Reid My Mind Radio – Let’s Play Ball… Beep Baseball!

A collage including the cover of the book Beep: Inside the world... plus photos of a Beep player hitting & another photo of someone catching a ground ball.
For many, the idea of people who are blind or visually impaired playing baseball seems farfetched.

Today, we take a look at the adapted sport through a new book on the subject; Beep Baseball: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind. I speak with the author David Wanczyk, some players and learn about the National Beep Baseball Association World Series coming up later this month.

If you like what you hear, help spread the word about Beep and RMM Radio by sharing this episode and subscribing to the podcast.

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TR:

Whats up Reid My Mind Radio family.

I hope your summer is going well.

Summer seems like the best time to make great memories. I know I have many that involve swimming pools, beaches, boardwalks.

If this is your first time listening to Reid My Mind Radio welcome. I’m your host TReid.
If you’re a returning listener welcome back.

Usually I bring you a story or an interview or profile of someone impacted by vision loss or disability or sometimes it’s just one of my personal experiences hopefully told in an interesting way.

Today’s piece is summer related… baseball. You know hot dogs, cracker jacks, beer oh my!

But first, hit me with the intro music!

Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

Beep baseball sound

Chances are most people wouldn’t associate the sport of baseball
with people who are blind or visually impaired.

Since 1976, the National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA) has been working hard to change this.

The new book titled Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind is contributing to the effort.

I spoke with the author David Wanczyk about the game, his reason for writing the book and more.

There’s lots for those familiar with baseball to recognize when watching Beep Baseball for the first time.

This adapted version of baseball also called Beep Ball or sometimes just beep is similarly played on a grassy field set in a diamond shape. While we’re used to three bases in addition to home plate…

DW:
There is no second base.

TR:
That’s author David Wanczyk telling us more about the game.

The bases positioned at first and third are blue , about 5 feet tall .

They’re equipped with foam interior with the electronics that cause it to buzz serving as a beacon for the batters.

When a pitch is thrown, an umpire flips a switch which activates one of the bases. If the ball is hit the batter needs to run to the buzzing base before the ball is fielded in order to score a run.

DW:
There’s no, like, outfield fence. In most tournaments there’s an 170 foot line. You know, where like a softball fence would be. If you hit it beyond that line it’s a home run. I have never seen a homerun so it’s a very heavy ball. It’s pretty hard to make really really great contact because you got to be really insync with the pitcher in order to do that. And you know in the time that I was paying attention to beep ball I think there was one home run.

TR:

You may have caught one of the other big differences between the two versions of baseball…
In Beep, the pitcher and batter work closely together. In fact there on the same team.
The pitcher who is usually sighted, is trying to release and position the ball where the batter will make contact.
The better synchronization between the two teammates, the more likely the ball is hit.

DW:
There are also two sighted people on the field helping the fielders. What they can do is once the balls hit they can shout “four” and that means it’s coming to the left side of the field. The quickness of that call combined with the strength of the fielder’s ear is what kind of makes the fielding possible.
If the team is really advanced, so for instance Boston Renegades they finished second a couple years ago and they’re very organized team. One of their spotters, will call out something like *exaggerated* “threeeee,” right? And the idea that I can say one word but if I can say it in a long gated way I’m giving a little bit more information to my fielder. “It’s really a short ball it’s in the number three zone but it’s short so charge it!” Or you know *short* “four,” right, in that you hear the abruptness and that means it’s a line drive it’s coming right at you you better cover your face, right, there or cover your most sensitive parts. And that happens that happens for everyone talks about it so. I actually got hit in the nose when I was playing, luckily, it didn’t have too much injury and made the play.
On that note it is a dangerous and pretty exciting game and there are measures for safety, of course. People feel a lot of excitement playing and they should, you know, there’s a lot of diving, a lot of sprinting. A lot of players told me it was among their first chances to feel that kind of energized exercise.
Depending on your exercise regime kind of off the field maybe you’re jogging maybe you have a stationary bike whatever it is that they’re feeling like this there’s a freedom. And the people feel that a lot of a lot of the players don’t have otherwise and that was it was good to us to learn about.

TR:

That’s just one reason both men and women from
different communities with varying degrees of vision loss enjoy the sport.

Like Tanner Gers Executive Director of the accessibility non profit My Blind Spot.

Gers lost his sight after being impaled by a tree during an auto accident.

He recalls first learning about Beep.

TG:
I was just going about my life you know just doing the best I can to create something of meaning something I could be proud of. And I was going to school full time and working full time.

TR:
Returning home at the end of the night following a day of both school and work Tanner caught the end of the sports segment of his local nightly news.

TG:
The reporter comes on and says “now here’s a team who doesn’t let anything come between them and the game they love to play” I’ll never forget. It went out the very next week and I started playing and the rest is history.
TR:

Prior to losing his sight , Tanner had been An athlete all of his life,
and just assumed he would never have that opportunity again.

