By Gus Saltonstall
For those New York baseball fans looking to find inspiration away from the disappointing Yankees and Mets, a new team is stepping up to the plate with the help of a longtime Upper West Side organization.
The Lighthouse Guild Lightning is not your typical baseball team, though.
The Lightning, which was formed at the end of August, is a team made up of players who are blind or visually impaired.
“The Lighthouse Guild Lightning symbolizes determination, speed, and the power of breaking boundaries,” Ed Plumacher, the captain of the team and a staff member at the Lighthouse Guild, told the West Side Rag. “It’s not just about playing a sport; it’s about challenging perceptions and demonstrating that visual impairment is not a barrier to greatness.”
Adaptive Blind Baseball works a little differently than the game you see in the MLB. The ball is not pitched, but instead the batter drops the ball and swings with one hand. Each player — whether batting, running, or fielding — wears a blindfold to create equal ability for people with varying degrees of visual impairment.
The players rely on sound from bells inside of a baseball-size ball, to clappers and an electronic horn, for base runners to safely navigate the diamond. Fielders rely on communication from their teammates at other positions to help locate the ball.
The Lighthouse Guild has served the community on the Upper West Side in various capacities since 1971.
“People that are blind or visually impaired should have every opportunity, as do people that are sighted,” Dr. Calvin Roberts, the President and CEO of Lighthouse Guild, told the West Side Rag. “One of those opportunities is in the area of physical activity, sports, being members of a team, competing — these are activities sighted people take for granted.”
The Lighthouse Guild is located near West 64th Street and West End Avenue, and provides physical and mental health clinics for the visually impaired, as well as a wide array of programs and services related to education, job training, technology, and more.
“That’s why we are excited to be part of the Lightning and jumped at the sponsorship opportunity, because it gives people that are blind or visually impaired the chance to be part of a baseball team, to get all the benefits that come from the socialization in sports, to run and sweat, to play hard and compete, and to win,” Roberts added.
Carolina Vollo, a member of the new Lightning team who is visually impaired, echoed Robert’s sentiments of the importance of competition and awareness with the creation of the new team.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to participate in sports and have camaraderie with others who love this sport,” she said. “I look forward to competing with teams around the world, and increasing awareness of blind baseball and vision loss.”
The squad will be a participating member of the U.S. Blind Baseball Association, a charitable nonprofit dedicated to the development, management, regulation and promotion of Blind Baseball teams, players, coaches, volunteers, and umpires in the United States.
The inspiration to form the Lighthouse Guild Lightning was sparked in part by the United States Bronze-winning team in the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s Blind Baseball International Cup in 2022.
Roberts was quick to add the importance of the Upper West Side as a home base for the Lighthouse Guild for so many decades.
“We are a West Side organization, so many of the people who use our resources are people living on the Upper West Side,” he said. “We are integrated into the community here on the Upper West Side and we couldn’t see being anywhere else.”
The Lighthouse Guild has previously helped organize adaptive blind baseball training sessions in Riverside Park.
Anyone with a visual impairment can join team Lightning, and anyone who is sighted can join as a volunteer. The first games are planned to take place in the spring of 2024, and there is practice every Sunday at Monsignor Scanlan High School in the Bronx. The age restriction is currently 16 and older, but there are hopes one day to organize a youth league.
“Having been a student at the Lighthouse Guild and a strong advocate for adaptive sports, I know firsthand the benefits, impact, and empowerment vocational training and adaptive sports provide to our clients and students,” team captain Plumacher said. “The Lighthouse Guild’s participation in helping to create awareness and provide adaptive sports opportunities for the people we serve will have a dramatic impact on our blind community.”
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