A sport first created in Italy more than 20 years ago is making its way to Columbia County.
The Association of Baseball for the Blind has been helping visually challenged individuals gain a love for baseball for decades and Don Landolphi wants to increase the number of people that the organization can reach by bringing it to upstate New York.
In blind baseball, players hit a “sound” ball, which contains chimes inside. Players run the bases with the help of wooden clappers. In the field, the ball can be stopped using the body, then thrown to a target with a sighted assistant calling for, and catching, the ball.
There are no pitchers or catchers, instead batters hold the ball in one hand and hit it with the other. Players do not have to be completely blind to participate.
Team consist of five blind players, one sighted player and a sighted defensive assistant.
“The most difficult part is running from third base to home — there’s no sounding device on that stretch,” Landolphi said. “ You need to come within 3 feet from the plate or you’re out.”
Landolphi has been involved in baseball for his entire life and is an inductee of the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
A longtime professor and coach at Brooklyn College, Landolphi also was an assistant coach at St. John’s University and an assistant coach to the Italian National Baseball Team.
It was in Italy where Landolphi was introduced to the game of blind baseball.
“I saw the game for the first time in the early 2000s,” he said. “I was teaching in northern Italy and I saw out on the field a former Italian ballplayer of mine from Florence was teaching people how to hit the ball. I went over and asked if I could help and he showed me how it all worked.”
A teacher to his core, Landolphi became passionate about teaching blind individuals how to play the game he loves.
“The ones who have seen baseball played understand it much quicker than those who have never seen it,” he said. “There’s a learning curve, but everyone enjoys it once they get the hang of it.”
In Italy, baseball for the blind has been around since 1994 with the first championship being held in 1997. There are now leagues in Germany and France, as well.
Landolphi has family in upstate New York and spent his childhood working on his uncle’s farm during summer vacations. In 2004, he moved to the area after retiring from teaching physical education in Brooklyn.
“I would like to see if there’s an interest in this game in this area,” he said. “If I can get an interest up here, I could arrange a schedule — maybe one day a week to start, rent out a batting cage and teach players how to hit and throw. After that, maybe we could get some games going at Columbia-Greene Community College in late spring when the college team isn’t playing.”
Landolphi is also interested in teaching the coaching aspect to anyone interested.
“I’m an old guy now,” the 77 year old said. “I’d like to pass down the knowledge and have someone take this and run with it. We can affect a lot of lives.”
Anyone interested in playing or coaching the game should email Landolphi at email@example.com. Be sure to put “Blind Baseball” in the subject line.