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Beep Baseball Gets Major Press Coverage!

Thank you to Josh Friedman and the Courier Post for covering the event and getting the great deeds of our Lions Club out for the World to see.

A whole other level of concentration': Haddonfield Lions Club hosting beep baseball event

Josh Friedman, Cherry Hill Courier-PostPublished 1:40 p.m. ET July 12, 2018 | Updated 1:42 p.m. ET July 12, 2018

John Margist had to stop playing baseball when he was about 14 years old.

He was able to stick with basketball for another two years before he had to give that up. Margist made it through his senior season for football, but only because he was a lineman. He couldn’t play any other position, despite only being 5-foot-10, 180 pounds. Retinitis pigmentosa was robbing him of his vision, yet he still loved sports.

It’s why he started playing beep baseball five years ago. However, even with his athletic background, he wasn’t prepared for what the game entailed.

“It’s probably more intense than any other sport, more competitive, maybe secondary to high school football my senior year,” said the 32-year-old from Prospect Park, Pennsylvania. “It’s very, very intense. It’s very, very serious. Some people think blind people have this game they’re playing, then they come out and see it. It’s great to compete. It’s a whole other level of concentration.”

What is beep baseball?

Beep baseball, started back in 1964, is a sport for the visually impaired. It’s played on a grass field with a modified softball that beeps so batters and fielders can locate it.

There are only two bases, first and third, and one randomly activates with a sound when a batter makes contact. He must reach the bag, which is 100 feet away, before a defender fields the ball. If he reaches, the team gets a run. If not, it’s an out.

Everyone but the pitcher, who throws to his own team, catcher and defensive spotter is blindfolded because there are different levels of vision impairment. Spotters yell out player numbers to let fielders know the ball is in their vicinity.

“The first time I went to see my daughter play I was amazed. I was blown away, I enjoyed it so much,” said Willy Natoli, manager of the Philly Fire squad. “I just kept yelling and I was told to be quiet, you can’t cheer until it’s all over. The defense has to hear the ball.”

'What they're doing is pretty fascinating'

The Philly Fire and five other teams will be competing at Crows Woods Fields in Haddonfield on Saturday in an annual tournament sponsored and co-hosted by the Haddonfield Lions Club, whose mission is to serve the blind and visually impaired, and the Blind Sports Organization, which is based out of Philadelphia.

The event, the Beast of the East, starts at 9 a.m. and is the second half of the teams’ championship. There are two North Jersey squads as well as teams from Boston, Rochester and Long Island, New York. “I was like, Oh my God!” said Tom Quigley, chairman of the event for the Lions Club, when he first saw a beep baseball game several years back. “They asked me if I wanted to put on blacked-out mask and I wimped out. … Runners are going full speed. You try running with your eyes closed 50 yards or how far it is. What they’re doing is pretty fascinating.”

Margist and Natoli’s daughter, Gina Marie, both got involved through their company, VisionCorps, in Philadelphia. Gina Marie’s passion permeated through her family. Not only is Willy the Fire’s manager, but her brothers Dominick and Will Jr. are the team’s pitcher and spotter, respectively. And Gina’s sister Cecelia keeps score.

“It’s a great game,” Willy said.

Building a special camaraderie

The Blind Sports Organization sponsors the Fire.

“It’s really neat,” said Sandy White, volunteer sports administrator for the BSO. “It’s rewarding. We (don’t use) the words amazing or special, they want to be treated like normal athletes.” That’s what Margist feels like when he steps on the field.

“I remember, it took a while to hit the ball (the first time). Once I did hit it and scored a run, I started to get those same kind of feelings I had as a child, competitive juices back,” he said. The camaraderie is special, too. The Philly Fire are going to this year’s National Beep Baseball Association World Series in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for the first time. All teams are welcome. Margist has gone with other squads before and the connection he’s made with others stands out. “To share that camaraderie with people all over the world in the same situation as you, it’s nice to know people are out here dealing with the same challenges,” he said.

A liberating experience for participants

The Natolis have also been inspired by their previous trip to the World Series.

“We played one team, there was a husband and wife, they were 74 and 73, and they’ve been playing for 30 years, more than 30 years, and the wife got a hit,” Willy Natoli said. “That made my week.” As for Saturday, those involved would love to play in front of a big crowd, but it’s the competition that draws them to the field.

“It seems like a liberating thing for the folks participating,” Quigley said. “Watching that is something good for the soul.”

Josh Friedman; @JFriedman57; (856) 486-2431;

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