•Entrepreneurship and Business Management Studies Aimed at Solving Societal Challenges
Lead Dunstable Resident to Create a Sports Environment
Where Everyone Can Participate and Derive Competitive Satisfaction.
by Robert Stewart
"I see great things in Baseball
It’s our game, the American Game
It will repair our losses
And be a blessing to us"
- Paraphrase of Walt Whitman’s words
"Baseball is the only field of endeavor
where a man can succeed three times out of ten
and be considered a good performer"
- Ted Williams
"The hardest thing to do in baseball
is to hit a round ball with
a round bat, squarely"
- Ted Williams
Baseball can take different shapes and forms depending on the circumstances of who is playing: an athletic individual with good eye-hand coordination and strength or younger individuals who are learning the game. In Major League Baseball and premiere baseball leagues like the Cape Cod Baseball League, wooden bats are used by the players. In Little League, high school baseball programs and in college baseball, metal bats are used by the players.
In both instances, the goal when at bat is to hit the ball with a relatively slender piece of wood or metal. That requires an incredible coordination between the eye and hands when trying to hit a ball that can move and dance around.
It’s a difficult game for the average person to play because it takes a lot of skill to hit a ball and also because there are periods of idleness between times when the ball is in play. On a nine-person team, the better players can put the ball in play successfully 30 percent of the time. An average player is only likely to put the ball in play successfully 20 or 25 percent of the time. To make the game more amenable and expand it to the backyards of families, Whiffle Ball took flight as the instruments of play – the bat and the ball – were made of plastic and were safer and required less skill to participate. However, the challenge of eye-hand coordination still existed because the plastic bat is even more slender than regular wooden or metal baseball bats.
While Whiffle Ball enjoys status as a family favorite form of baseball game, that status will be seriously challenged by a new form of baseball game that has been created and developed by a Dunstable resident who is a graduate of UMass Lowell and Groton Dunstable Regional High School. Benji Ball is the name of the new game and is also the namesake of its creator Benjamin McEvoy. Benji Ball was designed to make the game of baseball easier to learn, allow people of all abilities to play and therefore make it an inclusive participatory game for all to enjoy.
Benji Ball uses the same tools as regular baseball and Whiffle Ball – a bat and a ball – but modifies them to ensure ease of play and success. The bat is lightweight hard plastic and is 32 inches long but resembles a cricket bat more than a rounded baseball bat with a barrel. The wide, flat barrel on a Benji Ball bat ensures the ball could be hit with relative ease even by those who struggle to hit a ball with a round bat.
How It Works
The ball is10-sided and has a conclave shape rather than one of a round ball. The ball is slightly larger than a softball and will feel similar to a Nerf ball. On each of the 10 sides of the ball, the result of a batted ball is revealed when the ball lands on the field. The side facing up show whether the hit ball is a single, a double, a home run or an out. Two people can play or it can be played with more players. Everyone who gets to the plate in Benji Ball has an 80 percent chance of successfully putting the ball in play.
Better Than Whiffle Ball?
While Benji Ball could be the game of choice for family gatherings and backyard sports, the original intent by McEvoy was more than creating a fun and easier form of baseball but rather to create a game that could make a difference in the lives of children and even adults who ordinarily would find it difficult to experience the joy and achievement of being successful in any sport or game.
McEvoy is a business major in UMass Lowell’s Manning School of Business and his thoughts about Benji Ball spanned his waning days at Groton- Dunstable and through his four years at UMass Lowell.
Inspiration For Benji Ball
His inspiration for Benji Ball came from two different perspectives. One occurred during an outing to York, Maine where he observed two kids playing Whiffle Ball. It appeared to McEvoy that the kids couldn’t enjoy the game because with only two players it was difficult to manage all the positions in the game when the ball is batted. The other occurred when he performed volunteer work at a special needs facility. The latter experience prompted him to take his thoughts more seriously and put them into action where they could benefit groups of people who otherwise may never play a sports game.
Volunteer Work With Special Needs Children
His volunteer work with special needs children pushed him harder in the direction of developing an actual product. On his experience with special needs children, he states, “My volunteer experience within the special needs community
has been extremely influential in both my life as well as in the development of Benji Ball. I was able to learn about how everyone may have different abilities and how to create something that can ultimately work well for everyone no matter their ability. I was able to develop a desire to make something that can be enjoyed by a community of people who may often be overlooked when it comes to certain activities. Through my volunteer experience, I met so many amazing people that shaped me into a more compassionate and understanding person with a passion for inclusive activities. This compassion and understanding have been at the core of the development of Benji Ball and will continue to be at the core of anything else I pursue in life as well.”
Development of BenjiBall
Was Fostered By Unique Program at UMAss Lowell
McEvoy’s effort to develop and create Benji Ball was fostered and supported by a unique multidisciplinary program at UMass Lowell through the university’s RIST DifferenceMake Institute. This program allows students from different schools of study to form teams and develop products that would address social, environmental and economic problems in the community. The RIST DifferenceMaker Institute was created in 2019 and bolstered the existing DifferenceMaker program through a generous donation from the Rist family.
It was this program that attracted McEvoy and motivated him to follow through on ideas that he thought about for more than five years.
BenjiBall Won Top Prize In the DifferenceMaker Competition
McEvoy took on the task of actually developing a product – a bat and a ball – with a friend, Edward Morante, who was a Journalism major. As part of the DifferenceMaker program, there were competitions among different teams working on different products and prize money is awarded to teams that judges determined had merit to not only meet the goal of solving various societal challenges but also to be a viable business venture. In 2019, McEvoy and his creation Benji Ball took home the top prize in the DifferenceMaker competition that divided $50,000 in prize money among several teams. McEvoy and Morante took home $6,000 that they plan to use as “seed” money to bring their creation to market.
DifferenceMaker Prize Money Allowed Plans to Manufacture BenjiBall Game
With this seed money, McEvoy was ready to finalize plans for manufacture and production of Benji Ball’s bat and ball when the pandemic shut things down in March 2020. The North Attleboro company he had been negotiating with quit production on market products and focused on the manufacture of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). It was more than a year later before McEvoy could focus again on getting Benji Ball produced and to market. He is currently in negotiation with a company that could manufacture the plastic bat through 3-D printing and hopefully also manufacture the Nerf-type, 10-side ball.
McEvoy has already applied for patents on Benji Ball and has approached the Miracle League about adopting Benji Ball for their sporting games. According to McEvoy, Miracle League is a baseball league specifically meant for individuals with special needs and physical and intellectual disabilities. It is a global organization that has more than one million participants in five different countries. A couple years ago, McEvoy was able to introduce Benji Ball to a Miracle League organization and demonstrate the difference in performance between the round ball and round bat the Miracle League was using to the cricket- style bat and larger 10-sided ball of Benji Ball.
The difference was incredibly stark. While the kids had difficulty in putting the bat on the ball with their existing equipment, they were able hit the ball consistently with the Benji Ball bat and play out the outcomes revealed on the 10-sided ball. McEvoy was thrilled. He stated, “...They (the kids) have the ability to get a consistent hit, whether they have a perfect swing or have never swung a bat before.”
McEvoy will graduate from UMass Lowell this week capping a stellar four-year period where he excelled in business studies, creative problem solving and achieving a maturation growth that still amazes him. He was also an athlete and served as a back- up goalie on UMass Lowell’s Riverhawk Hockey team – a premiere Division One hockey program. At graduation, he will be awarded the 2021 Chancellor’s Medal for Community Service – one of seven graduates in the class of 2021 to be so honored.