Buffalo area plays role in movie about deaf ballplayer
Graduate and former teacher at St. Mary’s stars in documentary about man who changed baseball
Baseball fans may not know the name Dummy Hoy but his century-old record — the Washington Senators outfielder threw out three base runners at home plate in one inning — still stands.
Yet Hoy’s records — he also stole a National League-leading 82 bases in 1888 — are not the reason people will line up today to see “Signs of the Time,” a documentary with a distinctive Buffalo bent.
• Video: Watch the film’s trailer
They will watch it because William Ellsworth Hoy — he preferred the nickname “Dummy” — is best known as the deaf ballplayer who introduced hand signals to major league baseball.
And they will come because the actor playing Hoy is Angola native Michael Barreca, a graduate and former assistant teacher at St. Mary’s School for the Deaf.
“He had never acted before,” said Don Casper, the film’s director and producer. “But he’s an athlete, and we wanted to find someone who had the baseball chops.”
Barreca, 34, was working at St. Mary’s, where he starred in track, soccer and basketball as a student, when he successfully auditioned for the role. His scenes were shot outside of Rochester.
“There’s an inherent acting that comes through sign language,” Casper said of Barreca, “because a lot of it is gesture and facial expression, and being that it is his native language, in essence, I think, it came kind of easy to him.”
Although named national soccer player of the year by a deaf association in his senior year at St. Mary’s, Barreca’s best sport was baseball, said Paul Crowley, St. Mary’s director of student affairs. Unfortunately, the school lacked a team.
“He was one of the best athletes we ever had in our school’s history,” Crowley said of Barreca — who, like an older brother, was born deaf.
Having been instructed in baseball at an early age by his father, the switch-hitting Barreca played on a team at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, and later in Buffalo baseball leagues.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Kathie Barreca, Michael’s mother. “My husband had a brain tumor and died in 1990, and he was a Yankees fan and baseball was his whole life. I know he would have been so proud of my son with this movie. There are parts that are just so Michael, and so my husband, like the character’s honesty.”
The 60-minute documentary, narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss, screens at 2 p.m. today in the downtown Market Arcade Theatre.
When Hoy’s 14-year, six-team major-league career began in 1888, there were no umpire hand signals. Hoy invented a series of them with his third-base coach to follow the umpire’s calls behind the plate.
“He was left-handed, with a direct view of third base, so the coach would signal strikes and balls,” Casper said from the Fairport office of film company Crystal Pix. “Many people feel this was the inspiration that eventually led to umpires adopting the hand signals. … we know today in 1909, when they that became league mandated for all umpires.”
The growth of baseball stadiums also made it imperative that hand signals come into use, Casper said.
The Buffalo Niagara Film Festival is the 15th festival “Signs of the Time” has been entered in. It won top honors in 2009 for “Baseball Excellence” at the Cooperstown Baseball Film Festival, and “Best Documentary” at the SoCal Independent Film Festival.
Casper said he is exploring distribution opportunities and expects the film to be released on home video later this year.
Casper and Kathie Barreca plan to attend today’s screening. Barreca, a married father of two who now lives in Barnesville, Ohio, and teaches sign language at West Virginia Community College, had wanted to attend, but won’t be able to due to transportation problems, his mother said.
News Staff Reporter Phil Fairbanks contributed to this report.