Danton Hyman is a 6-foot, 160-pound symbol of inspiration, but you’ve got to get real close to Newberry’s all-conference center fielder to find his handicap.
If you’re watching him from the dugout, like Jay Snyder has for four years, you’ll see a ground-covering blur with a glove in his hand.
“He is foul pole to foul pole,” said the Newberry assistant coach.
If you’re listening to him from a corner outfield spot, like Zane Tarrance is this season, you’re hearing a chatterbox with no mute option.
“I’m going to be honest,” Tarrance said, “I’ve never heard someone as loud as him before.”
And if you’re a reporter observing a mid-April practice with Hyman, you’re simply taking in an athlete with an overflowing passion for the game of baseball.
“I’m pumped up today, boys!” Hyman yelled to no one in particular as he sprinted to perform drill work some 18 hours after the Wolves played their 43rd game in 68 days.
Hyman is best described by those close to him as a winner, leader and someone who possesses the “unique ability to allow people around him to play at a higher level than they’re capable of,” said Newberry head coach Russell Triplett. What’s rarely brought up is the fact he has bilateral hearing loss and has worn hearing aids since he was 2.
You realize the latter when you get real close to Hyman. The aids are white and tucked underneath his red ballcap. They’re worn at all times, except when it rains. They’ve been attached to Hyman as he’s scored 176 runs (second-most in Newberry history), recorded 266 hits (most among active NCAA Division II players) and stolen 63 bases (most among active NCAA Division II players) in his college career.
The senior is Newberry’s first-ever South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year.
But Hyman is also a regular guest speaker in his mom’s fifth-grade classroom. He once helped change a young boy’s outlook on life by spending an afternoon with him at the ballpark.
Hyman’s story begins with hearing aids, but the succeeding chapters are filled with acceptance, achievement and inspiration.
‘He just couldn’t hear’
Danton Hyman isn’t completely deaf. He has 30 percent hearing in both ears.
Jan and Eddie Hyman, Danton’s parents, didn’t know any of this until a couple years after their son was born in October 1996. The state of South Carolina hadn’t yet passed a law that required hearing screening for newborns. Through a report from a local daycare center and some studying of their own, the Hymans began picking up signs.
“I’m a teacher, so my mom kept him the first two and a half years,” Jan Hyman said. “And then she started having health issues, so we put him in a small daycare in Newberry where mostly teachers’ children were.
“And he had been there a few months and one of his teachers told me, ‘Jan, he just doesn’t always respond to me when I call his name.’ And I said, ‘Well, we have to talk a little louder.’ And then I started putting things together. We would be in the grocery store sometimes and I would have to say ‘Danton’ maybe two or three times before maybe he would even respond to me.
“And it wasn’t that he was being defiant or anything. He just couldn’t hear.”
A few tests later, the Hymans were told of their son’s diagnosis. Turns out the partial hearing loss was hereditary, coming from Eddie’s side of the family. The Hymans didn’t know, however, if it could get worse.
It hasn’t. Everything’s remained status quo, including Danton’s acceptance of hearing aids.
“We put them on him on a Friday afternoon in the doctor’s office,” Jan said. “He never took them off and he’s been going strong ever since.”
Danton likes to draw the parallel between hearing aids and glasses.
“You have to wear them for you to be able to see and I have to wear my hearing aids for me to be able to hear,” he said. “And it hasn’t ever stopped me. I’ve been blessed with that. And I’ve been blessed to have family support, that don’t ever let it stop you.”
The Hymans, naturally, were worried about what other kids would say to Danton as he grew up with hearing aids. But Eddie, a utility player for Newberry in the early 1990s, knew at least one way for his son to blend in.
“The one thing I said,” Eddie recalled, “If he can play the game, he’s not gonna be different than anybody else.”
‘I like to feel the adrenaline’
Hyman’s 85 hits this season are the most by any college player, regardless of division (through Friday’s games). He’s been the centerpiece to the SAC champs, a team ranked among Division II’s top 10 since the beginning of April.
“He’s one of the best players in the nation,” Tarrance said.
Hyman’s been a star at every stage of his career. He first joined a team — coached by his father — when he was 3. Tee ball led to travel ball and then a decorated high school career.
Playing for Daniel Gregory at Mid-Carolina in Prosperity, Hyman was named all-conference three times and all-state twice.
“Danton’s senior year, when we were in the playoffs, we made another deep run, played for another state championship,” Gregory said. “I was standing, during the pre-game coaches meeting with the team. We were getting ready to play and we kind of traded stories about ‘What have you heard on us?’ Kind of the scouting reports. And I asked him, I was just curious, ‘What’s the word on us?’ ‘What’s the word on the Hyman kid?’
