Lauren Williamson 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Beep Baseball Allows the Blind to Compete and Have Fun The baseball once rocketed off the bat of Brian Christian, 38. The cracking sound ripped through the air, impressing big league scouts. These days he still puts on a uniform, still swings fiercely and makes solid contact, but it’s a beeping noise that sounds after he pummels the ball. A veteran of the first Gulf War, Christian lost his sight five years ago. He now plays for the Indianapolis RHI X-Treme baseball squad, part of the 23-team National Beep Baseball Association (NBAA). Like hundreds of other league players, blindness has not prevented Christian from playing the game he loves. He relishes the competition and the camaraderie. Three Lions clubs–Carmel, Indianapolis Washington Township and Indianapolis Franklin Township–support Christian’s team with volunteers, funding or both. Lions across the country similarly support other NBBA teams. Thanks to Lions, the NBBA allows blind athletes of varying abilities to enjoy a game while building their confidence. Playing “makes you think, ‘I belong out here. I can do things,’” Christian says. Beep Basics Lion Kevin Barrett of North Olmsted, Ohio, is the second vice president of the NBBA. He was born legally blind and first played beep baseball in the 1980s. He became a Lion in 1998. His club did fundraisers, collected glasses and performed other service projects to support the blind. “But they never interacted with those who are visually impaired personally,” he says. That changed. Today the Broadview Heights Lions serve as volunteers at the annual tournament of the NBBA’s Cleveland Scrappers. They’ve also played a large role in the 2001 and 2006 NBBA World Series, both of which were held in the Cleveland suburbs. Lions raised money so teams could travel to the series. They helped players purchase uniforms and equipment. They also donned uniforms and gamely served as pitchers and catchers, roles filled by sighted players in beep baseball. Since its origins in the 1960s, Beep baseball has evolved from a slow-moving game during which players were coddled to an intensely competitive sport that’s just as fierce– if not more so–than traditional baseball. The “beep” in Beep baseball is literal. The balls emit a high-pitched, rhythmic squeal, creating a Doppler effect that lets players track the ball from pitch to bat. The pitcher plays for the same team as the batter. Both share the goal of connecting ball with bat. The pitcher aims precisely and calls out two commands, “ready” and “pitch,” to help the batter make contact with the ball. It’s baseball with some necessary modifications. When the batter connects, either first base or third base buzzes. Whatever base buzzes is entirely random. The batter must quickly determine the correct base and run there. A sighted spotter calls out a zone that alerts the outfielders to the ball’s general location. If an outfielder grabs the ball, either by catching it or collecting it from the ground, the batter is out. If the batter successfully makes it to the base, however, he scores a run. The game is not for the timid. Fielding balls is a whole-body sport. Bumps, bruises and scrapes are routine, as defensive players often stop a drive by blocking it with their body so they can easily pick up the ball from the ground in front of them. Beep baseball is a collaborative sport, requiring the participation of both visually impaired and sighted people. It’s a sport that appeals to Lions, eager to not only help the blind but also interact with them. The NBBA is mostly in the Midwest and South but also fields teams on both coasts and even one in Taiwan. Among its cities are Boston, Chicago, Austin, Texas, and Stockton, California. It takes a lot of volunteers and financial support to keep the league running, and Lions have been a critical component of the NBBA’s success. Comfortable on the Diamond Christian played baseball growing up. He hit close to .500 in high school. He was good enough to merit a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds. Athletic and eager to continue with sports, he played on baseball and basketball teams while in the military. He served in the Navy from 1989-92 with active duty in Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf. After his discharge, Christian worked as a landscape surveyor, a job that required the same precise vision as baseball. Then one day, at age 35, things started to change. Like a sinister fog, cloudiness began to creep across Christian’s line of vision, starting in his left eye and within months spreading to his right. He had developed Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, a genetic disorder that causes rapid and permanent vision loss. “When it comes into effect, it really starts quickly,” Christian says. Within months, he was legally