In 2008, four years after the accident, he began playing in the NBBA.

Currently living in Arizona, he’s playing on his third team, the Indy Edge out of Indianapolis Indiana.

TG:
When I lost my sight and I began meeting blind people and becoming introduced to the resources I realized that I can still do something with myself. I already had my motivational pilot light lit but beep baseball just threw like gas, gasoline, right on top of it.
Because of my success in beep baseball a local adaptive sports coach you know introduced into the Paralympics and I didn’t know what that was either. Very fortunate to have represented Team USA in a three big international events.
Being in that community opened up my mind to all different types of disabilities and people who were crushing in their lives both in sports and outside of it. And then it just introduced me to a lot of leaders in the blindness community. That led me to speaking professionally and to the career that I’m in now.

TR:

For some involved in the sport, it’s more about the game itself. Like the NBBA league secretary, captain of the Minnesota Millers and owner and operator of Guerra Access Technology Training, Stephen Guerra.

Currently living in Rochester Minnesota, Guerra is originally from Long Island New York where he grew up listening to Yankee games.

During a surgery to remove congenital cataracts when he was about 5 years old, Stephen was left totally blind resulting from what he describes as …
SG:
I’ll use the legal term of deviation of standard procedure. I grew up knowing nothing about sight I learned by sound, I learned by tactile. I’m a long time baseball fan. I remember growing up and listen to the New York Yankee games I created a baseball field as of Lego. So I took a Lego sheet and I created what I thought a baseball diamond would look like. There was first, second base, there was a pitcher’s mound, home plate and of course the outfield wall because that’s where all the home runs went. So I taught myself how to play baseball how I saw it. Which was really not far off the way the game of baseball went and that’s just what I did to pass time you know as a six, seven year old kid. My parents did everything they could to get me a electronic games of those days like ColecoVision Head to Head Baseball. I mean it’s a it’s a totally visual game but they they saw where it was something that I could do without sight.

In 1988 Stephen began playing the sport. In the mid 90’s he wanted to elevate his own game.
SG:
I went and spoke to a couple friends, I created with them the Long Island Bombers. We played together for a couple of years and we went to the World Series for the first time in 2002 as a team.
TR:

Jamie Simpson, Supervisor of Admissions and Counseling at the Chris Cole Rehabilitation Center in Austin Texas was Active in sports like Goal Ball & track as a teen.

Introduced to the game by her boyfriend, now husband, Wayne Simpson a fellow member of the Austin BlackHawks featured in the book, Jamie recalls her initial reaction to Beep Baseball.

JS:
I was ready to go I love sports I love being outside. I have Retinitis Pigmentosa which is degenerative eye disease. So I had some useable vision up until I was about twelve. So you know when you’re out like P.E. you’re just playing with kids. We would play schoolyard baseball or whatever and I could maybe run the bases but I could never see the ball and so playing in some form of baseball, softball was something that you know I’d always really wanted to do. To be able to find a sport that allowed that, even being slightly modified it’s still a very competitive game it’s still the same concept. And I think that’s why when I saw it actually being played for the first time I was like “oh yeah I could do this.”
TR:
That’s right, women and men play this sport side by side.

Taking a break from Beep during the early 2000’s to raise her children, Jamie is back in the game and working to make sure other women are informed about the sport.
JS:
I’m a member of the NBBA Board and I’m also a member of the WOOL, Women of Our League, committee. Kind of like the governing committee of women of our league we just try to make sure that we’re getting information out to any of the women who are interested in playing with us. Trying to grow the sport for women that’s kind of our big mission right now is to really get women involved and promoting beep baseball at the same time. Basically the women of our league it’s one game that we play at the World Series that consists of obviously nothing but women and we have the Southwest bombshells which I’m a player on the team and then there’s a north east dynamic divas. We play one game this year it’s going to be held on Wednesday at the World Series. In hopes that we can get more people to come out and support here on and be spectators. We have a new T. shirt that was just designed. So we’re hoping to sell some T. shirts to raise money. Just to help us with growing more and being able to buy our own balls for practice and that sort of thing and contribute a little to NBBA in whatever way that we can.

TR:
Whatever the reason for getting involved in the sport,
Author David Wanczyk says it’s about fun.
DW:
The fun’s different for different people. Some people are taking it extremely seriously. For some people it’s a reunion and for a lot it’s in between. I want to win this game hard but I’m going to also reconnect with all these all these friends from all over the country and everything.

TR:
Beep Baseball is a sport. Players and spectators alike should expect what comes along with that.

Like Competition

DW:
Tempers get high sometimes, yeah. It can get heated but I think for the most part for the love of the game.

TR:
And you can’t really have a team without the good old fashioned pranks.

DW:
What’s a kind word I can say on the radio? Give and take, I guess?

