Baseball is a game that heightens the senses.
The smell of fresh popcorn and hot dogs permeates the ballpark. The sounds of the crowd and the crack of the bat fill the air. The sights provide image after image of a game that lasts a lifetime for everyone who has fallen in love with America’s pastime.
Emma Chambers loves everything about baseball, so much so that she has overcome her sight issues to become a vital part of the Rome Braves’ press box communications crew that allows others to see and hear what takes place on the diamond at State Mutual Stadium every home game.
And this season, the third for the 19-year-old Rome native, she is joined at her work station by a new friend — Jetta, a 2-year-old golden retriever guide dog who has also become part of the game day staff at SMS.
“She’s done a great job,” said Rome Braves assistant general manager Jim Jones, who supervises the press box at the stadium. “She loves every aspect of the game and was the perfect person for the position.”
Chambers is the team’s broadcast producer, syncing the radio broadcast with the live streaming of the game online through MiLB.tv, the video portal for Minor League Baseball.
“Emma contacted me before the season and told me about Jetta and she fits right in,” Jones said about the working dog that stays by Chambers’ side while she works. “Jetta is part of the crew. It’s a wonderful thing to watch.
“Honestly, when I first met Emma, I didn’t know she was visually impaired.”
“Before I got my dog you’d never know I had vision problems,” said Chambers, who graduated from Rome High School and is now a sophomore at Berry College where she is majoring in exercise science and Spanish. “You have to adapt. That was one of the first skills I learned as a child.”
Chambers was diagnosed as an infant with Achromatopsia, a condition where there is an inability of the cone cells in the eye to properly respond to light input. Chambers sees no color, has no depth perception and is sensitive to bright light. Those who are affected by the condition only see things extremely close up, such as the monitor Chambers mans during games.
“The doctors compare it to looking through wax paper,” Chambers explained. “I don’t know what things look like to everyone else. But I was raised as if I didn’t have any vision problems, so props to my parents for that.”
The daughter of Milton and Julie Chambers and the third of four siblings, Chambers grew up doing everything her siblings and family did, whether it was riding a bike, running around the yard and, like many little girls, taking part in gymnastics.
Her condition never prevented her from overcoming any barrier she faced. At 16, she learned to read Braille even though she can read very large print and concentrated on memorizing the steps she took to get around the house, at school, in the community and even running up to the vault when she was vaulting in gymnastics.
Thanks to her determination and never-quit mentality, Chambers agreed to undergo an experimental gene therapy procedure a year ago at the prestigious Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami in an effort to improve her vision.
Earlier this year she took a huge step forward when Jetta entered her life thanks to the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown, New York.
“She’s young so we had to work on the trust between us. For her, it’s probably very scary being in a new place with a new owner. But she’s become very attached to me,” Chambers pointed out, noting that Jetta is quickly learning the sound of her voice and commands.
“I don’t have to worry about counting steps any more. Now, she lets me know if there’s a step or a curb. Getting Jetta has given me safety, confidence and independence. I can walk with friends normally,” Chambers said.
“This has been the greatest decision of my life.”
Chambers and Jetta now team up to allow those who can’t attend the Rome Braves’ home games to see and hear the action at MiLB.tv, with 99.5 The Jock’s Kevin Karel providing the play-by-play.
“You can grasp the sport better listening to a game and, listening to Kevin, you know exactly what’s happening,” said Chambers, who follows the Braves and the Cubs. “Baseball is a very blind-friendly sport, and I guarantee you that if you’d ask a blind person what their favorite sport was, they’d say baseball.”