Northern Blindfish

People often ask how I play softball when I’m registered blind. I wrote the following article for the Manchester Softball League newsletter in 2005 to answer some of those questions.

But you’re registered blind, how can you play softball? Those who see me walking down the street at night, white stick in hand, feeling for every step, kerb and random stray object in my path, or wandering around a train station not being able to read signs or find my way, find it impossible to imagine how I could ever play a sport like softball. I’m not surprised. Those who know me better just think I’m mad. I’m not surprised at that either. I’ll never forget the look on a certain umpire’s face when he congratulated me on my pitching after a game and I casually
mentioned that I was legally blind. I’ve never seen someone instantly go so pale! OK, I’ve
since given up deluding myself that it’s safe for me to be pitching. But how can someone with less than 2% vision, useful sight in only one eye and no depth perception play a sport like
softball? The answer lies in my team. It took a long time for me to figure out how I could play
softball safely after I lost my sight. If I hadn’t originally started playing when I was fully
sighted, I probably wouldn’t be able to play now. As it was, I gave up for several years before
I finally figured out, with a lot of experimentation and some difficult moments with my team
convincing them it was safe to hit the ball at me, ways to make it possible for me to start play-
ing again. Most of them are just good practice generally in terms of safety, but sadly many players and teams do not play as safely as they could or should, and they don’t consider other players. When playing for a different team or with new players, I don’t mention my sight till
they’ve seen me play, so they get to see that I’m pretty much as capable as anyone else. Then
I explain how it works.
Rule 1: Never throw the ball unless the player you’re throwing to is looking and ready. This
means facing the right way and having their glove up. Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised
how many people don’t do this. It works both ways. I can’t tell if someone’s looking at me or
not, but I can tell if their glove is up, and I won’t throw to anyone unless it is.
Rule 2: Always use 2 hands to catch. Yes you might break your fingers if it bounces out
and hits your non-glove hand, but it’s better than breaking your cheekbone, as I discov-
ered the hard way.
Rule 3: Always call for the ball when fielding. One of my teammates learnt this one last year
by not calling for a flyball, colliding and breaking my nose as a result. The resulting guilt was
enough to burn it onto her brain for life!
Rule 4: Communication in the field. If I’m playing outfield, I rely on those next to me to call
whose ball it is, to direct me back and forward on a flyball, and to let me know where the
play is for the throw. I might not be able to see the ball when it leaves the bat (often I can’t
see even the batter when I’m in outfield, let alone the ball), but with some directions and fast
running I can generally see the ball in enough time to reach it or make the catch. Communi-
cation in infield is also vital. I need to know if someone is covering my base, or someone’s
stealing a sneaky run behind me.
Rule 4: Proper base coaching. I can’t see where the ball is once I’ve hit it, I’ve no idea
most of the time whether a flyball has been caught or not. But I don’t need to as long as I
have a decent base coach. It might sound like I ask a lot from my teammates. But we
should all be doing every single one of these things anyway. No matter who is playing. It’s all
about communication. And it improves team performance no end when it does happen. I
trained with a first division Bristol team last year, and I was amazed to see that they didn’t
need to alter their playing style at all for me, because their coach was teaching all these
things anyway. Other than that, I’ve developed some individual tactics which
help me see the ball better. Some of them might look a bit strange (like the fact that I wear
sunglasses all the time, even when it’s raining), but I’m past caring what people think. Clean
balls help, especially optic yel-low ones. My latest acquisition, competivision lenses, which
mute all colours except optic yellow, help. Blue skies rather than dark clouds help. Twisting
my head to see the ball at an angle as it’s approaching helps. Players wearing team shirts helps me distinguish fielders from runners (always useful). Letting me know whether it’s a
male or female batter helps when I’m fielding (I’ve upset a few people by asking a bit too
loudly which sex the batter was!). Players remembering to use their voice rather than hand
signals helps. But most of all, having team mates who make no concessions if I screw up or
play badly, but who look out for me, warn me if I’m about to get hit in the head, or identify my
possessions when I lose them! This article isn’t meant to be about me. It’s about not judging
a book by its cover. It’s what, for me, softball’s all about: playing as a team. I leave you to
draw your own conclusions…..

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