Softball without sight proves a challenge for Daytona State, Embry-Riddle teams

Visually-impaired Daytona Bats take on blindfolded college players

First the women's softball teams from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Daytona State College faced off in an exhibition game. Then they went to bat for the Daytona Bats, a team for the visually impaired who play an adapted form of baseball called beep ball.

The combined team from Embry-Riddle and Daytona State played the Bats at their own game Saturday afternoon, wearing blindfolds to swing at the beeping ball. If they got a hit, they had to run blindfolded to base, which was a post making a buzzing noise. Infielders were blindfolded too. There were sighted spotters to minimize the chance of collisions. The event raised money for the Bats by selling raffle tickets to win prizes like trips to SeaWorld.

Unusual for a college game, no music played in the grandstand and the audience was asked to be quiet so players could hear the beeping ball.

In a nail-biter, the Bats outlasted the college players to win 5-4.

"It's a very difficult game," acknowledged Daytona State Coach Sabrina Manhart. "Our kids are used to being able to see, hear and feel everything. Now they have to play with blindfolds."

They were up against a team whose logo looks like the Batman symbol and whose leader swings like the Hulk.

In another game against Kohl's department store employees, Bats leader Willie Scales said he "hit the ball so hard it snapped my aluminum bat right in two."

Scales, 55, of Port Orange, has played in two World Series tournaments for beep ball. His Bats have also won games against the Kohl's employees and the Daytona Beach police this year.

Scales' goal is to build up the Bats so they will be ready to compete in the World Series tournament when it comes to West Palm Beach in 2017.

The team could use more players, male or female, 18 and up, Scales said.

Unfortunately, "so many people who are blind don't know about activities that are going on," Scales said.

Doug Hall, a retired counselor for the blind and a member of the Bats, said beep ball is a good confidence builder.

"It teaches people with disabilities that they can do things they didn't think they could do," said Hall, 68, who has been blind since he was 8. "It enables us to have success."

He recalled a player for another beep ball team who "had never run or did anything for himself. It took him some time, but it was amazing to see the change in him. He showed confidence. He stood straighter," Hall said.

Plus, the game is just fun.

Hall recalled playing for a former beep ball team from Daytona Beach called the Florida Sandspurs. The team played in a World Series tournament in Denver about 10 years ago.

The motto of the Sandspurs was, "We may not win, but we'll get under your skin."

By wearing the blindfold, Amanda Nikhazy, 18, first baseman for Daytona State, found out what it's like to be inside another person's skin.

"It just shows you that when you're having a bad day, there are people who are dealing with more challenges," Nikhazy said. "You just have to suck it up and live your life."

By Jim Haug

Published: Saturday, October 3, 2015 at 8:52 p.m.

Copyright © 2015 — All rights reserved. Restricted use only.

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