blind. “I am not totally blind but it’s like seeing through a fog,” he says. After learning he was losing his vision but before he began rehabilitation, he received more devastating news. One of his two daughters had bone cancer. Hannah, now 10, eventually lost her right leg but has been cancer-free for two years. Baseball has been an outlet for Christian. He can again play the game of his youth. Some of it has come easily while other parts of the game have been more difficult. Batting was relatively easy. “You really develop a bond with the pitcher,” he says. “As long as your swing is consistent, you’re going to do really well.” Learning new defensive strategies has been a greater challenge for Christian than batting. “My first reaction is to move, but you really have to focus with your hearing,” he says. Role of Lions Beep baseball games present a multitude of opportunities for Lion involvement. Some sighted Lions have even joined the teams, Barrett said, since spotters and pitchers must all be able to see. Many of the Beep umpires are Lions. “It brings the sighted and the blind together to make this all possible,” Barrett says. One of the biggest hurdles for players is funding travel for games. Since the 23 teams are spread across the country, most competitive play requires financial support for transportation and lodging. Without the Lions’ assistance, Christian said much of what the NBBA does wouldn’t be possible. “We are indebted to all the men and women who take the time and effort to support us,” Christian says. “We can never thank them enough, so we’ll keep saying it.” In many cases, the relationship between Lions and the Beep teams becomes symbiotic: as Lions clubs volunteer with Beep baseball teams, they frequently gain new members from among the players. The Broadview Heights Lions and Cleveland Scrappers players have also joined together in service projects that raise awareness of visual impairments. In 2010, the groups participated in a disability awareness week at a school in Bay Village, Ohio. The NBBA demonstrated Beep baseball in the gym, giving kids the opportunity to try the game themselves by putting on blindfolds. A mother of two children with disabilities organized the week, and Barrett said seeing the Scrappers in action gave her tremendous hope for the future of her own children. “Parents of special needs youths worry about what they’re going to do when they’re gone,” he says. “To see these guys functioning and working as productive citizens is itself a big boost.” Christian said the RHI X-Treme prioritize similar service projects that raise awareness for visual impairment and other disabilities. “It’s the best thing we can do in life–we’ve got to volunteer and help wherever we can,” he says. Barrett went to the Lions’ International Convention in Seattle in 2011 to begin educating a wider swath of Lions about the opportunities for service within the NBBA. “As we network, more Lions are becoming involved, and we’re trying to pitch in every way we can,” Barrett says. “It can be very rewarding.” Another goal is to expand Beep into more parts of the country, as well as abroad. Perhaps the greatest gift of the NBBA is the way it changes ideas about blindness, both within the sighted community and among the visually impaired players themselves. “It’s opening up a whole new world of possibilities,” Barrett says. “Who would have dreamt that attitudes would have changed so that [the visually impaired] would dive on a ball and bruise their body, maybe skin their knees? People have started to see we shouldn’t limit their potential and their choices to enjoy life.” Christian and his team competed intensely in the NBBA World Series in August 2011 in his hometown of Indianapolis. The RHI X-Treme were downtrodden, he said, after being knocked out in the second game. The series wasn’t over for them, though. They had to rally and play again in a game that would determine their seeding in the 2012 World Series in Ames, Iowa. “We knew deep down we had to win that game,” Christian says. And they did, beating the Colorado Storm 16-15 and earning the top seed for the 2012 World Series. It’s those types of the victories, along with the camaraderie the teams build throughout the season, that give NBBA players a special confidence in their lives. Barrett said one member of the Cleveland Scrappers was initially so devastated by the loss of his sight as an adult that he refused to leave his apartment. Another player convinced him to come to a game by promising to meet him in his building’s lobby and escort him to the field. Eventually he started getting as far as the bus stop on his own. “Within a couple of years he was able to get to the field all by himself,” Barrett says. “Baseball got him to do that.”
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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