Blake Tarrants walks down the hall at Blue Springs High School, tracing a familiar path with his cane and using the sound of voices as his compass.
By MEGAN ARMSTRONG
Special to The Star
He strides into the schools makeshift radio studio, a glass trophy case lining a hallway. Hes in his sanctuary now, a place where he doesnt need the aid of a cane or anyone elses voice. He picks up the phone, feels around for the numbers and cues up his impending broadcast.
His co-host handles the soundboard while he drives the dialogue. The conversation is lively.
When you score two runs in two games, youve got a 1.0 team scoring average youre not going to win very many games.
He injects personality: James Shields is pitching tonight so we wont get that Papa Johns deal.
He even uses Siri to fact-check on his iPhone: Age of Albert Pujols? (For the record, 33.)
Tarrants stares straight ahead while he talks and lets his memory serve a smorgasbord of statistics, key facts and descriptors of scene, letting his strengths influence him more than any disability ever could.
Tarrants was born healthy on Dec. 31, 1995, at Whiteman Air Force Base. It wasnt until just after his first birthday that his life changed forever. Tarrants had an allergic reaction to a vaccine shot, which resulted in encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. It affected his optic nerves and stripped him of his sight.
The family was forced to make adjustments.
His mother, Marcy Tarrants, cites two in particular: Most children learn by merely seeing someone do something and repeating it; you don't even always realize when and how they learned something. For Blake, we had to become very good verbal communicators with a visually descriptive vocabulary. Secondly, we had to learn how to find the resources Blake needed to help us all prepare him to become a successful, happy person in a sighted world.
This is the only way hes ever known.
Its hard to say how (living blind) is different, honestly, he said, because I dont have anything to compare it to. Its not like I just went blind yesterday.
Marcy has seen sports work wonders for her son.
Blake's knowledge of sports provides him confidence to enter discussions, offer opinions and even debate others in social conversations and on the air, she said. His passion about sports also provides him an area of commonality with others that helps bridge the social barriers that often present themselves when one has a disability.
Tarrants didnt always love sports. In elementary school, hed improvise at recess.
I hung out and talked a lot more than anything, he said. Sometimes I would shoot hoops and see how bad I could miss. I did try to make them. That never worked, though.
It wasnt until middle school that Tarrants began to grasp the basics of athletic competition. As he did, those around him fell for his unique personality, his easy-going sense of humor and knack for chit-chat.
Tarrants best friend, fellow Blue Springs senior-to-be Kyle Sullivan, remembers the day he met Tarrants during history class last fall.
The teacher said something about how he was going to try to write nice and big so everyone in the back could see, Sullivan recalled, and Blake responded, Yeah, youre still gonna have to write bigger. I still cant see it.
Tarrants wit transfers nicely to the sports talk radio show he co-hosts once a week. The 2012-13 school year was the inaugural one for the broadcast and radio class taught by Matt Marble, an instructor who is impressed by Tarrants desire to succeed.
There were several times we had conversations that I would have to pull up ESPN.com to quickly look up something he was commenting on so I could keep up, Marble said.
Where others see disadvantages, Tarrants finds advantages. He judges players, coaches and teams on cold, hard numbers, tendencies and trends. With logic and stats as his barometer, hes also less prone than most fans to develop favorites or biases.
When his friends take jabs at Billy Butlers weight, Tarrants defends Butlers athleticism the only way he knows how: with statistics.
I really dont care what he looks like. In my mind, hes athletic enough.
Tarrants and Sullivan, his classmate at Blue Springs, sometimes watch games together. Sullivan doesnt sense a difference between taking in games with Tarrants and watching them with others who can see.
(Tarrants) keeps up with the sports world better than anyone else I know, Sullivan said, and he also always knows what hes talking about.
While Sullivan saw Angels outfielder Mike Trout dash toward home plate on a wild pitch during a Royals game, Tarrants heard manager Ned Yost yelling from the dugout.
Did you hear Yost? Tarrants asked, before mimicking: Terrible call!
Each year, Tarrants attends countless Royals games and two or three Chiefs games with his family. He keeps his radio in hand and listens to the play-by-play, but when hes at Kauffman or Arrowhead, he can feel the atmosphere.
Tarrants long-term goal is to have a career in sports talk radio.
This fall, Tarrants plans to continue hosting his Blue Springs School District radio show and help with play-by-play at William Jewell whenever the opportunity arises. A co-commentator there describes what is going on in the game intermittently, and Tarrants offers color commentary along the way, improving his pace and understanding.
Being blind an impediment? Not in Tarrants estimation. In fact, he believes that those who see the games are susceptible to distraction.
You have to be good at understanding and interpreting (sports) the right way, he said. Seeing doesn't help you with those things.
I know a lot of people that can see that don't pay nearly as good as attention in life as I do. Maybe they're the ones that are limited. Maybe they should try being blind for a day.