Game of Blind Baseball Helps Players Cope

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  • ATLANTA (AP) — In the game of blind baseball, players use their sense of sound to make up for their lack of sight. They play the game known as Beep baseball with an oversized softball that beeps and bases that buzz.

    The National Beep Baseball Association was founded in 1975. Teams have been formed nationwide and compete annually in a World Series. In east Atlanta, a team called the Atlanta Eclipse plays at a local park.

    Players wear blindfolds to ensure fairness since each person has a varying degree of blindness. The pitcher and the catcher are sighted and play on the same team as the batter.

    On a hit, the batter runs toward the buzz of either the first or third base, which is decided by an official. There is no second base. A run is scored if the batter tags the base before the fielder can pick up the ball; otherwise the batter is out. In this adapted version of America’s pastime, cheering is not permitted until the play is over.

    For the players, the game is about much more than physical activity; It helps them cope with the challenges of being blind. Here are the stories of three players in Atlanta and surrounding areas whose lives have been improved by what happens on the baseball diamond.

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    ‘PROVE YOU WRONG’

    Dee Butler, 55, began experiencing problems with her sight as a teenager, and in school would ask to sit near the front of the class. At 24, she was diagnosed with cone-rod dystrophy, a progressive disease that causes the deterioration of the retina and leads to blindness.

    She took up blind baseball a few years ago after a tumultuous relationship with a now ex-husband.

    “I have an ex-husband I call my ‘wasband,'” said Butler, standing in the convenience store she used to run in Hapeville, an Atlanta suburb. “For a long time, he used to make me feel so down. I was always never good enough for anything. I was ugly. I was fat. I couldn’t do anything.”

    She heard it so often, Butler said she became depressed.

    “And then I just started getting mad. He would always tell me I couldn’t do anything by myself,” she said. “And so I looked at him right in the eye, and I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to prove you wrong.'”

    She packed up her 9-year-old twin girls and 11-year old son, and left. On the suggestion of a friend who knew about the Atlanta Eclipse, Butler decided to give the game a try, although she doubted she could master it. She showed up time after time, struggling to hit the ball, with every swing a miss. Even when she could see, she had never been athletic.

    “As a child, I was always like a girly girl,” she said.

    When she hit the ball for the first time, and made her first run, she was hooked.

    “I enjoy it. I love getting out there and hitting that ball and making them runs, doing everything that I didn’t think I could do before,” she said.

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    ‘LIGHTEN UP MY DARKNESS’

    Jimmie Burnette, 44, took up Beep baseball after suffering a brain tumor in 2010 that left him blind.

    “I wanted to give up. When I first got home, I felt real alone. I couldn’t see anything. My initial reaction was ‘run away,'” said Burnette, sitting in his living room next to his wife, Tiawanna. “At times, it’s almost like total dark. It’s gloomy. But I have to find things to lighten up my darkness.”

    From the hospital bed to the baseball field, Burnette’s journey has been filled with challenges: rehab after the surgery, Braille classes and training sessions on how to get around as a blind person, from crossing the street safely to taking public transportation. Through it all, he feels he has lost his independence and role as provider for the family.

    “I was brought up with the attitude of a man doesn’t work, he doesn’t eat. I kept saying to myself, ‘You’re not a man anymore, you’re not a man anymore,'” said Burnette, a former FedEx driver and hobbyist model airplane builder who is now unemployed and on disability. “BEEP baseball is helping me out. It takes away from me thinking about I’m less than a man.”

    “Now I realize I’m still the same man, just have to do things differently now,” he said.

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