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Boston Renegades will partner with the National Baseball Hall of Fame in August

Renegades heading to Cooperstown

On Saturday, August 18th, the Boston Renegades will partner with the National Baseball Hall of Fame to help people learn about the sport of Beep baseball.  We are very excited to work with the Hall to show off the sport of beep baseball.  All of this has been in the making for years.

After years of establishing a relationship with the hall and talking about ideas, Things came together when a book was published.  The first ever book about beep Baseball called Beep, Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind helped make this day possible.

How?  In the fall of 2017, Rob Weissman was at a film festival in Cooperstown.  While there, he learned about a series of events designed for baseball books. Always passionate about the sport, he jumped on the phone to call David Wanczyk.  Wanczyk had to wipe the drool off his chin when he heard about this opportunity.  At these events, baseball authors come read from their book. Wanczyk struck at this like a cobra at a mouse. Fast and furious.  In the spring of 2018, this book became part of the 2018 Author series.

Next it was Weissman’s turn to spring into action.  Just as he does with a foul tip, this catcher quickly was on the horn with Shirley Tyler.  The two of them designed a program about the sport to delight all who attend the museum on that day.  Tyler and Weissman have come up with a program for the day of August 18th called the Beep Baseball Bash that includes the following agenda:

The Beep Baseball Bash Agenda

  • 10:00 am – Learn the rules and hear the stories – Come listen to members of the Boston Renegades talk about how the sport of Beep Baseball is played; listen to stories of how they lost their vision and what playing for the Renegades has meant to their lives both on and off the field.
  • 11:00 AM Learning Center Join us for an open hour in the Learning Center. Stop by to check out what a ball sounds like, feel a base used for the blind. Strap on a blindfold and imagine what it would be like playing the outfield with just your ears to guide you. See a bat used by The Renegades superstar, Christian Thaxton who set a league record batting .897 in the 2017 World Series. We will have other artifacts to help you experience the sport of Beep Baseball where the umps can see and the players can’t.
  • 1:00 PM Author Series -Author David Wanczyk will explore his new book called Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind. Wanczyk illuminates the sport of blind baseball to show us a remarkable version of America’s pastime. With specially made balls squealing three times per second and with bases that buzz, baseball for the blind is both innovative and intense. And when the best “beep” baseball team in America, the Austin Blackhawks, take on their international rival from Taiwan, no one is thinking about disability. Instead, the book reveals a story of athletes who are playing all out to win a championship. Following by a book signing in the Library Atrium. Presentation at 1 pm. Book signing at 1:30 pm.
  • 2:00 Beep Baseball Demonstration– The Renegades will be doing a live demo of the sport outside by the library, to allow the museum visitors to strap on a blindfold and try out their hearing skills to find out what a Seeing-Eye single sounds like on defense, or you can look for a base by using just your ears
  • 7:00 Movie Night – The Renegades: A Beep Baseball Story -At 7pm, wrap up a day of Beep Baseball back in the Bullpen Theater as we show an award-winning documentary filmed about the Boston Renegades. This 74-minute film is about the awe-inspiring sport of Beep Baseball that has blind athletes hitting baseballs and diving headlong into buzzing bases. Beyond the games it’s about the people and their stories. The film looks at hope, heartache and what it means to play as a team. Mix in a fierce New York/Boston rivalry, an international World Series and a coach whose style can be described as “tough-love” and you have great non fiction entertainment. Watch this film and you will feel the passion that is the Boston Renegades! The film will be followed with a question and answer period from players and coaches who were in the film.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame is promoting this day on their web site and that can be found here:

 

Good things come to those who wait

To get to where we are for August 18th, we need to look back at the relationship with the Hall.  We have had an amazing relationship with them over the years.  The Hall has helped us tell the story of beep baseball.  They have also helped many of us feel like special honored guests!  Nobody on this team would ever had thought they would have an opportunity to tell their story in Cooperstown.  We do hope that some day, the Hall will consider an exhibit about disability and baseball.  They could honor MLB greats who played with disabilities like Jim Abbott (pitched with one hand), Jim Eisenriech (Tourette syndrome) and Pete Gray (one arm) to name a few.  Maybe they could tell the story of Beep baseball, Disabled Vets playing Softball, Wheel chair baseball.  There are many stories about a sport that lives in America’s past time and our blood.  Maybe this is the beginning!