“And he said, ‘It’s funny you ask that because every coach that we’ve talked to about Mid-Carolina to get a sense of how you are has described Danton with the same two words.’ And it was ‘good luck.’ Dealing with him, ‘good luck.’ And I said, ‘That’s true.’ Because he is the definition of a winner. He refuses to let teams that he’s on lose.”
Hyman also played basketball through high school. As a middle schooler, he was fouled late in a tight game and his team needed his free throws to win. Isolated in a noisy gym, Hyman got to the line, reached back and turned off his heading aids. He missed both shots.
“I just didn’t feel like I was in the moment,” Hyman said. “I missed both of them and I said, ‘You know what, I’m never turning these things off again.’ I like to feel the adrenaline. It was weird. Unless you wear hearing aids, it’s a different vibe. Like, when you turn them off, you don’t hear anything. It’s different. I’m not making excuses, but it’s one of the things that threw me off when I shot those two free throws in middle school.”
When Hyman found himself in a similar situation a few years later, he made a couple free throws to help Mid-Carolina beat rival Chapin.
“I kept my hearing aids on,” he said. “We won. It was pretty sick.”
Only in certain instances does Hyman’s hearing loss affect his performance. His base-running success comes as result of a razor-sharp focus. He must be aware of all things on the paths — the lurking shortstop crashing in to pick him leading off second base is always a threat — because he can’t always quickly glean verbal cues from his bases coaches.
Defensively, Hyman keeps constant communication with his corner outfielders. This season, that’s Tarrance and Nick Butler, a pair of freshmen.
“He tells me I have to make sure he can hear me,” Tarrance said. “So basically I have to project. If not, it’s going to be a problem. He covers a lot of ground out there. If he thinks he’s going to get there, he calls it. And if he calls it, I have to get out of the way because he’s gonna catch it.”
Center! Center! Center!
“That’s his call,” Butler said. “We’re always loud around Danton, but it’s fun. He’s a loud guy, so we gotta be loud just for him to hear our voice.”
Embracing being a role model
Danton Hyman’s magnetic personality once nearly triggered a fashion trend at Prosperity-Rikard Elementary.
“When he started school,” Jan Hyman said, “the very first day I had a mom stop me in the hall and tell me, ‘My son just told me he wants hearing aids like Danton.’ Because he thought it was cool.”
Danton comes back to these hallways from time to time to visit Mom, remaining popular as the local star baseball player. He recently befriended a fifth-grade girl who was struggling to wear hearing aids.
“He came down one morning and the guidance counselor got her out of class and they went to an empty classroom and talked,” Jan said. “And I asked him that night when he called me, ‘How did things go?’ And he said, ‘Mom, she talked and talked and talked.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s good because usually she doesn’t to most people.’ ”
The reserved girl opened up to Hyman as he established their common ground. Wearing hearing aids, it’s not that bad.
“She was going through a stage where she was maturing, she’s growing up, she’s about to go into middle school,” Danton said. “She came and she wouldn’t wear her hearing aids. She’s scared people will judge her when she puts them in her ears. And I kind of basically told her, ‘When you wear your hair down, nobody can see them. Nobody will even know.’ ... You gotta put it in perspective the way they will feel comfortable. And that’s the thing. I’ve been around it for so long, I’m cool with it.”
Jan confirms the message was received.
“She wears her hearing aids now,” Jan said. “I’ll pass her in the hall and I’ll say, ‘Good for you!’ ”
When Hyman was a freshman at Newberry, he hosted a 10-year-old boy who was in the same predicament. He took batting practice and shagged balls in the outfield next to Hyman as one baseball player told the other about the positive effects of hearing aids. By the end of the session, the boy was convinced.
“We just talked,” Danton said. “He didn’t want to wear his hearing aids and he wanted to play baseball. I was like, ‘Dude, you’re gonna have to wear them. That’s part of the game. You’re gonna have to wear them.’ I think it changed his life.”
Said Jan: “We still stay in touch with that family. They’re such sweet people. And the little boy started playing baseball after that. As far as I know, he’s still playing.”
There’s no certainty to how much longer Hyman will play baseball. If a professional opportunity arises, he’ll explore it, but the accounting major has also has eyes on graduate school.
The at-bats, the steals, the runs ... those will soon cease. But the platform won’t ever go away.
Danton Hyman will always be heard.
“I’ve been blessed to just be able to be myself,” he said with a grin. “I think it just comes with the character. Just be myself and don’t let that bother you and don’t let that affect you. I can’t thank God enough. God made me who I am and made me the kind of person I am. And that means a lot to me because I’ve been able to overcome wearing hearing aids.
“I want others to do the same.”