- Massachusetts Commission for the Blind
BOSTON — Head Coach Joe Quintanilla started the Boston Strong, Adaptive Sports New England’s beep baseball program, so people of all ages and athletic abilities have the opportunity to play America’s favorite pastime.
Beep baseball, which has been around since 1976, is an adaptive form of baseball for people who are blind. The balls beep and the bases buzz so players can locate them.
A baseball diamond is set-up on soccer fields for a more consistent terrain because the mixture of dirt and grass on a traditional baseball diamond can throw off a player’s footing.
Because every player’s visual acuity is different, all players must wear a blindfold, so they are on a level playing field. The pitcher and catcher are on the same team as the batter. The pitcher tries to get the batter to hit the ball, as opposed to traditional baseball where the pitcher is trying to strike out the batter.
When the batter hits the ball, they run to first or third base. The bases are four-foot pilons located 100-feet from home base. If the batter makes contact with the base before the players in the outfield pick up the ball, a run is scored. If the players in the outfield pick up the ball before the batter makes contact with the base, the batter is out.
“When I was a kid, I couldn’t play Little League or wiffle ball because I couldn’t see the ball,” said Quintanilla, 47, who was born blind. “So, when beep baseball came to Massachusetts 22 years ago, it was great to be able to play on a baseball team, hit a ball that was thrown to me, and score a run.”
Quintanilla, who has been playing beep baseball since 2001, started the beep baseball program at Adaptive Sports New England two years ago. An avid player, combined with his experience as a coach for marathon runners and track athletes, inspired him to coach the team.
“I can understand what the players are experiencing on the field because I have had the same experiences,” he said. “I think I can be a good influence and provide encouragement. I love sports so much and I want people to benefit the same way I have.”
Quintanilla said sports helped him build resilience by teaching him to learn from his mistakes, overcome challenges, and be competitive – lessons he hopes other players take away.
“I have been fortunate to have supportive people around me, but I have also had people who discriminated against me because I am blind,” he added. “Discrimination happens to so many people who are blind. People don’t give us opportunities or think we’re capable. We have to persevere and overcome, not get down on ourselves. We must be strong inside.”
The Boston Strong a part of the National Beep Baseball Association, which includes more than two dozen teams across the United States. The teams play in tournaments across the country, mostly during the summer months, but weekly practices are open to anyone, adults and children alike, who want to get exercise, learn a new skill, or build confidence and inner strength. No previous experience is needed, just a desire to learn and have fun while being active.
“If you have never played before, come out and try it,” said Quintanilla. “You don’t have to commit to anything more than coming out once and giving it a try. Don’t ever convince yourself not to try something. If you’re interested, give it a shot. You’ll get a lot out of it and meet fun people.”
The Boston Strong is funded by donors to help eliminate financial barriers for people who want to participate.
Note: Joe was interviewed by MCB intern Anderson Interiano for this story.