The Hall plays our Documentary in 2013

In the fall of 2013, a documentary about the Renegades was chosen to play at the Baseball Hall of Fame Film Festival.  Our documentary, Renegades, A Beep Baseball Story played to a crowd in the bullpen theater.  The Hall went all out and helped make sure the players had access to see and feel artifacts at the Baseball Hall of Fame.  We wrote a short piece about our experience from September, 2013 that can be read here.

While there for the weekend, We met Larry Moore of the Education department.  Larry, a Native of Western, Mass became a fan of the Renegades.  He had a connection with our team and has found multiple ways to help the team and the sport.

The Show hits the road and comes to Watertown in 2014

Larry Moore came to Watertown in the spring of 2014 to share some of the baseball artifacts with the Renegades.  In his traveling show case, he had bats, gloves, baseballs and uniforms from different eras. Through these artifacts, Moore brought baseball to life in it’s early years.  He shared stories of baseball past and even baseball present. Larry gave an opportunity for each and every Renegade to feel the artifacts and even try them on.  Many of the Renegades and their family attended.  It was a blast for all who came that night.  Larry Moore has become a Renegade fan!

Larry Moore Shows off a Replica Boston uniform from the Early 1900’s

Coaches Lisa Andrews and Brian Cutler check out some old style fingerless baseball gloves

Former players, Damon Graff and Inky get some laughs holding some old bats

Artifacts into the Hall of Fame for Austin in 2014

Brandon Chesser of the Austin Blackhawks stands with his son in front of his shirt and gloves and the ball he caught for the final out of the 2014 World Series

After our trip to the Hall in 2013, we learned how the Hall tells stories through it’s artifacts.  After watching our film, Museum Curator, Tom Shieber was generous with his time  and wanted to help us tell our story.  Tom and Rob Weissman brainstormed some ideas of stories to tell and how to tell them.

Obtaining something from the final out of the title game was an idea.  We set a plan in play to have a league official get that ball.  That was not an easy sell at first. When Brandon Chesser was told Cooperstown was calling, it surely softened the blow.  We also found the Hall wanted more artifacts to effectively tell this story. Brandon Chesser’s shirt and glove and blindfold were procured because those items help tell his story and give life to the sport.  To finish off the story we worked with John Lykowski to get pictures of that final play.  These artifacts went into the hall that fall.  In fact, some of these artifacts were put on a  display for a traveling Hall of Fame showcase that stopped at many locations around the country.  

A Return Visit in 2015 to the Hall of Fame

A few of the Renegades pose with Brandon’s shirt at the Hall of fame

With the world Series in Rochester, NY in August of 2015. We made plans to put on a short program at the Baseball Hall of Fame on the way home.  After a grueling week of beepball, many Renegades made a detour to Cooperstown to share stories of the sport.  The Bullpen theater was ours for about an hour.  We shared some stories with members of the hall, explained the game.  Brandon Chesser from Austin joined us on stage to discuss the game.  While there, we saw the donation we helped make happen of Brandon’s uniform.  We wrote about that experience in two different blog posts.

Read about our experience on this trip and watch a video of Bryan Grillo and Guy addressing the crowd in the bullpen theater

Read an article written by the Hall of Fame about our team and the sport of beep baseball

Thaxton’s bat goes into the Hall of Fame in 2017

Rob donates a bat used by Christian Thaxton to Shirley Tyler of the National Baseball Hall of Fame to represent his record batting average at the World Series

Our very own christian Thaxton set a record in 2017.  He broke a record from 1996 for the highest batting average in a world series.  That record now stands at .897 (26-29) and is proudly owned by a Boston Renegade.  The Hall accepted his bat into the museum.  In fact, his bat was bent because it could not handle the power of his bat speed and the weight of the beep baseball.  We explored that honor in our blog post here with photos.  We were so thankful that Tom Shieber went to bat for us to get this accepted.  We also had a chance to meet Shirley Tyler in person.  This set off the idea of doing a program about beep baseball in the hall for a day….in 2018.  Which brings us back to the top of this page for the Beep Baseball Bash!

