Franklin Township’s Erik Rodriguez ventures to Beep Baseball World Series with his team, Indy Thunder
Indy Thunder Beep Ball has had its best season of the decade, finishing 11 – 1. Now they’re heading to the National Beep Baseball Association World Series in Ames, Iowa. Founder and Coach Darnel Booker said they have a good team with strong players, such as Franklin Township resident Erik Rodriguez, who will work together to hopefully lead them to victory.
Beep Baseball is a game designed for those who are blind or visually impaired.
“This is an opportunity for me to play baseball again,” Erik said. “It’s filling that void of what I love to do, and it’s just as fun… I like the team atmosphere. A lot of people that lose their vision, they don’t get the opportunity to be a part of something that’s like a team. They’ll work as an individual or a small group. This gives you the chance to be a part of a full baseball team. That’s what I love more than anything is the family-like atmosphere.”
Erik was born in Merrillville, Ind. He has glaucoma and a hereditary condition called Stickler Syndrome which caused his eyesight to deteriorate. As a toddler, he was being taken to Chicago every week for doctors’ visits and eye surgeries. The family moved to Indianapolis to be able to take him to Riley Hospital.
Now 16, he is a junior at Franklin Central High School. His vision is 20/400. In the U.S., any person with vision which cannot be corrected to better than 20/200 is considered legally blind.
Erik attended Indianapolis School for the Blind & Visually Impaired until his freshman year of high school, where he met Booker, a former teacher there. Erik used to participate in little league baseball until his vision worsened to the point that he could no longer play.
He began playing Beep Baseball with a team in Chicago four years ago. Two years ago he joined Indy Thunder. Erik’s brother, Tyler, also plays on Indy Thunder.
“I credit (Erik’s) coaching in Chicago,” Booker said. “He got a lot of good coaching and has carried it over to playing with us. He’s a good player, both offensively and defensively. He’s a table setter for our team. Being that young, at 16, that’s pretty remarkable.”
A game of Beep Baseball lasts six innings with three outs per inning. The pitcher and batter are on the same team. The pitcher calls out when they are throwing the beeping ball so the batter knows when to swing. A batter is allowed four strikes. There are only two bases, which buzz when activated. When the ball is hit, the runner must identify which base to run to before the ball is fielded by a defensive player. The runner will often dive onto the base to make it safely in time. If the runner is safe, a run is scored.
“Baseball, I breathed and lived it,” Erik said. “It was the best thing in the world to me. I found this and I can say honestly I like this a lot more than I liked baseball. There’s something about it that makes you want to keep coming out.”
Erik said he also likes to play goalball, a Paralympic sport similar to soccer for blind and visually impaired athletes. He said when he finishes high school, his goal is to obtain a personal trainer’s license and one day open his own gym.
In addition to the 11 – 1 season, Indy Thunder won its own Indianapolis tournament for the first time in 10 years. It won the Chicago tournament for the first time in the team’s 16-year history.
“We have a really good chance of bringing the World Series back to Indy if we do what we’re supposed to do,” Booker said. “We are a good hitting ball team; we just have to work on our defense. We’re a really good team. We reach out to all parts of the city, north, east, west and south. It starts at the top with our culture. We have an understanding that you never know who’s watching. How you carry yourself on and off the field matters.”
He continued, “(Erik) gets the team fired up on defense. He’s not real boisterous. He leads quietly by example. He says a few words but not much. He lets his plays do the talking.”
Indy Thunder will have one more inner-squad game, open to the public, on July 9, 11 a.m. at Park Tudor School, 7200 N. College Ave., Indianapolis. The team, which leaves for the World Series on July 23, is still fundraising for the trip. Those interested in donating can email Booker at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thunderbeepball.org for more information.
Indy Thunder Beep Baseball
Indy: Inner-squad game, July 9, 11 a.m. at Park Tudor School, 7200 N. College Ave., Indianapolis.
Nationally: World Series, Ames, Iowa on July 24 – 31.
Info: Visit thunderbeepball.org or nbba.org.