Thursday, August 09, 2007

Beep baseball makes a difference in visually impaired baseball players

Former beep baseball player Kevin Barrett possesses a vast knowledge and appreciation of the sport that has become a huge part of the life of visually impaired athletes across the United States.
The National Beep Baseball Association formed in 1976, and since that time, the sport has grown across the U.S. and has ventured into countries like Taiwan and Puerto Rico.

Barrett picked up the sport in 1984, formed the Cleveland Scrappers with Marty Skutink, and the team joined the NBBA in 1987.

Barrett and the Scrappers are in town for the Qwest 2007 National Beep Baseball Association World Series at the Fuad Mansour Soccer Complex.

Now recently retired, Barrett still serves as the treasurer of the Scrappers. The team finished competition on Friday with a 2-5 record and a 10th-place finish.

But more important than the team's finish is the confidence and self-esteem the players have gained by playing beep baseball.

"Beep baseball is so wonderful," Barrett said. "In society, the blind and visually impaired have been kept on the sidelines. It has been ingrained in their minds that there are just some things they can not do.

"But beep baseball enhances self-esteem and the athletes become more dependent. They try new things, in society, in school, or at work, and by doing something like playing baseball, show others they can do the same things others can."

Barrett, 51, of Cleveland, Ohio, has visual acuity of 20/200. Born with Lateral Nystagmus, Barrett suffers from rapid eye movement.

He pitched for the Scrappers for years but finally had to hang it up after last season as, "the sun was too tough to deal with when I was pitching."

Barrett continues to be a big supporter of the sport and has served on the NBBA's board of directors.

The players not only have to overcome their physical limitations, but the ignorance of others, Barrett said. Barrett told the story of a player in Cleveland.

"In Cleveland, visually impaired riders receive a lower bus fare. But when a player boarded a bus with his game uniform on, the driver asked, 'What is this? Is this a joke?, you can't be blind and play baseball,'" Barrett said.

The player didn't fight it and paid the fare. But the story is just one in a line of occurrences that a visually impaired person may incur on a daily basis.

"The visually impaired will always have to deal with ignorance, but the sport has started to open doors and is breaking down barriers," he said.

Former Scrapper Elwood Walters embodies the confidence building that can happen when a player finds beep baseball.

Walters was diagnosed with diabetes and lost his vision. He then fell into an emotional tailspin, contemplating suicide. When Barrett heard of Walters' condition, he swooped in and introduced him to the game.

"With Elwood, we brought him down to practice, and put him in the batter's box," Barrett said. "On pitch one, he got a hit. Pitch two, got a hit. He was happy as can be.

"He played three years and was a great defenseman. He eventually passed on, but his story really shows what this game can do. Here was a guy on the brink of suicide, and he found a support group here and built his confidence."

The tournament's championship game was scheduled to start at noon today. Former Minnesota Twins player Tim Laudner will throw out the first pitch.


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