 

Many thanks to Tom Shieber, Shirley Tyler, Andrew Distler and Larry Moore for all of the help they have provided through the years to bring Beep Baseball to the Hall of Fame!

Cooperstown has come Calling for Christian Thaxton!

Cooperstown has come calling for Christian Thaxton.  Why?  He broke the league record for batting average at the World Series going 26-29 and an .897 batting average in Florida during July of 2017 (see this article for a true breakdown on that accomplishment).  His name is now going to be part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown forever!

Christian Thaxton at the plate

Thaxton awaiting a pitch – this picture was submitted to the Baseball hall of fame. Photo by Lisa Andrews

Baseball was in his blood

Christian has had baseball in his blood for most of his life.  He lived and breathed baseball growing up in Duncan, Oklahoma.  He eventually went on to play Junior College baseball.  Sadly, baseball is where he noticed his sight was deteriorating.  His favorite pitch to hit used to be the inside fastball.  As his sight was declining, he was losing this pitch on the way to home plate.  Eventually, his baseball career would come to an end as he battled through LHON (Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy).

Many hitters who love the fastball often see them self in the dirt if the opposing pitcher wants to establish the inside part of the plate.  Any good hitter must get off the ground, dust themself off and get back in the box.   Christian found himself in the dumps when he was told of his vision loss.  However, he picked himself up quickly and dusted himself off and came to Boston to prepare himself for his new life.  Baseball was not on his mind at this point, for possibly the first time in his life.  Then magic happened.

Thax discovers Beep baseball

At an event at the Carroll Center for the Blind, Christian met two Renegades in Joe Quintanilla and Kara Peters. There he learned of beep baseball and the Association of Blind Citizen’s Boston Renegades.  In less than a few weeks, he was taking his hacks at a try-out off coach, Rob Weissman.  He just loved the feel of making contact again.  He was All-in and he was soon a Boston Renegade.

Christian Thaxton at the plate

Thaxton having some fun as he get’s into the box against the Indy Edge. Photo was submitted to Cooperstown. Photo by Lisa Andrews

Thaxton had some adjustments to make as he joined the team late in the spring part of the 2015 season.  He made a trip with the team to New Jersey where he played in his first ever beep baseball tournament.  He got off to a slow start there going just 3-10.  The talent was there. The desire was there. The work ethic was there.  Adjustments just needed to be made and he needed to learn the game of beep baseball.  Things improved as he went 5-11 a few weeks later at home in Woburn.  Then he busted on to the scene at the World Series and in his first year finished 4th in the league in hitting at the Series with a .719 batting average.

In 2016, Thaxton picked up where he left off and he had a chance to play defense for the first time.  This time he was 19-25 in Beast of the East action helping his team win the title for the 6th year in a row while he played on both sides of the ball.  It got better as his clutch hitting and leadership helped the Renegades get to the championship game in 2016 where he hit .651 at the Series, finishing 4th again in the league.

Christian Thaxton at the plate

Thaxton rips a pitch foul. Photo was submitted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Photo by Lisa Andrews

In the 2016 off season, as we always do on the Renegades, we talked about what the players can do better.  There is nothing we can teach Christian about his swing.  He knows more about swinging then all of the Renegades combined.  We did talk about his mental approach and how to tweak that.  The result?  He went off in 2017.  At one point in the season when things clicked, he scored in 20 consecutive plate appearances including going a perfect 10-10 in front of the hometown fans in Woburn.   At the World Series, he continued to make a name for himself in the league.  He was scorching hot and went 26-29.  Many of these runs came against some of the top defensive teams in the league such as Austin, Colorado, Indy Thunder and the Indy Edge.

