Keeping Score: An outta sight sport

  • Greenfield native David Wanczyk’s book “Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind.” Submitted photo

Friday, June 15, 2018

Good morning!

When Greenfield native David Wanczyk asked me to look at his forthcoming book about blind baseball, I wasn’t sure if he was pranking me.

Blind baseball? C’mon, how’s that possible?

Wanczyk played Little League ball at Lunt Field in Greenfield and attended Eaglebrook School and Deefield Academy — “And Federal Street School,” he added. Now he’s an Ohio University faculty member and editor of New Ohio Review put out by the school’s English department.

In March, he confirmed that his book “Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind” (Swallow Press) would be released on Opening Day.

The 35-year-old Wanczyk traveled throughout the U.S., and to Taiwan and the Dominican Republic watching teams including the Boston Renegades. Each year, the sport’s governing body sponsors an annual Beep Baseball World Series. The Indy Thunder (yes, Thunder) won the 41st Beep Ball classic, and past champions also include the Austin Blackhawks, West Coast Dawgs and Taiwan Home run. 

The sport got its start in 1963 when at the behest of a school for the blind, an engineer named Charlie Fairbanks took a run-of-the-mill softball, inserted a few phone parts and Voila! Let there be sound. The audible softball together with John Ross’s refined rules of the game established the game as it’s played today.

Reading the book reminded me how, as schoolkids, we adapted by using invisible runners and sticks in the ground to distinguish outs from hits. Beep Ball does much the same, using foam-filled audible tackling dummies as bases, and allowing pitchers with normal eyesight to lob meatballs into the hitters’ wheelhouse.

Batters are given four strikes to make contact, and runs are scored by reaching base before the ball is fielded. The level of competition is fierce and the teams practice relentlessly. “This sport is not a vehicle for vague sentimental uplift or a consolation prize,” writes Wanczyk. “When these guys show up to the field, it’s as athletes, and when they hit the ground diving, they want to win.”

Wanczyk (who is not blind) interviewed dozens of players who were blinded either by disease, accident, or at birth. One of them, an Ethiopian native named Esubalew “Ethan” Johnston, plays for the Colorado Storm. “After he was kidnapped from his home when he was a little boy, his captors wanted to make Ethan a more pitiable, profitable beggar,” writes Wanczyk, “and so they poured chemicals in his eyes.”

Johnston and the others learned to play baseball well enough for it to be fun. “That’s what counts,” writes Wanczyk, “and anyone who thinks otherwise is way off base.”

The Springfield Hockey Heritage Society is having its annual summer get-together at the Big E in West Springfield on July 28.

“We have commitments from 17 players, focusing on the 1975 Calder Cup champions,” said Bernardston’s Lou Bordeaux, who co-founded the SHHS with his brother Steve. “We’ll have a player or two from the Thunderbirds to bridge that connection.”

Rico Petrocelli re-hashed his early days with the Red Sox on Sirius-XM’s “Remember When” program with Ed Randall last weekend. Petrocelli was born in Brooklyn in 1943, and had never seen Fenway Park until he was recruited out of high school.

During his first visit in 1961, “The clubhouse guy came around and was putting a carton of Chesterfields in everyone’s locker,” said Petrocelli. “They were sponsors. I thought maybe next thing they were gonna put a fifth of bourbon up there.”

Scouts knew Petrocelli’s right-handed, power-hitting swing would put pitches into the left field screen, and owner Tom Yawkey worked out a deal with the 18-year-old shortstop’s parents. The contract, said Rico, included a $70,000 bonus. “This was the big leagues! I bought a white 1963 Chevy Corvette Stingray and I went 130 miles per hour going down to Florida. They had just finished I-95 in South Carolina. I always liked speed, except I never had any.” 

Petrocelli made up for his 10 career stolen bases by hitting 210 home runs, while playing his entire 13-year career with Boston.

The Mt. Washington Auto Road Race sponsored by Northeast Dental starts this morning at 9 a.m. Runners have a clear warm day to run up into the cool mountain climate. A handful of Franklin County runners have made the 7.6-mile trek to the highest peak in the Northeast, including Bernardston’s Mike Townsley. “It’s a combination of hiking and walking,” he said. “Better off not running.”

