Sunday , 24 September 2017

A Different Kind of Baseball Engages a Special Athlete

By Angie Bado, TSB Staff

When I first met Danny Foppiano I was struck by how physically fit he appears. Although dressed in his work clothes, (he’s a massage therapist at That Elegant Touch) it was still obvious that the man is no stranger to the gym. Upon further conversation, I learned that Foppiano works out six days a week in a gym set up in his home and he swims in his backyard pool.

All this would seem pretty ordinary except for that fact that Foppiano is blind and, he is not just someone who wants to stay in shape. Foppiano is a blind athlete who competes in a sport called beep baseball.

Foppiano, a Brooklyn native, was born with  deformed retinas. Ironically, it was a childhood accident while participating in the very sport he loves that delivered the final blow that contributed to his blindness. When he was 8 years old, Foppiano was struck in the head as one of his friends struck out and threw the bat during a neighborhood pick up baseball game. Rushed to the hospital, Foppiano went totally blind in his left eye following emergency surgery.  

In an effort to save the vision in his right eye, Foppiano had multiple operations with some of the best eye doctors in the country, but to no avail. The doctors warned him that one day he would lose his sight, they just weren’t able to predict when or exactly how that would happen.

Life forever changed for Foppiano when one sunny morning, at the age of 12, he woke up and looked at the wood shutters in his bedroom window.  The shutters appeared blurry. He says he remembers shutting his eyes, shaking his head, and when he opened his eyes again he saw nothing.  

“I laid in my room for like an hour, afraid to go tell anybody that I couldn’t see. I was scared – it was definitely a strange feeling,” Foppiano recalls.  

Doctors had warned him to be prepared for this day, so Foppiano spent the years after he went blind in his left eye studying braille and learning how to get around with a cane. 

Foppiano says he was lucky to have a very strong mom who didn’t believe in letting his blindness get in the way. His parents divorced when he was 10 and his mom, who Foppiano describes as a “fighting strong woman,” was left in charge of supervising her blind son.

“She (Foppiano’s mother) always said, whatever I wanted to do, I could do. Because we are supposed to believe what our parents tell us, I believed her,” Foppiano said. 

He missed the second half of seventh grade. The school wanted to hold him back and wanted his mom to put him in a school for the blind. But Foppiano’s mom refused.  School was grueling as he had to have tests given verbally and homework meant that his mom, or one of his two brothers read or dictated to him.

Foppiano said, “Homework was horrible. I was blessed with a good memory. I did well in school even though studying took two to three times longer than it would for other students.”

An athlete in high school, Foppiano wrestled for his high school team and that led to bigger and better things. When the 1984 Paralympics (for athletes with physical disabilities) were held on Long Island in 1984, Foppiano’s mom took him to watch. The trip impacted his life as he discovered a game called goalball.  

Foppiano joined the New York Association for Blind Athletes (NYABA) in 1986 where he continued to wrestle and began competing in goalball. Foppiano played goalball internationally, competing including 1992 Olympics in Barcelona as well as in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Foppiano, who will turn 44 in May, has kept participating in beep baseball, which is baseball for the blind. Foppiano now has set his sights on training and raising funds for this summer’s Beep Baseball World Series, which will be held in Ames, Iowa, July 22- 29. Competition is what it’s all about for him and now that he resides in McKinney, Foppiano will play for the Austin Blackhawks, since there are no local beep baseball teams. 

In preparation for the World Series, Foppiano trains 2 hours a day for 6 days a week, plus an hour pool workout in the evening. Beginning in March, he runs sprints once a week until May when he adds another day of sprints to his workouts. By June, he does his workout, plus three days of sprints and a few weeks before the tournament, he will add another day of sprints. 

“This is my major leagues, Foppiano said.  I would do anything on earth to be a major league baseball player.” 

Expenses to participate in the sport can add up fast. Because the sport doesn’t draw a large audience, the teams are not able to garner corporate sponsorships, so Foppiano is on a mission to raise funds for the trip. The team is a non-profit organization, so if anyone would like to donate funds to help Foppiano reach his dream of participating in another World Series for the blind, please make checks payable to Sportsvision 20/20 and mail to Danny Foppiano, 1704 Timber Edge Dr. McKinney TX 75070. 

About beep baseball

The pitcher, who is sighted, stands 20 feet from home plate and says “ready, pitch” when the ball is on his way. The pitcher tries to throw at the same speed each time and the hitter tries to have a level swing, listening for the beeping ball as it comes over the plate.

The field is broken into zones. Up the middle is zone 1, out toward the base lines, are 2, 3, 4, 5 on the right and left fields. A sighted spotter calls the zone where the ball is heading.  There are six defenders, three on each side, set up at different depths. The game is all about communicating with each other. 

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