It’s official, we had a new record

The league does not have an official database of statistics.  So after a few weeks of the World Series, Coach Rob did some research, made some calls and found out Thaxton had broken a record which had stood since 1996 by John Parker of the Kansas All-stars.  John Parker was kind enough to confirm he had held the record and even sent Christian a gift passing on the baton and a record that stood since Christian was about three years old.

Christian Thaxton at the plate

Christian makes contact on one of his 26 run scoring hits of the 2017 World Series. Photo by Lisa Andrews

Once this was determined, Cooperstown was called and alerted of the feat.  They were very excited to accept Memorabilia from Thaxton and the Renegades to tell the story of this accomplishment.  To prove he had the record, all the scoresheets were collected.  They also wanted his bat and a photo of him using the bat.  Coach, Lisa Andrews scoured through her photos and found a great shot of him with the bat being used during the last game of the World Series (in fact, all of the photos on this page with him hitting were submitted to the Hall).

The Bat has it’s own story

The funny thing about the bat was it was damaged.  We had actually had discussions with Easton about sending it back to them for a review.  This bat was used for less than one season and had bent.  We found the bend in our last game of the year against the Indy Edge.  the bat was warped and the cause was likely a combination of Christians bat speed against the one pound beep ball.  For Safety reasons, the bat was thrown out of the last game.  Easton did not want the bat…but Cooperstown did.

Rob donates a bat used by Christian Thaxton to Shirley Tyler of the National Baseball Hall of Fame to represent his record batting average at the World Series

At the Annual Baseball Hall of Fame Film festival, Coach Rob delivered the bat in person to the hall of fame and gave it to them.  It will forever reside in their archives.  Both Coach Rob and Christian received certificates for donating the bat, scoresheets and photo.  They also received lifetime passes to go to the baseball hall of fame.

An honor for Every Renegade

Not only is this an honor for Christian but there is great pride in this accomplishment from his team.  Pitcher, Ron Cochran and Catcher, Rob Weissman were with Christian for every pitch of the World Series. Ron had to lob in the pitch perfectly each time.  Weissman was responsible for being consistent with his target.  So many of the hitting coaches helped prepare him for the series by helping him take his hacks. Many of his teammates were just so excited for him and this accomplishment.  They were excited to have their names on the scorecards enter Cooperstown.  It goes beyond that though.  Thaxton helps many of the players on the team as he acts as a hitting coach providing feedback and drills for his teammates.  His “students” were proud of their “teacher”.

Certificate from the National Baseball Hall of fame with the lifetime passes for Christian and Coach Rob

A true success story

Thaxton went from a low of being told he would never play baseball again and that he was legally blind.  He picked himself up off the dirt, dusted him self off after being knocked down.  He got up, moved to Boston, started a new life and found the Boston Renegades.  Not only is his bat in the National Baseball Hall of fame, it’s a feat he would likely never have made if he did not have vision loss.  Thaxton is a model for how to handle adversity and concur it.  He is a Hall of Famer in so many ways!

 

The Renegades make a visit to Cooperstown to represent the league at the Baseball Hall of Fame

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The Renegades pose in the baseball learning center while supporting their film at the baseball hall of fame in 2013

Story by Rob Weissman

As I child, baseball was my life.  Our summers were full of wiffleball, t-ball, sandlot games in our dead end circle of our street, baseball cards, strat-o-Matic and so much more.  I wanted to be a Major League Baseball player more than anything.

That dream died pretty quickly as I got left off a summer travel team and then failed to make the baseball team at my high school after trying for three years.  In fairness, our high school had a huge athletic program and I could not make the cut. In college, I discovered my skills were higher than most I knew who did play for their high schools.  Maybe if I went to a smaller school that dream would have flickered longer.  After college,  I decided to try to tweak my dream and started to work for Major League Baseball in the Arizona fall league in 1993.  It was one of the most exciting jobs I ever had.

