Beep baseball helps visually impaired people play ball

Published on Sunday, 12 October 2014 21:22 - Written by BY FAITH HARPER, fharper@tylerpaper.com

Blake Boudreaux, of Houston, has lived through cancer and blindness.

Boudreaux, a University of Texas A&M graduate and employee of the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, gave a brief testimony before the first pitch of a beep baseball tournament in Tyler Saturday afternoon at the Sixth Annual Great Texas Shootout. The event was held on the John Tyler practice field, and sought to raise funds for breast cancer and awareness for the visually impaired.

Boudreaux, a player on the Houston Bayou Heat beep baseball team, said he was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eyes, when he was a toddler. One of his eyes was removed, but the cancer spread to the other. After removing 25 tumors from his eye, Boudreaux could only see shadows for most of his life, until 20 years later, a surgery restored part of his vision.

“Don’t ever let people tell you can’t do something,” he said. “Many of the people who are here today prove people wrong on a daily basis. “The only person that is going to stop you from where you want to be is yourself and the fears that you have.”

Beep baseball is a modified version of the traditional game for the visually impaired.

The game’s ball is slightly larger than a softball with a beeping device inside. It’s also softer with padding to insulate the beeper when it’s hit.

The bases also beep, and the game uses first and third base. After the ball goes into the air, the batter has to listen to which padded base is beeping and run toward it. The base resembles a football tackling dummy. Sometimes they run to first base, other times to third.

The defense has to find the beeping ball before the batter makes it to a base. A spotter in the outfield can only say a number to signify the rough direction of the ball, and the players hold it up high in the air to get the out.

Every player is required to wear a blindfold to level out the visual abilities of all players. If the blindfold is removed for any reason, the team is disqualified. The only two players who are not visually impaired are the pitcher and the catcher.

Boudreaux said, often, when people hear about the game, they envision something closer to T-ball. But the game requires skill, trust and is incredibly competitive.

Tracy Sawyer discussed breast cancer. A survivor herself, Ms. Sawyer said 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with the disease and 1 in 4 people will know someone personally who battled it.

“Breast cancer is very near and dear to my heart,” she said, adding her grandmother and favorite aunt were diagnosed with the disease. “It shouldn’t have been a big surprise when I was diagnosed on my first mammogram at age 40.”

Ms. Sawyer emphasized getting annual mammograms and doing self-examinations. She said the good news about the disease is it carries a very high survival rate if caught early or in intermediate stages.

The five beep ball teams from across the state, including, College Station, Dallas, Houston and Nacogdoches gathered together on the field to release pink and white balloons into the grey, rainy sky to honor the cancer fighters who lost their battles. Tyler City Councilman Don Warren read a proclamation from the city before throwing the first pitch.

The teams had to combine teams for the tournament, but played three games on the turf field. The games went on through rain and falling temperatures.

Dewayne Sparks, founder of the Bryan-College Station Outlaws team, said the turf was more challenging to play on.

“I’ve never played beep ball on turf before,” he said. “You have to make your decision quickly when you’re on defense — you’re not going to have a whole lot of time. It tends to bounce a little more on this, which can be tricky, but I think we adjusted pretty well.”

Sparks, an Austin native, played for the Austin Blackhawks for years, earning seven beep ball championship titles while on the team. He moved to the College Station area about a year ago and founded the Outlaws in February.

“You can’t get it out of your system,” he said. “I retired a couple of times after we won our seventh championship. I thought we had our day in the sun, but you can’t get away from it. I wanted to promote the sport, so when I came to college station, I thought it would be cool if we had a team there.”

Kayleigh Joiner, a Stephen F. Austin State University education student and member of the SFA Lumberjacks beep ball team, said she was first exposed to beep ball in her youth, but only recently picked the sport back up after learning the college had a team.

“I enjoy being active,” she said. “My PE experiences in school were not that great. I was sidelined a lot because they didn’t know how to include me, and I didn’t know I could be athletic. If you asked me years ago if would use the word ‘athletic’ to describe myself, I would have said no.”

Ms. Joiner said she has a fierce competitive streak, and beep ball gives her the opportunity to play competitively. She said nothing is impossible for people with visual impairments, but it does take work.

“Many people may not think that blind people can be classroom teachers, but I know of blind people of many professions — lawyers, chemists, doctors. There are ways to adapt and techniques to use to allow you to the same thing as others, but in a different way.”