ATLANTA -- Jeff Francoeur returned to his alma mater Parkview High School in Lilburn, Ga., on Tuesday morning to help the Braves celebrate Community Heroes Week by honoring Hal Simpson, the founder of the Georgia Blind Sports Association.
Francoeur, Nick Markakis, Gordon Beckham, Jace Peterson, Anthony Recker and Brian Jordan surprised Simpson as he was conducting a beep baseball clinic for Parkview's visually impaired students. The Braves players entered the school's gymnasium and began participating in events with the students and members of the Atlanta Eclipse, an adult beep baseball team.
Simpson introduced the Braves players to the logistics of beep baseball -- a sport that features a cantaloupe-sized ball that beeps after the pitcher throws it toward the plate, allowing the visually-impaired participant a chance to gauge when to swing -- and Goal Ball -- a sport that features what is essentially a kickball that also creates a sound when thrown toward a trio of defenders who are attempting to prevent the ball from clearing the designated goal area.
After learning the logistics, the Braves players donned blindfolds and gained a better sense of what the visually-impaired athletes experience while competing in these activities.
"You can tell from us trying to hit a baseball, just listening to the sound and then having to block the ball, it's a legit sport," Francoeur said. "You've got to be ready to go, and it makes you have a greater appreciation for eyesight. When you've got that [blindfold] over you for 45 seconds, you're kind of in panic mode."
Simpson was accompanied by his 26-year-old son, Matt, who will compete in Goal Boal during the upcoming Paralympics. Matt's childhood involvement with STARS (Social Therapeutic Academic and Recreation Services) led his father to become a Goal Ball coach on the national level, and also found the Georgia Blind Sports Association, a non-profit organization that has given hundreds of visually impaired children and adults a chance to enjoy a variety of recreational sports aimed toward their capabilities.
"It's pretty amazing to see what they're actually doing, and now it's going to be fun to be able to watch the Paralympics and actually kind of have a horse in the race," Francoeur said.
The Braves presented Simpson with a $5,000 check and invited him and his family to enjoy a VIP experience that enabled them to be on the field for batting practice before Tuesday night's game against the Twins at Turner Field.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.