Let’s fast forward to the fall of 2013 and the Renegades documentary from Best Dog Ever films was selected to play at the Baseball Hall of Fame film festival.  It was a complete honor to be part of that festival.  As the movie played, it was just emotional to see my team and our work recognized at this level.  We then had the opportunity to field questions from the audience.  In a small way, it felt like we had achieved my dream of playing ball and making it into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Through this trip, we made some contacts who were interested in doing more with the team.  It started with Larry Moore who was willing to give us a great experience after our movie and give the team an opportunity to learn more about the history of baseball equipment and uniforms….by holding the equipment.  Larry even came to the Boston area and put on another show for the team this past spring.  We loved being a part of baseball history and seeing how heavy the uniforms were.  We took pleasure in trying on these crazy gloves and holding the lumber from  old days when they did not use toothpicks to hit with.

We also met one of the museum curators, Tom Schieber.  Tom and I talked about how the Hall likes to tell a story through the equipment when they make a display.  I took his lessons and worked with the league to secure memorabilia from the last out of the World Series.  Kevin Barrett helped us secure the ball from the final out and John Lykowski jr helped us get a photo of the final out as well.

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Brandon Cheeser’s shirt, gloves, blindfold with the ball he stopped for the final out of the 2014 World Series

The three of us worked together to send this to Tom at the Hall of Fame and the Hall accepted the ball, photo, an NBBA patch and a program from the 2014 World Series.  All of these items are archived there.  In some small way, all of the players and volunteers are in the Baseball Hall of Fame archives through that program.  How cool is that to think about?

At that time, I started to work with Brandon Cheeser, who was the player from Austin who fielded the final out.  Brandon donated his uniform top, his blindfold and the gloves he wore when he made the out…and all of these items were also accepted into the hall of fame.

In the early part of the summer, we found out the items were on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame.  It was an amazing feeling to see the league get recognized.  It was amazing to hear from Brandon about what it meant to him.  It was another baseball dream come true.

The story did not end there.  As we approached the 2015 World Series, we were invited to put on a program in the bullpen theater for the museum patrons to learn more about beep baseball.  With the help of Andrew Distler and Shirley Tyler we designed a program where we could show a clip of our documentary, talk about the rules of the game, what the game means to the athletes and demonstrate what the ball sounds like.   As we worked on that the Hall of Fame put together an article on the game. Gretyl Macalaster reached out to me and put together a very nice article that was published by the Hall of Fame in their newsletters.  That article can be read here: http://www.baseballhall.org/discover/short-stops/sounds-of-the-game

Once we got to the Hall of Fame we were taken right to the display to see what they were showing to the museum patrons to help educate people about our sport.  This was there busiest time of year – induction ceremonies!  While we looked at the display, we met up with Brandon who was so honored to have his name and equipment in the Hall of Fame.

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Rob dias, Rob Weissman, Christian Thaxton and Mike Marciello pose with the display about out great sport of beep baseball in the Baseball Hall of Fame

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Brandon Cheeser poses with his son as he was so proud to have his uniform an, blindfold and gloves in the hall of fame along with the ball he caught for the final out of the 2014 World Series

 

 

 

 

When Brandon found out about the display he wrote to me saying, “I had a coworker describe it to me and I told him as he was describing the photo to me that I was about to cry. This means a lot to me to be a part of a sport as great as this one to reach out to blind athletes and still let them follow the sport they love and try and live and reach the dreams that they had as a child.”

As we were entering the Hall that day, there was a program available at the front desk with the events the day..and we were on this program.  It was designed to help us promote a 30 minute talk we were going to do for the patrons of the Hall.

