Dreams of the Big Leagues
The world needs dreamers. Dreams of a better life, dreams of success, dreams of passion, dreams of helping others achieve their goals. It does not matter what the dream is, the world needs dreamers.
Christian Thaxton had a dream. That dream was to play baseball. He was pretty good at it as well. He was good enough to earn a starting Designated hitter spot at Redlands Community College in El Reno, Oklahoma. Thaxton states, “As a kid, I always dreamed of playing in the MLB. I thought it would be so cool to play the sport I loved every day as my job and get paid to do it. My parents were always a part of that dream because they were always in the stands watching (both in my dreams & in reality).” As a Texas Rangers fan, Christian’s favorite players “consisted of Ken Griffey Jr, Ivan Rodriguez, Mark McGuire, Alex Rodriguez, & of course, Derek Jeter”
High School and College
Christian was a good High School baseball player. When we asked him about his High School accomplishments he shared this with us. “We were regional Champs my sophomore year of high school, which meant we made the state playoffs. That was really special to me because that was the last year I got to play with my older brother, Kale. He played shortstop, I played 2nd, and we hit 1 and 2 in the lineup. My senior year, I made the Oklahoma All-State team, batting just over .500 with around 50 stolen bases and a 95% fielding percentage (I made it as an outfielder).
Sometimes in life dreams can present them self in the strangest of ways. “I began losing my vision just before the regional playoffs my first year in college. I started losing the inside fastball halfway to the plate — that’s when I really began noticing my vision loss. This was in late April/early May of 2013. From there, it rapidly progressed, and by November I was declared legally blind. I dropped out of Redlands & moved back home with my parents over Thanksgiving break.” That was the end of his baseball career. There was a short time Christian needed to figure things out. Afterwards, he decided it was time for a change. He enrolled at the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton to help him learn skills as a blind person.
Blind people can play baseball?
While at this program, Thaxton heard rumors about the sport of beep baseball. He decided to come to a try out despite the fact he did not know where
he was going to live and where his new journey would begin. He hit one of the first pitches he “saw” in batting practice with a blind fold on. That felt good. That felt real good. In less than a few weeks, he was a full-fledged member of the Boston Renegades.
in 2014, Boston finished 6th at the World Series, its highest finish ever. The team knew they had a special player in Christian Thaxton and that would soon be a surprise to the league. Thaxton worked out a bunch of kinks while playing his first few games in the Beast of East play. In fact, he went just 3-10 in his first tournament including a 1-3 with 2 strikeouts in his first game. He improved to 5-11 in front of the home fans in Woburn a few weeks later. He worked hard to understand his swing under a blindfold. That included working with both his pitcher and catcher, Ron Cochran and Rob Weissman. They needed to become a team when he was hitting for them to have success. He was going to help this team in so many ways and it was just starting.
This guy is pretty good at Beep Baseball
Thaxton got hurt the day before we left for Rochester, the site of the 2015 Series. He would be forced to rest and sit the first day of the series and that pained him. Christian got his first World Series action when he came off the bench to pinch-hit against the Tyler Tigers and blasted a bomb into left field that shocked the Tigers. Thaxton was starting to figure things out and word was quickly spreading around the league that Boston had found a new bat to help them be a contender. Thaxton did not disappoint. He hit .719 in his first World Series and placed 4th in the league in hitting when he went 23-32.
During the off-season, Coach Weissman had a talk with Christian. Weissman was concerned the game may not be competitive enough for a former college baseball player. Thaxton believed World Series play was on par and even more competitive than some of his baseball games. The two came up with a plan for the future. This conversation and the actions following is what makes Thaxton a special player. Weissman asked Thaxton about his thoughts in coaching and helping others learn the swing. Christian was excited at the idea. He had two brothers, but one of them was much younger. Christian and his brother Kale, Always enjoyed helping their younger brother. “He grew up always having Kale and I there to give him advice or watch his swing. We used to play catch with him, hit him grounders, throw BP in the cages. It was a lot of fun watching him grow up & develop into a solid baseball player.”
Thaxton expands to coaching
Thaxton was on board to help the team both on and off the field as a lead off hitter and as a hitting coach. We asked him what has been enjoyable
about is experience helping others on the team.
