Christian Thaxton wants everyone watching the Beep Baseball World Series in Eau Claire this week to know players of the sound-based sport aren’t anyone to pity.
“Blindness is not that debilitating,” said Thaxton, 24, who plays beep baseball with the Boston Renegades. “We have all these amazing stories on this team of people who are living every day with blindness. I would say that’s the biggest takeaway — we’re regular people who just have worse vision than others.”
The world championships for the modified game of baseball for legally blind athletes will be in Eau Claire through Saturday. Players on 22 teams from the U.S., Canada and Taiwan converged Tuesday at Eau Claire Soccer Park for round robin games.
Beep baseball uses a ball that beeps so batters can hear it coming and fielders can locate it after batters hit it. When a batter hits a ball, he or she runs 100 feet toward a tackling dummy that emits a buzzing noise at first or third base. The pitcher and catcher are sighted.
If the runner gets to the base before a fielder grabs the balland holds it up in the air, thebatting team scores a run. The field layout is similar to that ofa baseball field but without second base because there’s no running between bases in beep baseball.
To Thaxton, who lost his vision to Leber’s optic neuropathy after living with sight for 20 years, these modifications mean he can compete again in the sport he loves.
“Just that it was baseball again,” Thaxton said when asked what drew him to the sport. “Before, baseball was my life. After I lost my vision, I thought I was done playing sports. The fact that I was able to find the sport I loved again and be able to play it, and not just play it, but compete again, really drew me to this sport.”
Beep baseball allows the Oklahoma native to reconnect with one of his favorite feelings: a ball smacking a bat and launching into the air.
Thaxton’s journey to beep baseball wasn’t without challenge.
After he lost his sight, Thaxton dropped out of college and returned to Oklahoma, where he struggled with his new, unexpected reality. Moving to Boston and finding beep baseball and the teammates who came along with it helped him feel understood and supported, he said.
“Living at home, I felt like I was going through this alone, like no one could really understand vision loss and what I was going through,” he said. “When I found this team, you’re suddenly thrown into a group of other people who know exactly what you’re going through. Finding that has been truly amazing.”
His team consists of people with varying experiences, Thaxton said — some were born blind, while others have the same disease he has and lost their sight gradually.
Since joining the team, Thaxton returned to college, graduated and started a full-time job as a business analyst.
Because of Thaxton’s baseball background, he serves as a hitting coach, a task he said requires thinking outside the box.
“It’s a unique challenge teaching someone who can’t see how to hit,” Thaxton said. “Because a lot of coaching in baseball is, ‘Watch what I do, then go do it,’ you have to find different ways of communicating that.”
On the sidelines of Tuesday’s games, Jeanne and Keith Proctor, both of Michigan, lounged in chairs under the shade of a white tent. Their son-in-law is a player on the Boston Renegades team, and they watched as the athletes played against the Toronto Blind Jays.
Both were first introduced to the sport when their son-in-law joined the team a handful of years ago. Their son also volunteers for the team. The pair noted camaraderie on beep baseball teams is impressive.
“I was just fascinated,” Jeanne Proctor said of her first exposure to beep baseball. “When you watch these guys, you really forget they’re blind, honestly.”
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