Hitting Preconceptions out of the Park

Beep Baseball World Series in Eau Claire highlighted athleticism of the visually impaired

Jim Jeffries

(Photo: Visit Eau Claire)
(Photo: Visit Eau Claire)

Frank, my wife’s nephew, entered this world under emergency circumstances, and as a result, he is legally blind. Until I dated my wife, I had never known a visually-impaired person, so I treated Frank with kid gloves. He put up with that treatment until our wedding. As our ring-bearer, Frank was to tread sedately up the church aisle with my niece. But at the first notes of Pachelbel’s Canon, he tore down the aisle and did an impressive parkour-type leap into his grandmother’s pew, destroying my preconceptions for our wedding and of Frank.

I’m not the only one with preconceptions of the blind. Last week, Frank was visiting, and we took him out to eat at a local Mexican restaurant. Due to a lifetime of squinting, Frank has a permanent grin on his face and an innocent expression that belies a deep sarcastic streak. He ordered a margarita large enough for a major league pitcher to ice his sore elbow in. Thinking he was younger than he is, the waitress looked at him and said, “Do you want a virgin?”

Frank replied, “Yes. And I want a margarita, too.” The waitress shrugged, wrote down his order, and missed his sarcasm entirely.

Frank came to Eau Claire for the Beep Baseball World Series. Now I’m not a fan of regular baseball because I have the attention span of a fruit fly doused in Red Bull, but Beep Baseball is different. As the name states, the ball beeps so that the hitter and fielders can locate it. All of the players on the field have to wear black masks over their eyes because every player has a different level of visual impairment and that levels the playing field. The pitcher and catcher are on the same team as the batter. (So in this case, if the pitcher has a lot of strikeouts, he’s a bad pitcher.) There are two foam pylons that are five feet tall, located at approximately first base and third base 100 feet away. When the batter connects with the ball, one of these bases will buzz, and the batter has to touch the pylon before the fielders get two hands on the ball.

Now this was THE WORLD SERIES of Beep Baseball, but when I looked around, the crowds were pretty scarce. And most of the spectators were wearing jackets and covered in heavy blankets on this fine Wisconsin summer day, so I assumed that they weren’t natives. And to be honest, if Frank weren’t playing, I probably wouldn’t be there that day either. But what a game!

You have to be absolutely silent during play so that the players can hear the ball, but then it gets very raucous after play. It was like you had a mute button for the crowd at a hockey game. One man on Frank’s team had the voice of a drill sergeant with a two-pack-a-day habit. He would lead the chants. “I say ‘scoop the,’ you say ‘ball’!” “Scoop the?” “Ball!” (I thought they were saying “Stupid ball,” until someone corrected me, which proves that the hearing of the visually-impaired is more acute. Or I’m getting old.)

In the outfield, the players had to throw their bodies on the ground to surround the ball to field it. On one play, two players from the Indy Edge, Frank’s team, dove on the ground and missed the ball as the other team scored a run. An Indy Edge player shouted, “Ridiculous! Disgraceful! How could you miss that?”

I was thinking, “Dude, chill. They can’t even see the ball.” That’s when Frank told me that he was their coach.

That’s when it hit me. This wasn’t just a case of visually-impaired men out to have a good time. These were serious athletes who constantly pushed themselves to improve their performance. I saw a lot of ace bandages and runs to the first aid tent via golf cart. Part of it was the constant dives to the ground. But most of it was the way they attacked the pylon when they got a hit. If the runner reached out his hand and just tried to touch the pylon, often he would miss. At the first sound of buzzing, they would tear down the baseline and tackle the pylon.

With an impressive parkour-type leap, they destroyed the pylon and, once again, my preconceptions.

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