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.
His speech isn’t clear, but it became easier to understand Breuer uring 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.”
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 workWhen 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.”