According to the New Hampshire Parimutuel Commission, Hinsdale OTB’s handle is down $25,000 from a year ago. Revenue was up $37,000 from thoroughbred and greyhound simulcasts, but down $62,000 from harness racing. Despite the dropoff, the small, well-kept facility recently handled its millionth dollar of the year.

The governors of Delaware and New Jersey endorsed sports gambling by making the first legal bets. West Virginia became the next state and now Empire State lawmakers are making a late push to legalize sports betting before the end of its legislative session (according to legalsportsreport.com). Imagine going to Saratoga this summer and saying, "Gimme the six horse with the Red Sox in the fourth."

Massachusetts is worried about its precious lottery,  Legislation's been introduced in Massachusetts but the state is worried about its precious lottery. It'll be a while for the powerful NBA and MLB lobbies to twist enough arms on Beacon Hill. The NY Post anticipated this sea change with Action, a two-page spread with photos, grids, sidebars and the odds for everything from winning the Cy Young Award (Corey Kluber 13/5;  Chris Sale 11/2) to the opening week point spreads-- the Patriots by 6 1/2 against Texas in Gillette, the Lions by 6 1/2 versus the Jets at Ford Field, and the Giants are getting 3 1/2 at home versus the Jags.

SQUIBBERS: James Ihedigbo was selected to the UMass Sports Hall of Fame this week. Against his name two words will suffice: “Football Player.”  … Greenfield’s Rose Siano tells us that Gisele Bundchen was spotted coming to Boston Children’s Hospital and chauffeuring a carload of kids to the salon for the full-on spa experience. “There’s a lot of good in her,” said Siano, who was scolding me for dissing Gisele taking selfies after the Patriots toppled Atlanta in the Super Bowl. …  Referencing four Oakland Raiders’ players who tested positive for PEDs in 2003, SportsHub’s Michael Felger said, “The four players — no shocker here — Bill Romanowski — a poster boy for PEDs … Just a good guy all around, typical BC dink.” Yeah you guessed it, Felger went to BU. … Mets’ catcher Devin Mesoraco was born in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Punxsutawney Devin doesn’t cut it, so don’t quit the day job. … Northfield native Emily McGee might get her day with the Cup for her decade’s service to the Caps. An NMH grad (’90), Emily’s following in her dad Bill’s footsteps. He was the PR chief for Northeast Utilities; she’s a communications director in the D.C. area who moonlighted “in fast-paced press box for NHL team” according to her LinkedIn profile. …  Brad Marchand would be perfect in those “Smooth… real smooth” Gatorade ads. … Rocket’s kid Kody Clemens is contending for the Golden Spikes Award at his dad’s alma mater Texas. Two weeks ago Kody was drafted 79th overall by the Tigers, 33 years after the Red Sox took Roger with the 19th overall pick. … The Yankees have bona fide major leaguers Clint Frazier (.326) and Brandon Drury (.325) playing in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre,  but one player who’s not having a good year on the farm is Chance Adams. The once highly regarded hurler is struggling with a 4.96 ERA and 27 walks in 62 innings. … Sunday should be King for a Day, not Father’s Day, because it’s really just Mother’s Day, Pt. II. … Thoroughbred racing needs an amateur draft. Bob Baffert rules the West and Todd Pletcher rules the East and playing long shots is risky business. …… Belmont Stakes runner-up Gronkowski back-ended an $89 exacta and middled a $459 trifecta (both on $2 wagers). The superfecta with Gronk, Justify, Hofburg and Vino Rossi (1-6-4-8) paid $105.15 on a ten cent ticket. … My pick? Tenfold. He ran through Northfield looking for the finish line. … Pie McKenzie died this week. He ended his career in Hartford and the Whalers retired his number in a money grab. Before the ceremony, McKenzie said, “If it wasn’t for the Bruins I’d still be in Canada, shovelin’ s*** and hollerin’ for more.”


Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.