The Sirens Song
By: Neal McDonald
Neal McDonald or better known as NealDawg is a champion on and off the field for this sport. He continues to advocate for inclusion by promoting the empowerment of beep baseball in various mediums. Here’s a long-form article he put together while researching the all-female team based out of St. Charles.
The first National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA) World Series Tournament was played in 1976. Having lost a series in 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the 2023 World Series will be the 47th in the NBBA’s history. From the beginning, Beep Baseball has been a coed sport. All though there have been women players in the league from jump, Beepball has been dominated by men since day one. Another unique element of Beep Baseball is that a combination of sighted and blind individuals are needed to complete the team rosters. In Beepball, the pitchers are sighted and pitch to their own team. Opposite from Baseball or Softball, the goal for pitchers in Beepball is to hit the bat in the best spot possible. Just like the pitchers, the catchers are sighted as well. Another position in Beep Baseball which is filled by our sighted teammates are spotters. On defense, Beepball teams use zones which can only be numbered by using numbers one through six. How teams set their zones changes from team to team depending on both the number of spotters they use, and personal team preferences. Each team has the choice of utilizing one, or two spotters. However, the majority of squads now typically stick with a two-spotter system because it gives the defense an opportunity to use all six zones in right and left field. In most cases on defense, the players in each position start in the same spot on the field before every play.
Getting each individual back into their normal spot after a play is one of the responsibilities of the spotter. Having two spotters setting up three defenders a piece is faster than one spotter directing all six players. Another key role spotters play in this sport is calling out a zone number once the ball has been hit. It is the only help they can offer players while the ball is in play. The spotter can call one number, and that is it. If the spotter calls the wrong number, by rule, they are not allowed to change the call. Any attempt to call a second number results in an automatic run for the offense.
In the NBBA’s history, spotting has been the one constant that has offered women the most opportunity in beep baseball. Closing in on five-decades of history, more names are getting consideration for the league’s Hall of Fame (HOF). Currently, to my knowledge, there are only two women in the NBBA’s HOF that have been recorded as players. When it comes to women receiving consideration for the honor, more women spotters have been nominated for the HOF instead of women players. Over the league’s history, women have been seen as players sporadically overall, and they have been nearly non-existent as pitchers. That is all shifting towards the better here in 2023. In large part because of a group that is saying it is time for a change, the Sirens, a Beep Baseball team based out of the St. Louis, Missouri area, is going to be the first competitive all-female team to attend the National Beep Baseball World Series. Faith Penn, one of the founders and current Chair of the NBBA’s Women of our League (WOOL) has been a guest on The Beepball Blues Show more than once. WOOL is a committee under the NBBA that put the proverbial ball in play by hosting an annual all women’s exhibition game since 2016. I remember on Faith’s first appearance, I pointed out that someone unfamiliar with the NBBA and its World Series could spend a day taking in the tournament, and walk away having no idea that the game is coed. The simple reason is because during a day spent watching the game at its highest level, viewers may not see a female player on the field at any point. That has gotten better since I started playing in the mid-eighties, but there is still much room for improvement. However, now there is a group that formed into a first of its kind that says not enough people know about us. Though my goal is to share as many parts of this squad as possible, everything has a starting point. WOOL put the idea out there eight years ago, and Kasondra McDaniel and Kim Blumenthal brought The Sirens song to fruition.
In the NBBA, family connections on individual teams are not even a little bit unique. For example, sometimes there are family genes that pass on things such as genetic eye diseases like Retinitis Pigmentosa, then all of a sudden between siblings and cousins, someone can build half a Beepball team. Also, because this sport has sighted and non-sighted participants working together, sighted family members and close friends often find their way onto squads throughout the sport as well. In the case of The Sirens, vision impairment has brought the NBBA one player who had enough family and friends close to her who were willing to start this journey. These connections presented an opportunity to begin a new franchise by having a close to fully staffed team right out of the gates. Kim Blumenthal has more than a decade of Beep Baseball experience. Starting as a player on the St. Louis Firing Squad to begin her career, she then went on to join The Gateway Archers, one of the leagues newer programs. When asked about starting The Sirens, Blumenthal admits, “I got playing time.” Blumenthal shared in a tone that explains this startup isn’t about her. “I saw these women sitting on the bench, and it really just hit a nerve for me.” The team captain goes onto say “Giving a woman an opportunity to just be on the bench, isn’t the same as giving her the opportunity to experience playing.”
