These players see through his eyes
No, they don’t play in wooden shoes.
But there’s even a bigger handicap.
The players are visually impaired.
The Blind Baseball Tournament was won last month by Italy – in Holland.
Team USA placed third with a Bronze Medal.
And, they were coached by Don Landolphi.
The same Don Landolphi who has been involved with baseball for over 50 years as a player and coach – both nationally and internationally.
The same Don Landolphi who lived at Avenue U and West 7th Steet – right above the Sea Beach subway line.
Make that, the 81-year-old youthful Don Landolphi who had so much success during his run as baseball coach at Brooklyn College – his alma mater. He coached the then-Kingsmen from 1964-1975.
In fact, Landolphi says his second baseman – who later played for him in ’82-’83 – was teaching blind athletes how to play baseball.
“I was amazed, just blown away on how they could run and hit,” he said.
After his successful run at Brooklyn College, Landolphi took his baseball magical touch to the United States Merchant Marine Academy where he coached in 1979; and he later served as assistant to Joe Russo, the baseball coach at St. John’s University – and retired in 1995.
At least he thought he did.
“I was one of 10 American coaches asked to coach the Italian National Team,” he said.
And in 2006, while coaching in Florence, Italy, he recalls he noticed a group of blind youngsters playing the game of baseball.
“It hit me then,” he said, “we’ve got to get this kind of program started here in the states.”
The recent trip to Holland – in the WBSC Blind Baseball International Cup – was sponsored by Lions, Inc, according to Landolphi. “It was the first time the World Baseball Conference sanctioned this tournament,” he said.
Six teams – Holland, Italy, France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States – provided the competition. The teams were divided into two groups – and play was five innings or an hour or an hour-and-half. Each team is made up of five blind players, one sighted player and one sighted defensive assistant to prevent injuries.
All players wear a similar blindfold.
“Italy, the favorite, won it,” he said, “we lost in the semis to Great Britain (3-2) and came back to beat Germany (4-1) for the bronze.”
Italy has a league for the visually impaired, Landolphi says, “and Holland even had a blind ballplayer compete in a wheelchair – he was even able to bat.”
“The age limit varies,” says Landolphi who attended St. Michael’s Diocesan High School, located at Fourth Avenue and 43rd Street (St. Michael’s was replaced in 1957 by Xaverian High School), “we have players from 23 to around 60.”
The ball must be hit on the ground in Blind Baseball – and did we mention as far as hitting, well, it’s self-hitting by holding and tossing the ball.
“The batter puts the ball in play by tossing it up in the air,” Landolphi said, “and hitting it.”
How do players know where to run you ask?
“There’s a sounding device on first base,” Landolphi said, “and a coach uses clappers at second.”
The big question, where do you get the players to field a team?
“Back in 2013 we ran a clinic,” he said, “and we go to different organizations where there might be blind people. The game has to be played on grass, with cut-outs.”
And the biggest problem, according to the coach?
“Getting fields for practice, he said. “We used Msgr. Scanlon High’s Field in The Bronx for a while.”
In 1990 Don Landolphi was inducted into the Brooklyn College Hall of Fame, and he’s also a member of the American Baseball Coaches Hall.
It was easy to see Don Landolphi was a career Hall of Famer at an early age.
Today, he’s helping the blind to see that as well.
Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected] Twitter: @AndyFurmanFSR
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