BCUA

Deaf umpire has been on the job in NJ for years, but first he had to prove skeptics wrong

Republished from North Jersey Record (NorthJersey.com)


Darren Cooper, North Jersey Record (Varsity Aces)

FAIR LAWN — Jonathan Breuer makes it clear. He’s deaf, and you can call him that.

On the softball and baseball fields in North Jersey, he answers to a different title.

Umpire.

The 57-year-old Fair Lawn resident has been umpiring since 2013, and has been working as a soccer official since before that. He loves being involved in sports, helping his community. It makes him feel young.

He also wants to let people know that being deaf isn’t a hindrance to doing what you enjoy.

“I want to show the world what deaf people can do,” Breuer said.

Bergen Tech softball vs. Waldwick in the Donna Ricker Tournament at Wood-Ridge High School on Saturday, April 13, 2019. (left) Umpire Jon Breuer.
Bergen Tech softball vs. Waldwick in the Donna Ricker Tournament at Wood-Ridge High School on Saturday, April 13, 2019. (left) Umpire Jon Breuer.  (Photo: Michael Karas/NorthJersey.com)

His speech isn't clear, but it became easier to understand Breuer during our conversation. He’s energetic and engaging, but his best avenue of communication is sign language to his wife, Sari. She’s also his biggest fan.

“I am so proud of him,” Sari said. “I work in the deaf community and I see the discrimination that happens and the challenges they face every day. Jon just goes out and does his job and does it really well. It’s pretty amazing.”

The path to becoming an umpire

Breuer grew up in Brooklyn. He was born deaf; the nerves in his inner ear don’t function. Hearing aids would help, but he grew weary of taking care of them and the impact was negligible.

He said that twice when he was young, doctors tried experimental techniques on him, once electroshock and another time acupuncture.

“Nothing worked,” he said with a smile.

That didn’t stop Breuer from being active and graduating from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf/Rochester Institute of Technology with an engineering degree. He later worked on Wall Street and got a second degree at Montclair State.

Through the deaf community, Breuer became friends with Peter Rozynski, a deaf umpire who has worked for more than 20 years and lives in Florida.

When Breuer’s Wall Street job dried up, his first thought was to become an umpire. Sari went to the training classes with him and signed for him, so he could understand.

He was met with skepticism.

“A lot of umpires have different perspectives, one was in shock and said I shouldn’t be an umpire, he was really angry and said he was going to call [the Bergen County Umpires Association],” Breuer said. “I’m like fine, go ahead. We started the game and after he came up to me and he apologized. He said you did a great job.”

How he makes it work

When you think about it, just how much does a baseball and softball umpire have to verbalize? When working behind the plate, Breuer can bark out "strike," and signal the count with his hands. He said he’s very conscious of giving the count every three pitches.

It’s well known inside baseball and softball that on a close play at first base, the umpire is trained to watch the foot hit the bag and listen for the sound of the ball in the glove. How does Breuer do that? He has an answer.

“My visual processing is about .8 times faster than my hearing,” Breuer said. “I am not saying I am 100 percent perfect. I have made mistakes on close calls, but I believe my percentage of making the right call is very high.”

Bergen Tech softball vs. Waldwick in the Donna Ricker Tournament at Wood-Ridge High School on Saturday, April 13, 2019. (left) Umpire Jon Breuer.  (Photo: Michael Karas/NorthJersey.com)

There’s another longstanding joke that coaches want kids from orphanages (no parents to deal with) and every umpire should be deaf (ditto).

Breuer agrees.

“A lot of umpires have told me you are so lucky that you can’t hear,” Breuer said. “I was told the average umpire quits after four years. I have been [officiating] for 13 years and I feel fine. I feel relaxed. You can ignore all that chitter-chatter.”

But what happens when conflict does arise? BCUA President Peter Zubiarre said Breuer carries around post-it notes just in case he has a message to deliver. He said the only accommodation made for Breuer is that he'll often communicate with other umpires through email the night before instead of having a verbal pregame meeting.

Zubiarre said the feedback on Breuer from coaches and other umpires has been positive.

Jonathan Breuer, left, with his wife Sari in their home in Fair Lawn. (Photo: Darren Cooper)

“We’re happy and he’s moving up the ladder,” Zubiarre said. “I don’t want to sound corny, but I look at Jon as almost like someone running the marathon with a disability. He’s admirable for sure.”

Breuer gets a delight from when kids or coaches recognize him and sign "hello" or "thank you." His goal is to umpire a college game in New Jersey.

“I faced oppression and I overcame that, I can’t let people oppress me, I just can’t,” Breuer said. “I know deaf people and I try to encourage them that they can do anything they want to do and I want to show them and the rest of the hearing world that deaf people can do anything.”

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