The book: “Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind”
The author: David Wanczyk
How to find it: Swallow Press/Ohio University Press; 246 pages, $26.95, released March 5.
The links: At Amazon.com, at the publishers website.
A review in 90-feet or less: The way we see it, not enough people know about the basics of the National Beep Baseball Association — what it does, how it empowers its athletes, and to what level the competition gets for these contests.
Books like this are important vehicles to get the message out (even if the cover type-font makes this appear to be more of a lighthearted look than a deeper dive).
This isn’t so much about generating empathy but more to emphasize its importance.
Wancyzk’s presentation blankets all that. Unfortunately, it does it by doing more than we were interested in.
Aside from the fact the type size of the book is painfully (and ironically) too small to enjoy for long periods of reading, we are taken on this journey by an author who lives in Ohio as a Red Sox fan and learned about this sport through being asked in 2012 to “write a clever magazine piece on something peculiar” (his words) involving the Beep World Series.
Along this journey, he decides that it’s a better read if he inserts himself more into the narrative.
How did these guys get there? Hunting accidents. Degenerative optics. Hereditary diseases. One horrific story involves a man from Ethiopia, kidnapped from his home as a child to become a beggar, and had chemicals pour into his eyes to blind him and make him more pitiful.
There are also some players who are considered “lookers” – not because they are attractive, but because other competitors feel they’re cheating because they have some more-than-slight sight advantages.
But what ties them together seems to be the author’s self-journey into what’s important about sports versus what we’ve been told is a big deal.
“For these players – potential figures of pity for those who don’t know any better – sports-as-diversion becomes sports-as-obsession in a quick blink,” Wancyk does point out deftly in the intro. “But that makes them just like anyone else, they say. They want to win. And they’ll run through anything, or anyone, standing in their way.”
Unfortunately, Wancyk can’t get out of his own way in the next 200 pages.
“Sometimes these victories can seem like a whitewashing of reality. But can they be a reflection of the human truth that we overcome out of circumstances? I’m tempted to think so .. A beep ball contest isn’t David and Goliath, though. It’s not as if the blind men of the Austin Blackhawks are Apollo Creed or the USSR hockey team in 1980. Indy vs. Austin (two teams he is watching) is more like David vs. his older, stronger brother Steve.
Still in the land of blind baseball, some men are kings and as I remembered the agonizing Whiffle Ball games and ping-pong matches I’d lost ot my older brother Steve, I thought, Bring on the upset. Bring on the regicide. Down with Austin. Up Thunder!”
It’s up to you to decide if you want to get past that on page 65 or not to see how this all ends.
OK, but one more paragraph pull, on pagea 185-186, which did delighted us to a point as he has more self revelation:
“When ESPN football analyst Adam Schefter reports on the trade of a fourth-round draft pick as though it’s the formal creation of a Palestinian state, he seems satisfied with his life.
“I’m more than just annoyed, though; I think Schefter’s behavior is actually representative of something wrong with us. We’ve made our circuses our center, and there’s less space for reflective thought simply because the Philadelphia Eagles might be able to select a backup O-tackle, three months from now, from Northern South Carolina State (he’s got a huge upside). The trade of a fourth pick should never enter my consciousness or any other consciousness. Because it’s just a game.
“But I also agree with Coach Eric Taylor, played by Kyle Chandler, from the TV version of Friday Night Lights. When told that he shouldn’t take football so seriously, Taylor barks: ‘Don’t patronize us and tell us it’s just a damn game.’ …
“So what do we do when we want to dismiss the ‘It’s just a game’ feeling, and when we think Adam Schefter’s breathless reporting is a terrible goiter on the flesh of our country? Sometimes we need a middle way on sports. A middle way on stuff that ought to matter a little less. And this is personal …”
And somehow, he finds that middle ground while watching people struggle through a blind baseball game.
“Beep baseball does matter. It has to. …”
No one said it didn’t.
Or the rest of us are just too darn cynical, and we need some young-ish writer to figure the importance of a balanced life all out for us.
How it goes down in the scorebook: Is the book available in Braille? Or as an audio book? We hope no one overlooked that obvious need, which the NBBA.org calls “a definite ‘must read.’ ”
Also: A 2017 piece on ESPN.com about the Beep Baseball World Series. Without the personal commentary.