Fantasy player doesn’t let blindness put him ‘out’

By Steve Williams

Fantasy sports had yet to enter the internet world when Greg Speck graduated from high school in 1986. Little did he know then how much this activity would mean to him in the years to come and still to this day.

Having grown up in a military family, he joined the U.S. Army right out of high school. After putting in six years of service, he was on his way to making the Army a career.

But that plan literally blew up on October 22, 1992.

“I was at my Army duty station in Fort Ord, Calif., and working with 8½ pounds of C-4 plastic explosives and there was a malfunction of the fuse system – it detonated prematurely – and that caused my blindness and the rest of my disabilities,” recalled Speck recently.

“When the explosion happened and I was in the hospital, I was actually given less than 72 hours to live and in a coma for 28 days,” he added.

Fortunate to have survived, he was discharged in 1993.

“I’ve been blind now going on 32 years,” said Greg.

It is bilateral blindness, a total loss of vision.

“I’m also totally deaf in my right ear and I have no sense of smell,” he said. “The sensory organ in (my) face, the smell pallet, was damaged. I have hearing in my left ear with the use of a hearing aid and my sense of touch, and those are my primary senses.”


Computer application keeps Speck in the game

Speck began playing fantasy baseball in 2003, co-managing a team called “Rolling Thunder” with Vinny Carcello, his father-in-law, in the TaintBragginIfYouCanBackItUp league founded by Mike Waters, the league’s commissioner and a friend of Vinny and Greg.

That was long after the pre-Internet fantasy days in Knoxville when fantasy players had to get their information from newspaper box scores and write them down by hand and somebody had to keep score.

The growth of the Internet during the 1990s enabled fantasy sports participants to instantaneously download tabulated statistics.

But Speck still had to find a way to overcome his blindness and he did.

“I use a desktop computer with Windows and I have a screen reader called JAWS For Windows,” he said. “It’s a simple application that I buy. It reads anything in text, including numbers.

“It’s kind of funny, because I don’t turn on the monitor screen. It (the text) is there, but I don’t use it at all. I just hear from the speakers what the screen reader reads to me.

“I visualize. I turn what I hear into vision.”

The JAWS application gives Speck individual and team totals, too.

“You get a comprehensive statistical performance of all of the batters on your team as one group,” he said. “You will hear, for instance, how many runs, how many home runs, how many RBIs and how many stolen bases and what the collective team batting average was for that day. That daily total is read to me and the same with the pitching statistics.”


He chose Knoxville to start his new life

“When I was retired from the Army in 1993, I had a choice to make of where to go to start my new life as a civilian,” Speck pointed out. “And I chose Knoxville of all the places in the world to come and live. I’ve been very happy here and it’s by far the longest I’ve lived in one place.

“And here’s something cool … I went to the University of Tennessee and got my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.”

Why Knoxville?

“My mom lives in Ohio and my father lives in North Carolina,” Greg explained. “It was kind of centrally located between the two of them.

“We traveled back and forth between those two places a lot and Knoxville was always our gas stop. At the Raccoon Valley truck stop (just north of Knoxville on I-75), we’d stop there for gasoline. And I remembered when I could see, knowing how lush and green and pretty it was. I liked the Smokies. I liked the mountains. So all the visuals of what Knoxville had to offer was in my mind when I left California.”

Speck also was fortunate to see the majority of the country before his accident.

“As a family, we made it a point to visit most of the states,” he said. “I didn’t make it up to the northeast corner, but just about everywhere else. I’m glad I got to see as many of our beautiful United States as I did before I lost my vision.”

Greg also said he made it to Canada and saw Niagara Falls and New York when he was around 15 years old.

He lived in Dayton, Ohio for six years before graduating from high school and joining the Army a month later.


TaintBraggin’ league and Rolling Thunder is ‘first priority’

Waters and Carcello both passed away in 2013 and Speck became the league’s commissioner and sole manager of Rolling Thunder a couple of years later. Carcello and Speck together had named their team Rolling Thunder.

“I take great honor in the fact that I’m keeping our league alive and in honor and memory of Mike and Vinny,” said Greg, who has eight fantasy baseball teams he’s managing this year and is the commissioner of two leagues.

“Well, I do have to say that Rolling Thunder by far is the most important and the most special of all of them no matter how many teams I have. That’s my first priority.”

Speck also managed three fantasy football teams this past season, but prefers the “marathon” fantasy baseball season (162 games in 180 days) over the “short-lived” football campaign.

Greg calls his wife Cathy the “draft master.”

“She and I sit side by side and she’s on her iPad,” he said. “We log into the draft and as the draft is going on, she tells me the list of players and I tell her my choice. She actually hits the draft button.

“Once the team is drafted, I can take it over and manage it.”

When asked, Speck did say he has won “five or six championships. I’ve had a couple of years when I finished in seventh place. For the majority of the years, I’ve finished in the top third.”

His other hobbies: “Spending time with family and likes to travel a little bit. Goes to gym once a week for exercise. Has a hot tub in the backyard. Walks on the treadmill. Does a little bit of weightlifting.”

Greg also mentioned he has a PTSD companion dog named Graham. “He’s named for his Graham Cracker color. He is 11 years old. I got him when he was eight weeks old and raised him up.”

As of Saturday, Speck’s Rolling Thunder was in last place in the 12-team standings. That’s no big deal though. He’s made comebacks before in fantasy sports and life.