IBM volunteer helps the visually impaired play America’s pastime

Rob Weissman
Rob Weissman is a coach with the
Boston Renegades; in July, the team,
whose athletes are visually impaired,
won their 5th straight Beast of the East
title and participated in their 14th
consecutive world series tournament.
Sports fans love baseball. The crack of the bat, the sound of the ball hitting the glove, the beep of the baseball as the pitcher tries to throw one past the batter. Okay, for the majority of fans, that last one doesn’t really fit. But for Rob Weissman, operations excellence team leader for IBM in Massachusetts, that beep of the ball is the sound of America’s pastime.

Rob is a coach with the Boston Renegades beep baseball team, a team of visually impaired baseball players in Boston Massachusetts.

While some of the rules are slightly different, the basics are the same. Players dive to stop ground balls, runners hustle to reach base safely. Spectators see the same commitment to win, the same desire and teamwork that sighted athletes show on the field, just with balls that beep and bases that buzz.

“Sports has played a huge role in my life and taught me so much,” says Rob. “I have lifelong friendships because of sports and I have learned so much about hard work, team work, passion, drive, mental toughness, continuous improvement, coaching, dealing with adversity, leadership and so many other topics through the sports in my life.”

Making contact, having an impact

Unfortunately, blind and visually impaired adults do not have many opportunities to realize the benefits of competitive sports. The Boston Renegades, sponsored by the Association of Blind Citizens, are the only team sport for visually impaired or blind adults in New England. But over time, awareness is changing.

The Renegades were the subject of an award-winning 2012 documentary about the team and the sport. The film is now in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York— archived and available for all.

“It was an amazing surprise to see our program get this level of recognition. I had always dreamed of being in the Hall as a kid,” Rob says. “And while I don’t have a statue next to Carl Yastrzemski, I’m pretty proud of what our guys have accomplished.”

“One of my favorite parts of coaching is when athletes make contact at the plate for the first time,” says Rob. “The smile on their faces when they hit the ball for the first time is something special. Often times I feel they have a sense of ‘Wow, I never thought I would ever hit a baseball again.’ To give them that thrill is pure joy for me.”

And as is so common with volunteer work, Rob has gained as much from being a volunteer as he has given.

“Coaching these guys has helped me to communicate better at work,” Rob says. “Most of us use our sight to learn a skill. Obviously, this isn’t the case when working with the visually impaired. I’ve found I’ve had to adjust how I describe things to help a player improve.”

“At IBM, we work with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Being able to adjust my communication skills for different people has been critical. You need to communicate differently with a technical person than you do with an executive and with people from the other side of the planet.”

The benefits extend beyond his work life, of course. Rob says, “If you can find a way to match your passion or something important to you with a volunteer experience, you will get so much out of it. For me volunteering is a lot of fun.”

“I’ve recruited many of my friends to help me, and we work hard, play hard and have a great time with each other. At the end of the day, we will all remember the experience, the stories and the impact we’ve had.”

About these stories

Read about IBMers whose volunteer efforts are improving communities around the world.

Activity Kits

IBM’s volunteer Activity Kits include everything you need for a range of activities.