Sirens General Manager and Head Coach, Kasondra McDaniel, is also Blumenthal’s sister. McDaniel enjoyed getting to see Blumenthal play, but it still bothered her to look around and see other women not receiving the same opportunities. Once the word got out about The Sirens and their mission to become the first all-female competitive Beep Baseball team to attend and participate in the World Series, there was a strong reaction around the NBBA from women players, and it enforced McDaniel’s belief that this is something that is needed. “So many reached out to us because they want the opportunities.” Following the introduction of The Sirens, texts, emails, and messages on Facebook started coming in. “The need is obvious,” says Coach McDaniel. “It’s not anything we’re doing to seek them out, we’re just saying we’re here. They’re the ones that are coming to us and saying, I want to be part of this.”
For the team’s leadership, this is no novelty act. The Sirens are not just trying to get the first all-female team to the World Series, they want this to be the beginning of a squad that is going to continue to build up over the years. When building a team for the future, it never hurts to start with a young nucleus. On The sirens, this begins with Klarah Bloomer. The youngest on the roster at 16, Bloomer has spent time playing recreational softball. While doing so, despite her low vision, Bloomer helped her team win a few tournaments along the way. However, the rec-league only allows teenagers to play until a certain age, then they have to move into a more competitive league. The more competitive level became too fast for her low vision, forcing her out of softball. Finding her way onto The Sirens, Bloomer expressed how much this chance means to her. “It means a lot to me to be able to get the opportunity to play again, and be on a team.”
The team’s young nucleus doesn’t end with Bloomer. Darnell Booker, Head Coach of the Indy Thunder, learned of two young women who grew up enjoying all the competitive sports they could find, and told them about The Sirens. Kaitlyn Overshiner, and Corey Turner were welcomed in with open arms. Overshiner, now in college, is always looking for new things and ways to see the world. “I’m trying to get as much experience as I can, with anything I can. I just want that life experience.” Overshiner continues on about what she’s already been given through this opportunity. “It’s been really good for me with team work, and team building. It’s really amazing all around.” Overshiner’s teammate and friend Corey Turner, too has always been a sports fan, and looks for ways to be active. While doing a Beep Baseball demonstration at Turner’s school, Booker noticed her abilities and recommended she consider playing competitively. “He was really impressed by my batting,” said Turner. Booker put her in touch with Coach McDaniel and it was a good fit from the beginning. Not just for an opportunity to play ball, but to be part of this first of its kind team. Reflecting back on her first contact, Turner shared that after one conversation learning about The Sirens and their goals, she realized that “this is what I wanted to do, and I wanted to be part of it.”
Two members of The Sirens that have been around Beep Baseball, but haven’t spent much time on the field are Whitney Marin, and Katherine Warren, also known as KAT. Marin started in Beepball back in 2020, and The Sirens are now her third team. Experience is something every team needs. Though Marin has more years in the NBBA than anyone else on the roster outside of Blumenthal, she has seen little more playing time than the three young rookies who will be experiencing their first playing time ever this year. Marin lives in Texas, and when she heard about this new team in St. Louis, she was ready to start traveling. “Last year I heard a couple of people talking about making an all-girls team,” says Marin. “When I saw a couple of months back that there was an all-girls team being made, I was like, I want to try it. I want to go for it.” Marin, making a reference to the Women of our League annual exhibition game played during the NBBA’s World Series, goes on to say, “I think it’s awesome that there is an all-girls team that will be playing, not just for one day, but for the whole week.” Marin’s new teammates love everything she’s brought to the team. Mari Blumenthal, The Sirens Pitcher has a high-level of confidence pitching to her. Kendra Badger, the team Catcher, describes Marin both as a “spitfire” and “loving” , all in one. Her new teammate, Kat, learned after one practice that Marin was going to have her back. Marin learned of some difficulties that Kat was going through, and already it was, “what do we need to do, where do we need to go.” Kat went on to say that “the instant camaraderie was there.” Kat’s story is similar to Marin’s. Recently married, Kat met her husband on the Beepball field. Though she too has been around the sport, she’s only enjoyed it from the sideline so far. “I have not been a Beepball player long, but the time that I have been able to play, I’ve been observing,” Kat shares. Adding, “I’ve been more of a spectator than a player.” Kat makes it clear that “being able to play,” is what attracted her to The Sirens. This team gives her the opportunity to “play, and learn. To interact with teammates and build some camaraderie.”
