Perhaps one of the first things any young athlete learns is to keep their eye on the ball. From the second it leaves the pitcher's hand until it hits the bat, you must keep your eye on the ball. The Miami Marlins know how crucial eyesight is to baseball. That is why they have been partners with Miami Lighthouse for the Blind since 2013.
Thirty Miami Lighthouse students ages 13-20 on June 28 received a "touch tour" of the Marlins Park through a complex sensory experience. After the tour, the group stayed to watch the Marlins take on the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"We partner with Marlins charity because of their commitment to eyesight," said Virginia Jacko, President and CEO of Miami Lighthouse. "We've come to the park numerous times as a result."
All of the students on the tour are legally blind or visually impaired. Some of children are totally blind.
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Most of the students on the tour were part of Lighthouse's Pre-Employment Transition Services, a program that helps prepare students ages 14 to 22 for potential employment by teaching them life skills such as technology, orientation and mobility, and home organization. It also assists students with career readiness, including making resumes and participating in interviews.
Diandre Incera, 14, has been involved with Miami Lighthouse for over eight years. "You get a lot of opportunities to plan for the future," he said. "I really like it."
"Our goal is to help students prepare for their career," Jacko said. "Blind people make great radio producers, and they're good on computers." A few years ago, the Miami Marlins employed a blind person from Miami Lighthouse, Jacko said.
During the tour, students were able to use their senses to experience Marlins Park. They could touch the clay and grass on the field, and got to sit in the dugout to talk to Marlins catcher Bryan Holaday about baseball gear. The students were able to feel and even try on some of the catcher's equipment, such as a helmet, shoulder and chest pads, and a baseball glove.
The students also toured the Marlins batting cages, where they could feel some of the baseballs and experience the sounds of Marlins outfielder Cameron Maybin practicing before the game.
Several children were also able to play "beep baseball," or "beepball," which entails using a softball that beeps so that visually impaired people can hear where it is. The bases and home plate also beep so that they can be found audibly.
The day at the park allowed the students to socialize with each other, as well as with Marlins players and Lighthouse staff members. "In Lighthouse, I'm able to make friends and socialize more," participant Jaquelin Gutierrez said. "Even the staff is very supportive."
"I've been involved with Lighthouse since I was 7," said Gutierrez, now 19. "It's like having a second family because everyone is united and together."