WEEKLY WORKOUT: Sonya uses her ears to help her play a very special game

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A blindfold isn’t your typical baseball accessory, but this isn’t your typical baseball team.

“Okay, first of all you gotta trust me,” says Fran Guerra Jr. as he leads me across the baseball field.  “The first thing I’m gonna have you do, I’m gonna put a bat in your hand and I want you to listen for that base.”

You heard him right, listen for the base.  In beep baseball, the bases and the ball beep, because the players can’t see either one.  Everyone on the field is visually impaired.

Finding the base, even running without the use of your eyes is a challenge, if not downright scary.

“Okay, bring it in,” says Frank.  “Listen to my clap.  Bring it in.”

Almost instantly, I have a greater appreciation for my teammates’ courage.

“Just listen for my voice.  That’s what everyone else has to do.”

The team includes John Patterson, who has been visually impaired his entire life.  He plays beep ball for the same reasons people with sight enjoy sports.

“I think the best part about playing is just the team atmosphere, being able to play with other people, enjoying each other’s company and being able to be active.”

John has no fear when it comes to fielding.  He darts toward the ball without hesitation, then crawls on the ground to find it.  My fielding skills are non-existent.  Without sight, I’m not even sure which base I’m playing.

There are six players on the field: three in the infield, three in the outfield.  A spotter serves as the players’ eyes on the field.

“Your spotter will tell you where you are after the play is done,” says Frank.

Communication is the key.  If you hear a ball coming at you and you think you can get it, you’re supposed to shout “coming.”  If you hear it pass by, you’re supposed to shout “by me” and hope your teammate comes to your rescue.

“The more you practice the better you get,” says John.

Eventually, I’m able to field a ball.  But if you think fielding is hard, try hitting the ball.

Frank helps me find the base and places a bat in my hand.  He watches me take a few practice swings, before delivering a real pitch.  I graze it, which results in a foul ball.

The only other ball I manage to hit pops off the bat and hits me in the head.

Patience is one of Frank’s strong points.  But he knows better than most how difficult it is to connect with a ball you can’t see.

“I’m legally blind in my right eye and totally blind in my left eye,” says Frank.

It’s cliché, but in this case it’s true:  The blind really are leading the blind.

“Volunteers are not needed for this sport,” says Frank.  “If you get six blind people on one team and six blind people on the other team and maybe one or two volunteers that are sighted, that’s all you need.”

“The more people get to know a visually impaired person or a totally blind person, the more they say and think we can do most of the stuff they can do,” says John.

They can do most of the stuff a sighted person can do, maybe more.  But then again, these aren’t your typical players.

“I don’t care about winning,” says Frank.  “I want them to have fun and I want to give them the opportunity to actually live life to the best that they can by giving them a tool that is available to them, no questions asked.”

And this isn’t your typical team.

The Iowa Reapers will be one of about 20 teams competing in the Beep Ball World Series in Ames next summer.  Teams from as far away as Taiwan are expected to participate in the five day tournament.  For more information visit Adaptive Sports Iowa at:

http://iowasportsfoundation.org/Sports/AdaptiveSportsIowa.aspx