by Richie Flores
From the Editor: Richie Flores has served as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Austin, Texas, has coordinated youth programming, and has played beep baseball with the Austin Blackhawks for quite some time to raise awareness of the blind in his community. Here is what he has to share about a recent international awareness mission sponsored by the National Beep Baseball Association:
I have dedicated most of my life to educating my world regarding the capabilities of the blind. I also play beep baseball. This summer I got to do both when the Austin Blackhawks, the most celebrated beep baseball team in America, were invited to play a game in front of thousands in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Vladimir Guerrero, Albert Pujos, and Pedro Martinez began their careers on the same Quisqueya Stadium ball field, where we took part in one of the most empowering steps toward first-class citizenship for the disabled. The team's interactions with political leaders and the mass media, coupled with amazing international sportsmanship, redefined "blind" that day for a Caribbean nation.
How did beep baseball come to the Dominican? It's a terrible story with a hopeful ending. It starts with a horrific carjacking that blinded a young engineer named Francina Hungria. That tragedy led to the creation of La Fundacion de Francina Hungria. Ms. Hungria's survival brought about a revival—a true desire in her country for better understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities. The fundamental mission of La Fundación Francina Hungría is to take part in projects that demonstrate the potential of blind people. With the support of the vice president, Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, Ms. Hungria hosted the Austin Blackhawks for five days of national awareness and education.
Not only did we Blackhawks tap our canes upon the historical floor of the Presidential Palace in Santo Domingo, but we got to have a face-to-face meeting with the vice president, who confided in us that she produced Braille business cards during her election campaign. She believes in literacy, and she believes in blind people. That faith was apparent in the treatment the Blackhawks received. All five days we rode in a bus chartered by the vice president's transportation staff, expertly maneuvered by soon-to-be team favorite Miguel (the most incredible driver in Santo Domingo). Each morning we dodged in and out of the chaotic traffic of the city to arrive at various newspapers to support Ms. Hungria's mission to tell the world about what blind people can do, what we think, and what we want.
One such newspaper, El Día, led an interactive interview with our team in which the topic discussed was our vocations. In true blindness public relations fashion, we proudly announced our individual careers. We are business owners, state employees, warehouse workers, accountants, counselors, students, and proud parents—the Austin Blackhawks have it all. Seven of the nine legally blind players who attended this awareness mission trip are employed. The other two are current college students, one of whom recently earned his associate’s degree in physical education; the other is certified in crossfit training and can almost certainly outlift most who are reading this article.
One of the most memorable moments for me was on the television show Divertido con Jochy. This was a nationwide variety television show similar to our own Michael and Kelly (with a Jimmy Fallon edginess). We were dancing for disability awareness alongside La Fundacion de Francina Hungria. Thousands saw the show, which translates to "Fun with Jochy." Through these fun activities we made an impact.
Then it was time for the game. Los Hurricanes Del Caribe (Caribbean Hurricanes) are the new beep baseball team in Santo Domingo, and much of our media tour was spent publicizing the Clásico Beep Béisbol. The gentlemen on the Dominican team were excited to learn from us of the security, equality, and opportunity that can be possible for their country's blind citizens. Together with Francina, they are encouraged to open minds on disability. In the Clásico Beep Béisbol over four thousand watched as the Blackhawks and the Hurricanes demonstrated beep baseball. Faith Penn—a close personal friend and a female ballplayer—actually smashed a beep ball pitched by Cy Young-winning pitcher Pedro Martinez. Beep baseball's own Hall of Fame pitcher, Kevin Sibson, pitched to a blindfolded, hard-hitting outfielder named Moises Alou.
This event was bigger than a game; it was a rally for empowerment. Thousands cheered the players and learned about their potential. If you can play baseball blind, they realized, then you can hold down a job under the same circumstances.
I had tears of joy as both teams shook hands, slapped backs, and hugged each other in joint respect for moving forward toward acceptance and inclusion in front of thousands of our sighted peers. Together, Francina Hungria's nonprofit, the Austin Blackhawks, beep baseball, and the organized blind movement made a difference one groundball and one life at a time.
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