Deaf Arizona HS pitcher Morgan Leinstock fearless on softball field

Photo: Richard Obert/The Arizona Republic

Deaf Arizona HS pitcher Morgan Leinstock fearless on softball field

Softball

Deaf Arizona HS pitcher Morgan Leinstock fearless on softball field

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April is Girls Sports Month, and as part of USA TODAY High School Sports’ fourth-annual Girls Sports Month celebration, we’re speaking with some of the most influential female athletes, coaches and celebrities in the sports world. We will also be highlighting some of the best stories from the past year as well as featuring some of the trailblazers. 

Morgan Leinstock removes the cochlear implant device from her ear at night before she goes to bed.

Born deaf, everything goes silent in Leinstock’s world.

As an alarm clock, her bed shakes to wake her up. The senior pitcher inserts the device back in her ear for another day at Scottsdale Horizon High School. She sits in the front row to better read the teacher’s lips. She has a note taker for her English class.

After school, Leinstock is all business on the softball field, overpowering hitters with a wicked riser, compiling nine wins with a 1.46 ERA, striking out 82 and walking just nine in 67 innings for the 17-6 Huskies this season.

She will be leading Horizon, the No. 5 seed, in the 5A tournament, which begins at home Tuesday against No. 12 Marana at 4.

Her stuff in the circle during an outstanding four-year varsity career has been good enough to land her a softball scholarship to Arizona State, where she’ll team up with her Sun Cats club teammates Lindsay Lopez (a pitcher at San Tan Valley Poston Butte) and Alynah Torres (a shortstop at Glendale Cactus).

They’ve all become close friends growing up on softball. Leinstock is treated no differently, and, without fully being able to hear, she has relied on laser focus to excel, not just on the field but in the classroom, where she has a 3.75 four-year grade-point average.

“I push myself harder,” Leinstock said. “I’m more focused in the game. When the other team is making loud noises, it’s easy for me to ignore them.

“There are sometimes that it’s a good thing.”

Born profoundly deaf

It was at 2 when Leinstock’s parents, Jackie and Mike, became concerned about their daughter, who wasn’t talking.

Doctors diagnosed her as being deaf in both ears.

At 2 1/2, with hearing aids not helping, Leinstock was given the cochlear implant just in one ear. She still can’t hear anything in the other ear. She could have had an implant for both ears, but she chose not to.

“My mom kept fighting and fighting and fighting to find the right doctor, and they found the reason, because I wasn’t talking,” Leinstock said. “Throughout the years, we’ve been fighting for what I need. In class, I need a note taker. I need to sit in front of class.”

The implant she said was surgically inserted.

“I don’t have a lot of nerves in my cochlear,” she said. “They have a magnet on my head and it connects to the implant, and there’s a microphone. That’s where I hear from.”

She became adept at reading lips. She said she never took up sign language because she was born into a hearing family (she has a younger sister and older brother). She said she studied softball by watching a deaf University of Washington softball pitcher to see how she adapted.

“I watched her a lot to see what she does with the game,” Leinstock said.

Jackie was grateful that her daughter was able to hear some with the implant, but it took a longer time for her to talk.

“She was delayed in language, because she never heard anything,” Jackie said. “People think, ‘You can hear now (with the implant), why aren’t you talking?’ She had to learn everything. She was in all kinds of therapy.

“She was in a special school in Illinois with the focus on language. Once she got that down, she went fully mainstream with regular school.”

That was early in her elementary school career. She became really good in sports, mainly basketball and softball. She played basketball her first three years at Horizon, before focusing just on softball her senior year.

‘We all had to be patient’

Because she is deaf, Leinstock was exempt from taking a foreign language at Horizon. At ASU, where she plans to get into health and science, foreign language courses aren’t required, Jackie said.

“We all had to be patient with her,” Jackie said. “Being the type of athlete she is, she always had that personality wanting to win and be first. Part of it might have been from the deafness and being fearless.”

Her teammates and coaches from club to high school have adapted around Leinstock, helping her communicate, letting her know what is being said when somebody is shouting out an instruction from far away.

Sometimes, an umpire, unaware that Leinstock is deaf, is taken aback when she doesn’t respond to something being said to her. But the umpire is standing behind her.

“We’ve had a couple of instances where the umpires say something from behind her and she can’t hear,” assistant Horizon coach Mike Gore said. “We’ve tried to say that to the umpires, but they don’t understand that. We say, ‘She’s deaf. She can’t hear you.’ Once we explain it, it’s like, ‘OK, it makes sense now.’ ”

Leinstock speaks well but she lets a reporter know before an interview that she apologizes if she can’t pick up the questions right away.

Leinstock breezes through the interview with no problem.

She only takes out the device when she sleeps and takes a shower or goes in the pool, because it can be damaged if it gets wet.

“If you don’t hear something, that is dangerous,” Jackie said. “She jumped in the pool when she was 2 and didn’t know how to swim.

“But she’s always had that fearlessness, that confidence.  If she didn’t have a good game, she would figure out what she did wrong, and want to do better the next time.”

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Deaf Arizona HS pitcher Morgan Leinstock fearless on softball field
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