TR in conversation with DW:
[Laughs] You can say whatever you want to say.

DW:
[Laughs] Yeah, some ballbusting I guess I could say. I love to see that too. When you grow up playing baseball that’s obviously part of the heart of the game whether it’s your you know your teammate giving you a cup check or. You know pranks or nicknames or whatever that’s all there. You know especially with the Austin Blackhawks. So they are one of the strongest teams that won a number of championships in recent years.

TR:
A member of the BlackHawks, Jamie Simpson tells us first hand about her experience.
JS:
We were in the World Series tournament in ‘99. I probably in my mind a little bit thought it wouldn’t happen to me just because I was married to Wayne and he was team captain and all that right. So of course he goes out to go to a room where all the guys are gathering and I’m like well I’m going to hang back for a minute and get everything settled when of course the phone rings and these bulls had already put toothpaste on the phone receiver. [Laughs] So you put the phone to your ear and you get an ear full of toothpaste. So I’m like OK you guys suck and you know I hang up and I’m like you know cussing them and whatever. I’m cleaning up or whatever and then the stupid phone rings again so I’m thinking I’m being smart and I’m going to go for the other phone that’s in the room because the one’s already full with toothpaste and they had put toothpaste on the other damn phone too!

TR:
Some aspects of Beep may not be recognizable to those that are accustomed to being a part of the majority.

DW:
One player told me it’s the one chance that we get to be in the majority. You know there are four hundred people in the hotel and if you go to the bar at night it’s predominantly this group. One of the things I said, and I’m not sure I’m right about this and I did my best to be kind of humble about any sort of you know judgment I was offering, but it occurred to me that in most situations there was probably a kind of brotherhood of blindness in this case it was like “well we’re all blind, let’s fight” or “let’s be competitive!” And we can kind of we can kind of do this on a level playing field here and have a good time with it.

TR in conversation with DW:
Yeah, I think you see that sort of comradery in other activities. I’ve been
Involved in some blind avocadcy stuff. You know, similar thing, you have about 150 people at an hotel and we kind of take over and it’s kind of cool. It’s the one weekend where everything is really accesible because we make it that way.

TR :
Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind like the sport itself is about the people who participate. The men and women who were either born with some degree of vision loss or for various reasons lost the ability to see later in life.

It’s also full of the drama that is competitive sports.

DW:
There was an international rivalry that I thought was incredible and it was this Taiwan home run team versus the Austin Blackhawks. Austin had taught the Taiwanese team how to play about fifteen years prior and over the course of that time Taiwan had become kind of a juggernaut. And so there was this like brotherly relationship that was you know sometimes you just want to kick your brother in the shins, right?
So I thought wow here’s teams that got very different personalities, they’ve got very different backgrounds. This seems like a story that I want to tell. You know it’s about on one side it’s kind of a balls to the wall approach, pranking approach. On the other side, Taiwan, there’s a seriousness, great sense of humor over there too, but a seriousness and a kind of mental preparation. These cultures could meet on the field and we saw what happened and hopefully people will hear what happened in the book.

TR in conversation with DW:
So why were you interested in writing this book? Do you have any relationships to blindness?

DW:
Great question. So I was in writing school for a long time. Kind of writing various things and got out and graduated in 2010. And kind of decided that for a while I was going to write about sports. I wrote about something called 24 hour bike racing, something called Wife Carrying and realize…

TR in conversation with DW:
Wait wait wait wait wait… Wife Carrying? [Laughs]

DW:
Yeah so there’s a there’s a sport where you know you throw a throw your wife over your shoulder and with the Estonian carry, you hold by the ankles, And the woman is kind of behind you and you have to do an obstacle course. I finished thirty eighth in the nationals and I believe in 2011. I fell twice one one embarrassing right at the very end but I did finish it.
The idea was you know maybe participate in some of the sports people haven’t really heard of trying to see what the culture is. February 2012 or so there was a magazine article about beep ball but it wasn’t really about beep ball it just listed the rules and I realized it listed the rules straight from the website. It was like, you know, almost like “hey look at this” sort of “isn’t this odd” or “isn’t this kind of curious” sort of thing. Rather than, “hey, you know, what might this actually be about?” “Who are the people who who are involved in this?”
So I went out to the World Series that year and wrote an article. And then about a year later I had a daughter, my first daughter and my first child. And you know I had been busy and hadn’t been writing and kind of had a moment where I thought “I love writing, I want to want to write a story, I want to be involved in telling a story.” I kind of had a moment where I thought “I think I think that’s the story I’m invested in. I love baseball.”
I don’t have a connection to blindness personally but it’s something that I did feel like I could become very invested in. So for the next from 2013, ‘14, and into ‘15 I would spend a good part of every day usually try to do about a half an hour at least either interviewing someone or trying to compose a book. And got there it was just kind of one look and then realizing this is an intense sport and you know I can know more about this.