Completing the players on The Sirens roster for the 2023 Beep Baseball World Series are Amy Sweigard from Nebraska, and Lauren Morales from Iowa. Two more blind athletes that one way or another heard about this opportunity, and signed up knowing ahead of time the amount of travel that would be involved. Sweigard, having had sight before, is used to being involved in sports. “I use to play softball when I could see,” says Sweigard. “Every sport you can think of, I’ve probably tried it.” With her being an experienced Goalball player, and a sports enthusiast overall, Sweigard’s friend Alvin Suarez, a player for the Indy Edge, thought she should reach out to The Sirens and try Beepball. Sweigard reached out to McDaniel, and couldn’t say no after that. Lauren Morales has spent quite a bit of time traveling between Iowa and Missouri since joining The Sirens. When asked what the draw to this team was for her, she had a twist from the answers her teammates offered. Morales said, “I just wanted to join a blind sport, and to get to meet other blind people outside of where I live.” Morales added, “I like traveling. So, it just kind of worked out.” The time and commitment Morales has shown impresses the General Manager/Coach. “Lauren is one of our players that has tried to be at every practice, everything we have out here.” Says McDaniel. Coach McDaniel adds, “She rode the train for 18, 19 hours one time.” Knowing how much Morales has put in to travel alone, the Coach gives her credit for the effort she puts into being at every practice possible.
I have been around this sport since 1986. Beyond the obvious of this being the first competitive all female team, I find something else unique about their start. For as long as I’ve been around Beep Baseball, I have found that teams starting point has usually been a group of blind people that through one way or another, became familiar with the sport, then found a way to start building a team. Usually, it’s a situation of having enough blind players, but struggling to find pitchers, catchers, spotters, and everything else needed to make a team better. In the case of The Sirens, Blumenthal is the only vision impaired player they had to start a team with. However, on the upside, they already had their pitcher, a catcher, and two members on the roster that already had some experience spotting. Going back to when Blumenthal played for the St. Louis Firing Squad, McDaniel started getting involved with Blumenthal’s Beepball life. However, it didn’t stop there. Blumenthal’s daughter, Mari Blumenthal and Kasondra’s daughter, Kendra Badger, joined in the fun as well.
Mari Blumenthal joined the Gateway Archers when her Mom did in 2020. Mari has been one of the pitchers on the Archers since then, but she has not yet been the fulltime pitcher for a squad. Many teams have just one pitcher they rely on each season. There are also teams that have as many as two or three pitchers on their roster. For Mari, she always shared the pitching duties with at least one other pitcher while with Gateway, and in 2022, the Archers had three pitchers on their roster. For her, this isn’t just a chance to be on the first all-female team, it’s a chance for her to be a starting Beep Baseball pitcher. “When I started out in Beepball, I was just the water girl, or the bat girl, and stuff like that. When I got up to being catcher and pitcher, They would put me in sometimes, but they always had a number one pitcher.” For Mari, it’s an opportunity to develop into a starting pitcher. Still, it’s not only about her, Mari adds, “I want to help them get the spotlight, and me branch out to be better.”
