European baseball players took on the label “the moles” when the first European cup was played in Germany in 2011. After the games in Italy in 2012 it is now the turn of the French to host the tournament for blind and sight impaired baseball players thanks to the efforts of the ABBF (Association for Beep Baseball France) and to the Nogent Bandits Baseball Softball Club who are the chief organizers of the 2013 games.
The Mole Cup will host the German Bavarian Bats and an Italian selection of two team from the national championships as well as the Nogent-sur-Marne Bandits from France.
This European championship is a unique event in France. Games will be held on Saturday the 6th and Sunday the 7th of July 2013 at the Parc Interdépartemental du Tremblay in Champigny-sur-Marne.
We met with Tom Nagel, President of the ABBR and Najib Lamjaj, captain and co-founder of the Beep Baseball section of the Nogent Bandits Baseball Softball Club.
Interview with Tom Nagel, President and founder of the ABBF (Association for Beep Baseball France).
What does the organization of this event mean for you? Is this a first for France?
Our friends and colleagues in baseball, softball and cricket have all organized major European events and we now too hope to become “major league” as the expression goes.
The difference in our case for the organization of the third Mole Cup, is the specifics of an international tournament for the blind and sight-impaired, their special needs and the staffing required for the game itself.
We participated in the 2011 games in Germany and the 2012 games in Italy, and thanks to these two events we have had to invest personally enormously in order to host our European colleagues in the manner they expect and the manner we hope to attain.
It’s now up to the volunteer sighted supporters to take up the gauntlet and organize this event with precision and efficiency, handle the public, ask for silence before every play, take care of the guide-dogs, find lodging and adapted restaurants, organize transport, accompany our guests, install and test special audio equipment for the game, and so on. Here is a new challenge for our federation.
What role does the ABBF play? What role does the Paralympic Committee play?
The ABBF was founded in 2009 for baseball for the sight-impaired. The association signed a protocol in 2011 with the FFBS (French Federation of Baseball Softball) which makes it possible for clubs to form sections for beep baseball. The protocol allows players to obtain a baseball or softball license and to benefit from the insurance policy of the federation, like any sighted baseball or softball player.
The FFBS and the ABBF hope to join the two largest organizations for the handicapped in France: the French Federation for Handisports (FFH) and the French Federation of Adapted Sports (FFSA), in order to promote our sport to the public. This is still a major effort and a challenge because baseball is still not very well known in France.
Nevertheless, in March 2013, the FFBS was invited to join the French Paralympic Committee (CPSF) as an associate member. The founding members of the CPSF are the FFH and the FFSA, and these two organizations not only approve our initiative but also invite us to prepare our possible participation in the international Paralympic games in Rio in 2016! We will do our utmost to meet this challenge. Personally, I have the honor of representing the FFBS on the Paralympic Committe. The first major meeting is scheduled for May 3 for their annual General Assembly.
How does the FFBS help you with this project? Sponsors? Volunteers?
For 2013 it has been clear since the beginning that there is no budget for this initative.
However, in 2014 is more promising and we are working on a joint budget.
The League of Ile de France has already contributed financially to our participation in the first two Mole Cups in 2011 in Germany and 2012 in Italy.
They also helped us buy adapted equipment.
The Department Committee of the Val-de-Marne also contributed in 2012 and we are hoping to receive aid for this Mole Cup.
The budget for this tournament is around 15,000 euros on the low end. Today we needed only two months to obtain commitments for more than 10,000 euros, but we have a real problem of cashflow in order to make the tournament happen. We remain very optimistic and thank in advance our sponsors for this adventure.
Our global budget for 2013-2014 is around 60,000 euros. Thanks to these contributions we count not only on financing the tournament but also creating several paid positions to promote baseball for the sight-impaired in Paris and elsewhere. We hope to open up our horizons to cover all of France as well as integrate into the association sports for the motor handicapped and those with mental and psychic illnesses. IBAF (the International Baseball Federation), a few University Hospitals and local and regional organizations see us as a priority in the 2013-2014 window. This is an extraordinary opportunity for us.
We are really counting on our volonteers to join the organizing committee and to discover themselves the value of this activity. The awareness of handicapped issues is a value that we really want to promote so that this section of our sport can become a model for everyone. I take advantage of this interview to invite interested persons to contact me in order to offer a little of their time for this event and all year long. Thanks in advance.
Interview with Najib Lamjaj, Captain and co-founder of the Beep Baseball team at the Nogent Bandits
How did you discover Beep Baseball (baseball for the blind and sight-impaired)?
Thanks to Tom Nagel (international baseball umpire) who brought this sport here from the United States. We rapidly planned the project together in France because I am personally committed to all types of projects that have the objective of improving the lives of the sight-impaired.
My first idea was to help Tom set up the team and the association, but, even if I am myself a sight-impaired practitioner of several sports, I did not want to participate on the team. After several training sessions alone, I learned to really appreciate baseball, its specifics and the unique possibilities the adapting this sport for the sight-impaired. Working with the (sighted) coaches and recruiting an entire team convinced me to become a part of this adventure with an active role on the team. Since then it has become a passion.
Today you are captain of the team. What are your expectations for this season and especially for the Mole Cup in France? Is there any particular team you worry about among the teams you will up against in the tournament?
My first hope is that everyone will have a good time! I hope we all enjoy playing together and sharing memorable moments like we did in the first two tournaments in Germany and Italy.
That said, we are training hard and keeping up our “Bandits” spirit, which means we enjoy competition.
But especially I hope that we can host our German and Italian friends at least as well as they did for us in the two previous competitions.
If I had to worry about a team in particular, it would be the Milan Thunders Five. They have an very high level of play. Today, thanks to having been up against such strong teams, we have made enormous progress. And I think sincerely that we are ready to beat anyone, even win the tournament.
Can you explain how players are selected in your sport? What do you expect of men and women?
Like on any baseball team the coaches make the selections. For me, I hope everyone gets to play equally because our project is, even before performance, on a human level. We can see in our team that certain players are more at ease on defense or at the bat, or the other way around. We try with the coaches to improve the performance of all, even if the strong personalities we have on our team take precedence over performance. But that is the Bandits and we like it like that!
As for men and women playing together, it also applies on two levels which makes our sport really interesting. In Beep Baseball the sighted share the game with the sight-impaired, men and women together. The distances for women are adapted to reduce any advantages. And also our head coach is a woman (sighted) who plays in regular baseball on a male team, and I know from a reliable source that she is far from the bottom of the lineup on the team, but that’s another story.
In conclusion, several coaches on the Bandits have told us how happy they are and how grateful for the opportunity to live this adventure with us, and that makes me really happy.