By Jerry Del Priore
When Fox Beyer was a child growing up in Chatham, New Jersey, he played baseball in his backyard with his siblings, just like many kids across America.
However, his siblings never took it easy on Beyer, who lives with cerebral palsy — a condition marked by impaired muscle coordination (spastic paralysis) and/or other disabilities, typically caused by damage to the brain before or at birth.
In Beyer’s case, he displays some issues with walking and balance, and his eyes present challenges when it comes to direct eye contact.
But it hasn’t stopped the 40-year-old former Chatham High School pitcher from achieving success and living a full life.
In fact, he attributes his resilience to his family treating him no different than anyone else, often the odd player out when it came to retrieving baseballs distances away from the field of play.
“That was my basis for everything (I’d become in life),” Beyer said of his siblings treating him normally. “I resented it at the time. Think about this: my brother Nick’s on first, Billy’s on third, and my sister Julie’s up and hits a ball down the left-field line. Guess who had to run 200 feet to go get it? Me.
“It was the best thing that could ever happen to me,” he continued. “Other stuff, too, especially from my mother. I used to say, Mom, what are they looking (at), all these people? ‘Fox, you walk funny. That’s why they’re looking at (you).’ Okay, knowing it’s not going to change. Once I understood that…screw it, I’m going to walk into this place first. If they don’t like what they see, too bad.”
It’s no wonder the baseball lifer learned to shrug off the public’s misconception of himself due to his disability.
Currently, Beyer is a high school Spanish teacher who will begin his sixteenth year at Whippany Park High School in September.
Additionally, he runs his own podcast called What’s Your Inspiration, authored a book by the name of (purchase here) Letter Kindling: Igniting, Inspiring, and Evoking the Fire Within, and is a songwriter and public speaker.
Let’s not forget the work Beyer performs with the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball as a bench coach, in which he said he throws batting practice, videos hitters during in-game plate appearances, and helps out players with baseball resumes, in the hopes of them getting noticed by affiliated organizations.
Beyer said he has had between four or five surgeries on his legs and a couple on his eyes. But it has been his time in rehabilitation that has helped him stave off the woe-is-me attitude.
“When I went into rehab I was with people who’ve had it way worse than I did,” he recalled. “Every day, I’m getting better and better. It was painful, and it sucked; I wasn’t with my friends, but I was learning how to walk again, and some would never walk again.”
But it was the time his friend Willy, a 15-year-old ill boy who had passed, that left an undeniable mark on the then-10-year-old Beyer, who was undergoing rehab at the time.
“I can remember coming back from rehab, talking about Willy with my dad,” Beyer recollected. Then, “we see Willy’s dad just sobbing, walking out of the room, saying, ‘Willy stopped breathing; he died.’
“All of that stuff, losing the ability to walk for (only) two months showed me people had it way worse than I did,” he added. “It gave me a perspective. So what I get ridiculed for the way that I move. So what I get ridiculed by people who say hurtful things to make them feel better about themselves. Those experiences helped me become grateful for who I am now.”
It was baseball, however, that kept him dreaming and moving foward after leaving the hospital.
“I wanted it so bad. I loved, loved, loved — and still do — to throw a baseball,” Beyer said. “I was terrible at soccer. All my siblings played soccer, but I bring a tennis ball to throw against a wall while they played.”
Beyer said he used to chase his high school freshman baseball coach out of the parking lot until he finally received his chance to pitch.
From there, the five-foot-nine, 133-pound baseball junkie hasn’t stopped throwing a ball against a wall, and anywhere else he gets an opportunity to chuck the five-ounce piece of rawhide.
Because it doesn’t matter to the southpaw what others’ perceived limitations of him are, just as long as he’s doing what he loves.
To hear Fox Beyer’s podcast interview with me on YouTube, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGpgwr5baWs&t=9s.
My Fox Beyer Podbeanbean podcast will be out in August, and you can listen to his other podcast at the aforementioned link.