Meet the Toronto Blind Jays, Canada's only blind baseball team
In 'beep baseball,' visually impaired players use a softball that emits a high-pitched sound
It's the bottom of the third inning, and the Toronto Blind Jays are not doing well.
It's August, and they're 14 runs behind the Minnesota Millers at the National Beep Baseball Association World Series in Eau Claire, Wis.
"In reality, the odds of us coming back and winning this game are slim," coach Arthur Pressick tells his team. "But for us, we've paid all the money to get here. We need as much experience as we can because this is the only chance we ever get to play this game."
That game is beep baseball, an adapted form of baseball for visually impaired athletes.
The Blind Jays are the only Canadian team in the U.S.-based NBBA. August was their third appearance at the world series; 2015 was their first.
Rained out in the middle of the game, they are faced with a choice: forfeit or continue the next morning, knowing their chances of turning things around are slim at best.
To Pressick — who is also the team's manager, pitcher, driver, cook and co-founder — giving up wasn't an option.
"We didn't spend 16 hours in a van together to call a game because of rain," said Pressick.
They choose to come back next morning, no matter the outcome.
Play it by ear
Beep baseball traces its origins to 1964, when a telephone company engineer implanted "a small beeping sound module" into a softball, so blind players could detect the ball.
Each team has up to four sighted players — the pitcher, catcher and two spotters — and all other players wear blindfolds. Since players may have different degrees of visual impairment, this puts everyone on an equal playing field.
"Honestly, batting with a blindfold on is hilarious," joked Jays player Ben Ho-Lung, 19. "It's really satisfying when you actually hit it. It's great."
To play, a sighted pitcher lobs the ball at the batter, who then runs to one of two "bases" — four-foot-high padded cylinders — that emit their own high-pitched buzzing noise.
It's incredible. It's a rush. Have you ever ran blindfolded? It is something else.- Amanda Provan
Fielders from the opposing team must retrieve the rolling, beeping ball before the runner reaches the base.
"There's no better feeling than when your bat hits the ball — except for when you hit that base and it's a run," said player Amanda Provan.
"It's incredible. It's a rush. Have you ever ran blindfolded? It is something else."
Blind sports communities
For Provan, 24, who always wanted to play baseball but couldn't, joining the Blind Jays was a dream come true.
"I had a really hard time accepting my visual impairment. I was born with it, and blind sports helped me come to terms with it," she said.
Her mother Lisette Melantie, who drove her from Sudbury, Ont., to Toronto for practice, is especially touched to see her daughter's growth. Melantie says when her daughter was younger, she played sighted hockey, but refused to tell anyone about her condition.
"It was almost like she was embarrassed because she didn't want people to treat her differently — and they did, I guess, when they would find out. She just didn't want to stand out and be different."
Now Provan can enjoy sports without those reservations.
"I haven't spent a lot of time around visually impaired or blind people, and the community is incredible."
'We'll be back next year'
For player Meghan Mahon, blind sports offered the chance to meet others with stories similar to her own.
"I myself have a very rare genetic eye condition [called achromatopsia]," the 22-year-old told CBC Radio. "The doctors said, 'You won't meet many other people with the same condition.' But they didn't really bank on me playing blind sports because I've met quite a few people with the same eye condition."
Mahon is a veteran of multiple blind sports, including track and field, blind hockey and blind soccer. She represented Canada at the 2016 Rio de Janiero Paralympic Games in goalball — but the beep baseball World Series still gives her jitters.
It's the morning after the Jays-Millers game was rained out. The Jays fight it out to the end, but ultimately lost 17-3. They end this World Series with a 2-6-0 record, landing at 19th place out of 22 — one worse than the year prior.
But their resolve didn't go unrecognized: they won the event's Sportsmanship Team Award.
Mahon's pride is a little bruised by the final score, but she says the team managed to come out of the trial by fire stronger and with a greater resolve for future competition.
"You know what? As much as it hurt — it hurt us all to go down that much and to just let our game slip like that —but I think we pick each other back up," she said.
"We've definitely grown a whole bunch as a team. We've gotten closer as a family and just our whole team atmosphere has gotten more tight-knit."
Listen to the documentary "Ready, Set, Pitch, Swing" by clicking the Listen link at the top of the page, or download and subscribe to our podcast.
Written by Jonathan Ore. This documentary was edited by Acey Rowe.
Special thanks to Patrick Dunphy at the abilicrew, CBC's disability awareness group, for advising on this story, and thanks to Sarah Duda and Neil Watson for the described video.
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