Field this year. We’ll have a wonderful mission with the All-Stars and baseball legends,” said Brady Forseth, executive director of the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
“We’ve also done some work at Yankee Stadium, ‘the holy grail.’ They’ve opened their doors to us the last four years. And we had a mission with [former Twin] Justin Morneau and Scott Diamond recently,” Forseth said.
Baseball is the most popular sport in the Dominican Republic. Molitor’s visit to the area drew local media to the Santo Domingo mission site and landed him a half-page article in the national newspaper.
On this day, several baseball fans are waiting to get fitted with hearing aids. Luis is one of them. Proudly sporting a Twins baseball cap, he’s brought over to the Molitors’ station.
Before the fitting began, the baseball talk started. Despite the language barrier and Hector’s limited speech, the two mime their way through a understood conversation. Molitor asks if he plays baseball. Luis motions he’s a good hitter and plays left field.
The athletic teenager hasn’t been able to hear since he was born. Within five minutes, the Molitor’s end 19 years of silence. Hectors’s face remained calm and reserved during the fitting, but his hat revealed a different secret. Hector’s a fan of another kid from St. Paul who plays ball.
“His favorite team is the Twins, he watches them on TV when he can. His favorite player is Joe Mauer,” Luis’ father explained.
Knowing how difficult it is to play baseball or any sport at a competitive level, Molitor said he marvels in athletes who thrive while competing with a disability.
“There are sounds in the game and you’re using all your senses to help you with that in whatever sport you play, it’d be an extra challenge. You’ve got to be really motivated,” Molitor said.
While few people who came through the missions knew Molitor’s accomplishments, all of them who met him quickly became a fan. It wasn’t solely because of who he was, but because of what he had done for them.