Part of a pitcher’s success, comes from having a solid catcher behind the plate that the pitcher enjoys working with. That’s easy in this case, “Me and Kendra, have a connection like no other.” Mari offers. Going on to say, “She’s my best friend, my cousin, she’s everything. So, me and her having that connection at the plate, it’s better for the players, and it’s better for everyone on the team.” Kendra Badger, The Sirens Catcher, admits she wasn’t sure at first if this project could take off. “Whenever Mom and Kim brought it up to me, I was hesitant at first,” says Kendra. “I didn’t know what would come of it, but when I saw all of the puzzle pieces coming together, it was very exciting.”
Bailey Badger, Kasondra’s other daughter, was in college as the new family business became Beep Baseball. A student athlete participating in multiple sports at the time, she played more of a spectator then. Now, as The Sirens had started building their program, she was asked to join in. “My Mom called me out of the blue one day. She said hey, I want to start a women’s Beepball team, and I want you to coach.” Bailey, out of college, and now starting her career, was unsure about the commitment she could give. After giving it some consideration, she said, “I don’t have much time, but I’d like to do that.” With an extensive sports background of her own, Bailey jumped right in and started creating workouts for the players. However, she did not stop there. It’s not just family members that get dragged into this sport, friends are free game too. That’s how Meg Illig ended up on this Sirens roster. Besties with Bailey Badger, Meg was unable to stay away and now is the Sprints Coach for the team. Minds Eye Radio, a sponsor of The Sirens, hosts a recreational Beepball tournament each year that gives anyone that wants a chance to try the sport for the first time, an opportunity to do so in a more relaxed environment. That is how Meg learned about Beep Baseball. “I had never heard of Beepball at all,” says Illig. “Every time that I play, it’s always been a real rewarding experience for me.”
Part of The Sirens leadership, but not a member of their roster is Kalari Girtley-Jackson. A member of the Chicago Comets since the 2000 season, her rookie year, and a WOOL Committee member since WOOL’s inception. Kalari’s name is one of the more recognized in Beepball. No gender talk here, she is simply known by near everyone in Beep Baseball, and the blind community overall. As has been the case for each of the members that have jumped on this ride, Girtley-Jackson’s first conversation was with Coach McDaniel. Knowing that Girtley-Jackson is a player on the Chicago Comets, McDaniel still hope to have her leadership on the Out of Sight Board of Directors. Out of Sight is an organization that has launched along with The Sirens involving this same group of leaders. Their plan is for Beep Baseball to only be the beginning of sports for the blind that they are involved with that will feature blind women athletes. “I’m very passionate about this project,” says Girtley-Jackson. “then when McDaniel, who is just awesome, I got nothing but mad props for her. She is a one-woman-wrecking team. She asked if I could be part of the board for my background, my leadership that I’ve shown over the years in Beepball, especially with the women. So, I said absolutely.” Girtley-Jackson has enjoyed being part of this groups leadership here in the inaugural season of this historical Beep Baseball team, but it is hard for her not to be on the roster with them. Because of that, Girtley-Jackson has informed the Chicago Comets coaching staff that after 23-years, the 2023 season is going to be her final year with the Comets. Girtley-Jackson is planning to join The sirens on the field in 2024.
In Beep Baseball, just like in most group projects, there are usually one or two people that end up carrying much of the wait. This is a team that is already showing it has good leadership. With The Sirens, Coach McDaniel is the driving force. Not just because so many of the conversations start with her, but because of the lengths she has gone through to ensure this is not a conversation, it’s a reality. Make no mistake, The Sirens are indeed a thing. In an article I wrote around the holidays, I stated something about how everyone in Beepball makes a sacrifice for this sport to take place. No money has ever been made off Beep Baseball. For the five-day World Series tournament to take place, everyone there, blind players, sighted coaches, volunteers, have all given up something to be there. Some individuals go over the top to make sure others are able to participate as well. Everything McDaniel has done could be its own article, but this part should be known. Over the 2023 Father’s Day weekend, The Sirens, and the Oklahoma Lookouts, another team playing at the NBBA World Series for the first time, scheduled a couple of scrimmages to be played in Tulsa Oklahoma. The weekend for Coach McDaniel started in St. Louis, homebase for The Sirens. Rewriting this in my own way cannot do it justice, so here it is as Coach McDaniel shared it.
