The Orioles are having a season that local fans will try their hardest to forget, but on Tuesday the team commemorated a Baltimore event in history-making fashion. The O’s became the first U.S. professional team, they claimed, to use Braille lettering on their game-day uniforms.
The occasion was the 40th anniversary of the move to Baltimore of the National Federation of the Blind’s headquarters. According to an account on the team’s website, the O’s had initially discussed honoring the NFB on July 26, to mark the 28th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, but when they learned of the upcoming date, they came up with a new, and unprecedented, approach.
Tonight, in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the @NFB_voice moving their national headquarters to Baltimore, we’ll host National Federation of the Blind Night. #Orioles players and coaches will wear specially-designed jerseys with Braille lettering. #Birdland pic.twitter.com/XTJmjp6KoG— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) September 18, 2018
In addition to the uniforms and Braille lettering in the O’s lineup graphic, the team invited a blind concert pianist, Carlos Ibay, to sing the national anthem, and NFB President Mark Riccobono threw out the first pitch. Riccobono described throwing out the first pitch as “a little bit nerve-racking,” but he said it helped that he’d “done a lot of nerve-racking stuff” in his life.
“It really means a lot that the Baltimore Orioles are acknowledging [the anniversary], and not just in a way that says, ‘It’s nice to have you,’ but in a real way that’s authentic to blind people, by including Braille, which is the means that blind people use for literacy all across the world,” Riccobono said before the game.
He added that when the team said it could use the lettering on its uniforms, he and others at his organization thought it was “a fantastic idea” and suggested distributing the alphabet cards to help fans learn “what Braille is, and how to recognize the characters.”
“We enjoy visiting the parks,” said Chris Danielsen, the NFB’s director of public relations (via MLB.com). “For a totally blind person like myself, there are different things to enjoy about the ballpark other than the visuals of it.
“Of course, it’s important that baseball and all sports were broadcast on radio before they were broadcast on television, and both blind and sighted fans have always enjoyed baseball games on the radio when they could not come to the ballpark.”
“They’re acknowledging that you’re there,” Erik Rodriguez, a visually impaired baseball player, told ABC News before the game. “Sometimes that’s the biggest step.”
Unfortunately for all the O’s fans in attendance Tuesday, the team could not avoid notching its 108th loss of the season, the most in the club’s 65-year history in Baltimore, breaking a dubious mark set in 1988. In its previous incarnation as the St. Louis Browns, the franchise lost 111 games in 1939 and 108 in 1937.
The Braille-adorned jerseys are set to be auctioned off, with the proceeds benefiting the NFB, while one of the jerseys will go to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
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