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Beep Baseball

Michael Berwald #16

Written by Kevin Barrett

November 10, 1959 – November 2, 2016

Mike Berwald grew up on West 98th, off of Lorain Road, in Cleveland.  Born totally blind, he wrestled in high school at West Tech High. After graduating in 1978 Mike enrolled at Cleveland State University that Fall.

I at the time was a student employee in Disability Services under Special Studies. We also had a student advocacy club named the Access Club.  Mike and I hit it off right away. He got involved with the Access Club and he, Marty Skutnik and others became good friends. Marty and I had gotten involved with the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) in the spring of 1978 and that opened the door to the beginnings of competitive sport for those who are blind and visually impaired.

Photo of Mike Berwald receiving a trophy at a Pioneers Event in 1982

Mike, Marty, and I were all big baseball fans, following the Indians. In fact, one of our Access Club Spring outings was to go to and Indians game each May near the end of Spring Quarter. Municipal Stadium had wheelchair accessible areas down the first baseline near the Indians bullpen. Marty was an exceptionally good athlete including in baseball before he lost his sight during his senior year of high school. We would talk about how neat it would be to play baseball. Mike told us about the Telephone Pioneers Beep Baseball program he had been involved with since he was a child. So, in the Spring of 1981 Mike invited us to one of the Pioneer West Council practices at Tiedeman Park. For Marty, Bill Kemmett, Mike, and I it was nice but, after a few events we soon realized that an advanced level of beep baseball was needed. The Pioneers were wonderful and well intended, but their program was designed for children with multiple challenges. We were getting concerned about hurting someone not to mention feeling somewhat uncomfortable under these conditions. As Marty and I continued to compete in the USABA Nationals each year we brought up beep baseball in a conversation with Ray Marshall at the USABA Nationals at Austin, TX in June of 1982. Ray and his girlfriend Maria Serrat (from Cleveland) told us about the NBBA. We were thrilled and couldn’t wait to tell Mike when we got home.

We talked to our coach Ron Schmidt form the Pioneers and he seemed excited as he had at one time played in the sandlots. We held a sports day at CSU featuring both USABA and Beep Baseball clinics as we were developing our Cleveland chapter of USABA and laying to foundation for the Scrappers. The Beep Baseball highlight was when Marty Skutnik hit a ball so hard it hit the dome in the old Cleveland State Intramural Center.

That September, we traveled to Indiana near their school for the blind and played a doubleheader against a bunch of NBBA/USABA athletes.  It was a learning experience for all, as the game used NBBA rules. Which psyched out our Pioneer volunteer pitchers Ron and Al Roach. They were used to pitching to us from 40 feet.

We held our own and this made us determined to set up an NBBA caliber team. By the end of 1983 we were ready to do so and started the Scrappers in 1984. Mike Berwald was a good fielder and contact hitter, and his experience was a big boost in those early years. Health issues cut Mike’s playing years short as he was only able to play thru the 1987 season including being a part of our first Eastern Regional Championship in Binghamton, NY and being a part of our first NBBA World Series team at Ithaca, NY that August. He and his wife Judy kept involved with the team over the years helping with public relations, promotions, and fundraising efforts. Mike was also the president of our local Cleveland are chapter of USABA named AAVIO (Athletic Association for Visually Impaired Athletes from 1985-92. Marty had come up with the name and for a number of years while also helping build the Scrappers We had AAVIO representation at some of the USABA Nationals from 1984-1992. Mike never lost his love of Beep Baseball and supporting the sight challenged community. Mike passed away just days shy of his 57th birthday losing a long battle with cancer in November 2016.