3AM – Headed to meet Kaitlyn and Corey in Terre Haute, Indiana.
7AM – Grabbed Starbucks and headed back to St. Louis.
11:30AM – Leave St Louis and head to Tulsa.
5:45 PM – Arrived in Tulsa met the rest of the Team and headed to the field to practice.
8:30 – Picked up Raising Canes and Chili’s pasta for dinner for the team and headed back to the hotel.
8AM – On the field and getting it ready (lining and setting up the bases) as well as batting practice with Molly Fleming, Pitcher for the Austin Blackhawks.
9AM – First Game.
12:30PM – Second Game.
3PM – Headed to Andy’s for some ice cream before we leave.
3:30PM – Back on 44 to St. Louis.
11:30 – Arrive back home. Indy girls and Lauren stay at my house for the night.
10AM – Pancakes, Bacon, and smoothies for breakfast.
11AM – Completed the last of the Code of Ethics online.
12PM – Head back to Terre Haute Indiana to drop Kaitlyn and Corey off.
4PM – Dropped Kaitlyn and Corey off and back home.
8PM – Back home.”
According to MapQuest 1,545.4 miles driven, 22 H. 19 minutes, and $904.07 in driving that weekend.”
Please keep in mind, this was to play a couple of scrimmage games. Knowing the importance of getting this team experience, McDaniel made this happen. These players she has been creating opportunity for are recognizing both McDaniel’s and Blumenthal’s efforts. “A lot of the time as players, we don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.” Kat offers. “We get our uniforms, we get our mind-folds, we get our transportation, and our hotels. We don’t realize that it takes money to make money. A lot of that came out of their pocket, before the sponsors, before the help, a lot of that came from them.” Kat offers them a heartfelt thanks for taking this project, and making it a reality. Youngest rookie on The Sirens team, Klarah bloomer, is just as appreciative. Talking about how both Blumenthal and McDaniel have been there the entire way, pushing them with positivity while they embark on this historical journey. “I’m so thankful that I have both of them here to help the whole team and me get this up off the ground. Because without them, it wouldn’t be here.”
When I found this game in 1986 and learned of the NBBA’s World Series Tournament, I fell in love just hearing about it. I had been blind for nearly seven years at that point, and believed I had been living a well-adjusted life in the dark. Until I started playing Beepball, I had no idea how far I still had to go. Also, I give Beep Baseball credit for letting me dream again. None of my future dreams at that time were of things related to the world of blindness. At least, until the National Beep Baseball Association came into my life. That very first day I learned of the NBBA’s World Series Tournament, is the first day I dreamed of winning a Beep Baseball Championship. I will always love, and thank this sport for giving me that. Every thing that has followed since, has been gravy. What touched me the most about working on this article, somehow, Coach McDaniel understands the importance of what I gained without having gone through it herself. She doesn’t just want this group to have the opportunity to play Beepball at the World Series Tournament for the first time, she also is driven by wanting them to receive everything that can come after that, just like I did.
Finishing this with both some knowledge and a warning. When it comes to the team name, we aren’t talking emergency sirens. So hold back on the field with the siren noises. Bailey Badger went deep into those Greek Methodical Waters for this. The warning is, be careful, you don’t want to be lured in by The Sirens Song!
From Siren (mythology) – Wikipedia
“The sirens of Greek mythology first appeared in Homer’s “Odyssey.”
“In Greek mythology, sirens are humanlike beings with alluring voices; they appear in a scene in the Odyssey in which Odysseus saves his crew’s lives.”
“The author, Homer, who was a blind poet, writes this well-known poem in the 8th century in Ancient Greece.”