TR:

Fortunately, Wanczyk clearly didn’t see this project as a novelty.
There’s evidence in the small details included in the book that reveal a respect for the game and more importantly for the people who participate.

TR in conversation with DW:
Since this was your introduction to blindness, give me a couple of things you took away from it, what did you learn?

DW:
Of course I’m reluctant to make kind of blanket statements. But what I would say is, at least among this group, that I got to know there was like a bravado that I would maybe not have expected. You know that’s different from bravery I mean even reluctant to say bravery because I think sometimes when sighted people say that it might have a little bit of condescension. You know, I read one book that said you know, “I’m not brave I get up and I live my life just like you.”
And so but bravado I think is right, that this kind of storytelling panache among a lot of the players and the kind of joking spirit, the suspicion of sympathy because you know I accept your compassion and your help but I also don’t want to be limited by what you think of me. And that was instrumental to see.
The teamwork is really something to watch in beep ball. I can’t get out of my mind this image from 2012 where a diving play was made and then the third baseman and the left fielder high five and then their high five kind of turn into a “we’ve got to get back in position.”
Another image would be the kind of train onto the field not all teams do this but quite a few teams will line up and and be a six player train out on the field.
A lot of partying. And if I had asked myself “hey do blind guys party?” before I started. I’d say “well, of course they party.” But it’s different to then kind of be in the party and kind of feel what that’s all about. And yeah I had some of my best times with some of these guys to tell you the truth and kind of some of my wilder times.

TR in conversation with DW:
SO you’ve been to the bar with them? [Laughs]

DW:
[Laughs] I’ve been to the bar! Yes, oh lord I have.

TR:

Beginning July 29 through August 5, the National Beep Baseball Association will hold the World Series of Beep Baseball in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

NBBA Secretary Stephen Guerra tells us more.

SG:
The World Series is held each year in a different city and it’s a coming together of all the teams. And at this point for 2018 we have twenty three teams coming to this year’s World Series. And we have teams coming from Taiwan, the Taiwan Lightning. We have a team coming from Canada the Toronto blind jays and then twenty one other teams from around the United States. The most teams we’ve had was twenty four which was in Rochester New York 2015. The last couple years we’ve hovered between twenty and twenty four teams and we only anticipate that we are going to get bigger.
TR:
The NBBA continues to expand the sport around the world. All of those I spoke with are looking forward to more international representation during future World Series events.

Several people mentioned a desire to see beep as a part of the Paralympics.

Finally, Tanner Gers has this to say about how listeners can be a part of the game.
TG:
There’s a way for you to support somebody playing beep baseball. Whether through donations or you showing up and volunteering your time. Please come and see a VERY MUCH higher action game then you could ever imagine when you think of baseball. Because when blind people play baseball things get wild.

TR in conversation with TG:
Is that the tag line for the association [Laughs].

TG:
[Laughs]

TR:
For more information about Beep Baseball checkout the NBBA website at NBBA.org.

And of course don’t forget to pick up the book:
Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind from Amazon.com.
It’s available in print, EBook and as an audiobook from Audible.com

I’m Thomas Reid
For Gatewave Radio

DW:
Well we’re all blind, let’s fight! Or let’s be competitive. We can kind of do this on a level playing field here and have a good time with it.

Audio for Independent Living

TR:

That’s really just an introduction to the sport of Beep Baseball.
The game sounds pretty intense. Understand this, line drives are being hit and fielded.
There was an incident captured in the book where a young lady from Taiwan was pitching to a batter, who happened to be her boyfriend, and he hit a line drive right back at her face. Fortunately, she was okay. I’m pretty certain that was probably the end of their relationship.
Seriously, share this Podcast and spread Beep Baseball. Lets do what we can to help spread Beep Baseball. I truly need to get out give it a shot.

I hear there is a league in the Dominican Republic. If anyone out there hears this please feel free to fly me out for an event. Let’s say anytime in January or February. I’ll stay as long as required… like the winter?

Ok, it’s summer right now, no need to think about Winter. So much to look forward to right here right now. Like subscribing to this podcast.
You can do that on just about any podcast app. We’re on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Soundcloud, Stitcher and Tune In Radio. Of course you can go over to Reid My Mind.com. Remember that’s REID like my last name.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @tsreid and don’t forget to check out the other podcast I do with Doctor Dre – the one from Yo MTV Raps. It’s called 2BlindMics. If you are remotely interested in Rap music or Hip Hop culture, we have some goodies over there. Like interviews with some legendary DJ’s including Red Alert, Kid Capri, DJ Scratch and DJ Chuck Chillout. It’s a podcast but to me they sound like mini documentaries. It’s not just Hip Hop so check it out, there may be something there for you.

Now lets get back to summer…

peace!

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