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.
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.
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.
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
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!