“It’s so awesome to be able to pass on this knowledge I’d spent 20 years building and growing. I truly love staying connected to this sport I enjoy so much. Teaching players so willing and eager to learn has been incredible. Players are always asking questions, talking through things, and striving to improve. Being a part of this has been amazing. Coaching visually impaired/blind players how to hit has also been one of the biggest coaching challenges I’ve faced, too. Almost everything in baseball is “watch me do it, then repeat” saying things like “you want your hips to move like this” while visually showing players how their hips should move. You lose that ability in this sport. Breaking down each movement in the swing into micro movements is important because some of these players have never seen a baseball swing before. You have to establish that base language and the foundational movements of a swing. You experience some really unique mechanics, approaches, and thoughts, and it’s really been an unforgettable experience coaching my teammates. ”
Even a coach has things to learn about hitting
With Thaxton’s help, the 2016 Renegades made it all the way to the finals. Thaxton improved as a hitter, which is hard to believe. Though his batting average was down for the World Series (28-43 .651) he placed 4th in the league again in hitting. He learned a valuable lesson in the 2016 campaign. Christian needed to stop tinkering with his swing and let his battery help him make adjustments. He needed to trust Ron Cochran even more than he did. That trust and hard work combined with his excitement to help his teammates was a big reason the Renegades took 2nd place in the 2016 series.
Cooperstown takes the Call
Fast forward to 2017, Thaxton set the league record for the highest batting average in league history hitting .897 (26-29). We wrote an extensive article on that achievement which can be read here. After the season, Coach Weissman approached the National Baseball Hall of Fame and asked if they would be interested in the achievement. They were interested. More about that experience can be read here
In August, 2018 the Renegades were invited to take part at a program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A group of Renegades made the trek to prepare for this honor. Amongst the group was Christian Thaxton. While finalizing planning we inquired about the chance to show Christian’s bat while he was going to speak in the morning session. At first, there was some concern because if they brought it out, Thax would need to wear white gloves to protect the bat. His bat was unavailable for the demo because it was on display in the Hall of Fame!
Sometimes dreams do come true. They may have an odd way of presenting them self at times. Thaxton had dreams of playing Major League ball. He never dreamed of being in the Hall of Fame. After losing so much in his life, his positive attitude and his faith kept pushing him forward. He achieved goals in his athletic career he likely would never had achieved if he had not lost his sight. He had a chance to talk to a national radio audience about his journey. His story aired in the fall of 2017 on NPR radio’s “Only a Game” show.
Beep Baseball Bash at the National Baseball Hall of Fame
Christian, Rob and Ron wanted to see the bat together for the first time. This Easton 34/30 Orange bat was something Christian never thought he would use when he first started. “My first year with the Renegades, I considered swinging a heavier bat since I no longer needed to catch up to a 90 MPH fastball, though looking back, I’m glad I stuck with the 34/30. A 34/30 Easton is what I was swinging when I hit .897 in the 2017 World Series, and it’s that bent Easton that now sits in the Hall of Fame.” Yes, it was bent.
In our last game of the series during an at bat, an eagle eye from our opponent’s coaching staff noticed the bat looked bent. He was right. It was bent because Christian has such quick bat speed and he bent it hitting our 16 ounce ball. We knew the bat strength was compromised and did not want to risk the bat shattering with our pitcher, Ron standing about 15 feet away from him when the pitch was delivered. To think that bent bat would make it from our equipment bag to Cooperstown was a joy for every player and coach on the team.
During the first part of the program at the Hall of Fame, Christian spoke to a small crowd about his experience and he also sat in the Education center where hundreds of fans came in to find out about beep baseball. He spoke 1:1 with many of these fans. Many fans who did not speak directly with him discovered his bat was enshrined through discussions with other Renegades.
Time to see the Bat
When this session was near completion, Thaxton and his battery of Weissman and Cochran took the walk upstairs to see the bat together for the first time. Walking up the stairs did not feel very special. As we approached the exhibit, a few fans were looking at the items on display. A bunch of them had spoken to us in the education center earlier that day. Something special was happening which they knew and they parted like the red sea to let Christian see his bat. What surprised us was they all stood back to watch Christian’s reaction. Heck, how often do you get to see the expression of someone when they see their bat encased in the Hall of Fame for the first time? A few of them took pictures of the event as it unfolded making us feel a little more important than we really are.
With the low lights in the museum and the backlit items behind the glass, Thaxton could make out his bat, but it was hard for him to see anything else. Weissman read the plaque to him which reads” “Beep Baseball Bat During the 2017 Beep Baseball World Series, legally blind athlete Chrstian Thaxton batted .897, while also earning the MVP award. Since 1964, beep baseball has been providing opportunities for the visually impaired to plan an adapted version of America’s National Past time – donated by Rob Weissman”
“It was an honor to let Christian know his bat was going into the Hall of Fame. Being with Christian when he saw his bat on display in Cooperstown was one of the highlights of my 18 years as a coach. It’s way more than the athletic accomplishment that made this special. He has gone through so much in his life the past few years. I think he is a better person than he is a baseball player and that is saying a lot. He gives us his all both on and off the field. To have your best player lead by example is a dream of any coach. Seeing that bat with him brought me to tears”, Weissman said.
Here is a video or Christian and Ron Cochran right after they saw the bat for the first time
To see pictures of all the artifacts that were near Christian’s bat in the display called “Today’s game” click our link here to see the photos on facebook