 

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Notice the Renegades are being promoted at the Hall of Fame – for the blind it reads – “1:00 Beep Ball Program (Bullpen Theater, 1st Floor) – Join us for a special presentation from the Beep Ball Players as they discuss this unique form of baseball played by those that are visually impaired”

 

When the crowd filled in to the bullpen theater we first showed a clip from our documentary and then Renegade Player, Guy Zuccarello, Coach Bryan Grillo and Austin Blackhawk, Brandon Cheeser talked about the game, the rules, how its played and what the game means to the players.  While we talked about the game we had a slide show of pictures showing many of the players and teams from around the league, courtesy of John Lykowski Jr.  Players in this video included: James Monza (Carolina), Frank Guerra (Iowa), Bill Landrum (Chicago), John Parker (Colorado), Doug Biggins (Colorado), Pat Lemke (Minnesota), Matthew Lassai (Wichita), Kilari Girtley (Chicago), Kevin Burton (Wichita), Graham Mathenia (Lonestar), Rich Koppenjan (NJ), Sherlock Washington (NJ), Jackson Schwoebel (Columbus), Frank Facio (Bayou City), Ron Jordan (Tyler), Axel Cox (Austin), Thanh Huynh & Ron Cochran (Boston), Lupe Perez (Austin), Jen Boylan (Southwest), Kevin Sibson (Austin), Marlon Stover (Carolina), Demitris Morrow (Colorado), Jason Walters (Bayou City), Tanner Gers (Bayou City),  Guy Zuccarello (Boston), Deshaun Widener (NJ), Adam Rodenbeck (RHI), Brandon Cheeser (Austin),  Joe McCormick (Boston), Jim Mastro (West Coast Dawgs), Evan Silver (Boston), Jason Gainey and Larry Reed (Tyler)

The goal of the video was to give the audience a feel of the athleticism of the game, the diversity of the players and the range of teams from around the country.  We wanted to make sure the Boston Renegades were representing the league…NOT just the Renegades.  Many thanks to John Lykowski Jr for providing this footage.  It was truly an honor to be part of this event and for the diehard baseball fans on our team, we felt like we were part of the Baseball Hall of Fame for the day.  When our talk was over the Baseball Hall of Fame released a second article about the game, its rules and more http://baseballhall.org/news/beep-baseball-a-hit-in-cooperstown

The Boston Renegades visit the Baseball hall of fame after the 2015 World Series

The Boston Renegades visit the Baseball hall of fame after the 2015 World Series

During this program, I must confess I was in tears.  I had tears for a few reasons.  First, I had found out that less than 24 hours prior to this event, my father had passed away losing a battle with Brain Cancer.  My family agreed with me that he would want me to be at the Hall as there was nothing I could do at home.  I had a heavy heart because my dad helped me grow my love of baseball by playing catch, playing baseball video games, teaching us about collecting baseball cards and taking us to Red Sox games including the 1986 World Series.  But some of these were tears of joy that maybe..just maybe my father was smiling down upon me and watching my team achieve a dream that many of us had.

Here is the full video of Bryan talking and most of what Guy had to say…but we ran out of space to record the whole thing and missed Brandon- sorry

 

This past fall, the annual exhibit showing the past years stories which housed Brandon’s equipment was taken down.  We got word a new exhibit about the game of baseball titled “Whole New Ballgame,” which focuses on baseball from 1970 to today has been created and our ball made that exhibit.  In that exhibit is the ball we used to make the final out and picture of the Austin Blackhawks celebrating their win.  The plaque reads “Since 1976, the visually impaired players of the National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA) have relied on sound-emitting baseballs.  The beep ball was used in the 2014 NBBA World Series.”  We are right next to the Pope.  This is a very cool honor and this exhibit should be there for years to come.  A dream come true has started.  Maybe one day the Baseball Hall of fame would do an exhibit on disability and baseball.  Tell stories of stars like Jim Abbott, Jim Eisenreich, Pete Gray and show how engrained baseball is in the American culture that people with all sorts of disabilities compete in this sport.  Until then, we can’t wait to get back there to see the ball on display!

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picture of the ball which was used for the final out of the 2014 World Series that is currently on disply at the hall of fame in Cooperstown