BALTIMORE—Bill Sciannella is like thousands of Oriole fans. He loves to come to the ballpark to cheer for his favorite team, even though the Columbia resident can’t see the action on the field.
Sciannella, who is blind, has been a rabid baseball fan his entire life, first rooting for the Washington Senators as a child in Silver Spring. After the Senators abandoned the nation’s capital following the 1971 season, he transferred his allegiance to the Orioles.
“I’ve always been a student of the game,” Sciannella said in a telephone interview. ”In fact, I’ve actually coached Little League baseball. Even though I can’t see what my team was doing, I know the theory behind it.
“A lot of times I can tell when a ball is hit, how solid it’s hit by the contact on the bat. When I coach, I have another coach describing where the ball is hit and by that I can tell if a person is behind or ahead of the pitch and if he’s under it or over it.”
The Orioles are honoring their fans without sight on Tuesday when they’ll become the first professional sports team to wear Braille lettering on their jerseys. It’s the 40th anniversary of the relocation of the National Federation for the Blind’s headquarters to Baltimore.
“Blind people are a cross-section of society and as such, there are blind fans of every sport,” Chris Danielsen, director of public relations for the National Federation for the Blind said. “Baseball is just one sport that blind people are fans of.”
The Orioles approached the NFB about being part of a celebration of ADA day in July. When they learned about the NFB’s 40th anniversary in Baltimore, they wanted to do more.
“The idea of Braille lettering on the jerseys came about as a way in which to raise awareness for the NFB and the tremendous services they provide in Baltimore and throughout the country,” said Greg Bader, Orioles vice president of communications and marketing.
“It is an honor to partner with an institution with the track record of the National Federation of the Blind, and we look forward to working with them in the future as we continue to make the Oriole Park experience accessible and enjoyable for everyone.”
Danielsen listens to games on the radio and brings a headset with him when he attends games to better follow the action.
“I can react along with the other fans and really feel the energy that comes with that,” Danielsen said. “Of course, there’s all the great ballpark foods and smells, just the whole experience of it.”
The first 15,000 fans to attend Tuesday’s game with Toronto will receive a Braille alphabet card. Danielsen said many blind children aren’t Braille-literate.
Danielsen wishes more blind fans could enjoy the in-person baseball experience.
“It’s just the whole atmosphere,” Danielsen said. “Being among the fans as people reacting to the game is just special to me. It’s a community feeling, especially when your team is winning. There’s a feeling of communion with other fans, even people you don’t know. I’m surrounded by other Orioles fans as we’re experiencing the game. It’s important to me, and it’s different from just sitting at home and listening to the game on the radio because I’m participating in it.”
For Sciannella, who owns a 13-game plan with seats not far from the press box, finds all sorts of reasons to enjoy baseball. He goes with his wife, who’s an avid fan and kept score for their son’s high school games; his son, who plays at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa.; or with friends from work. His friends are would-be Gary Thornes.
“They love doing play-by-play,” Sciannella said. “My friends will read [me] the stats on the board.”
The little things appeal to Sciannella, too. “Back in the ’80s, when they won, and they played that Orioles Magic song, that was always great,” he said. “The celebration at the end. I love the announcing of the starting lineups … My favorite part is when they hit a home run and everybody goes crazy.”