The cheers roll out from behind the fence and sail across the ball field as fans applaud their favorite players. While fans stand on the benches, a collage of voices rises and just as quickly falls as the batter takes his place at the plate. A hush blankets the crowd. The pitcher calls out, “Go, set, ready, pitch” as the “sixteen inch softball” is thrown underhanded. The batter, braced for action, swings the bat and the crack of the bat against the ball is heard around the ball park. I’m talking about the game of Beep Ball.
Two years ago, the Illinois Comets defeated their sighted opponents in an exhibition game by a score of 150 to 4. In the second game of the season, the Saint Paul Lions outscored their opponents by twenty-two to five.
“In our three exhibition fund-raising games with sighted teams wearing blindfolds, which by the way were younger, bigger and stronger, we showed a rapid improvement to this sport as we developed from repeated fun-filled practices.” said Coach Dennis Stern of the Saint Paul Lions, He added, “But we had fun, and the main goal of coaching any team, any sport, anywhere, is to have fun and improve.”
Although it is fun to win and to be a part of a team that wins, the real value in Beep Ball is it challenges the players to utilize their innate abilities. The workouts help build the ability to swing the bat as well as run better to catch balls.
“Charles Fairbanks of the Telecom Pioneers created Beep Ball in 1964,” said Coach Stern. “Beep Ball was developed to make America’s favorite pastime-baseball, possible for all visually impaired and totally blind athletes,” said coach Stern. In Beep Ball, the only sighted players are the pitcher, the catcher and the people in the outfield. It is the outfield callers who make the calls that direct the defensive players about which way to run. All of the players are either blind, or they wear sleepshades if they have any sight. As a blind person, the first time I went up to bat, I sensed the same anticipation that coursed through my veins as I waited for the pitcher to throw a fast ball across home plate when I had more sight.
Beep Ball is an audible version of baseball. The sighted pitchers throw a sixteen inch sized softball that beeps. The pitcher sets the speed and the rhythm of each throw to the ability of the batter, and it is up to the batter to hit the ball as far as he or she can hit it.
Coach Stern stated, “There are only two bases –one ten feet off the third base line and one ten feet off the first base line, and when contact is made—bat on ball—one of the two bases at random starts to buzz. The hitter then runs to that base, and must make it there (100 feet away) before the defense blocks the ball and gets it in their grasp.”
A Minnesota Beep Ball team was formed after it disbanded in the early 1990’s. The St. Paul Lions modeled their four-part pitching rhythm to that of the Comets. The “former world champion Comets pitchers, a team from Illinois, use a four-count in rhythm during the pitching process—go-set-ready-pitch. When the pitchers on all the teams said pitch, the ball was in the air about three feet from the batter. Their pitchers know exactly where each hitter swings, and practice diligently to hit that spot,” said Coach Stern.
He went on to state, “This four-part rhythm helps the batter gauge a swing on sound rather then vision. The pitcher throws the softball underhand and calls out the four part rhythm. The softball is thrown more slowly then in traditional baseball. The catcher, also sighted, announces each strike.”
The batter, who wears sleepshades if he or she has sight, hits the ball and runs to the base that buzzes. The player runs the one hundred feet and touches the base for a successful play.
“There are six defensive players in Beep Ball rather then nine in traditional baseball,” said Coach Stern. The defense positions are in three rows of two people in each quarter of the field. Each pair of defensive players stands thirty feet apart. And the infield stands 15 feet in front of the outfield players. Sighted spotters call out the direction the ball is hit, and it is up to the defense to catch the ball. How we do it is different to that of the defense positions in traditional baseball; for we do not wear a pitcher’s mitt and we do not position ourselves under a fly ball in excited anticipation to catch the airborne ball in the middle of our mitt. Defenders wear knee pads and elbow pads because this form of ball is more contact driven then traditional baseball. The Beep Ball defense listen for the ball and the player in the section that the ball is hit runs to pick up the ball. If the infielder misses the ball, that person calls out ’it’s to my right or it’s to my left.’ The outfielder calculates the distance and which direction to run in order to catch the ball. Once stopped or caught, the person raises the ball high in the air to signal that ball has been caught.
Beep Ball is the type of sport in which the players develop camaraderie with each other. Not only is this a fun sport, but it helps to tone up muscles, to lose weight and to build confidence. It is a neat feeling to run at full speed while under sleepshades. Pushing harder to run faster, players feel the excitement and anticipation running to beat the defensive players while they scramble for the ball that was hit.
Hearing the sound of the bat crack as the ball is hit as far as it can be hit creates a thrilling feeling. The warmth of the midday sun, the cheers from fellow players and fans, and the mere fun of being in a ballpark contribute to this exciting sport. The announcer’s voice flows through the air and his words spread out across the field as he announces each play. Hushed voices from the sidelines whisper an almost muted praise for the players. The announcer calls out the hits and the misses, peeling off one myth and metaphor after another about each player who goes to bat. The smoke from the charcoal filled grills still fill the air as the smell of hot dogs mushrooms across the park lazily taunting the nostrils of the players with ghost pains of hunger as we wait our turn to bat or take up our defensive positions.
According to Coach Stern, “Inventors of Beep Ball made possible a game that gives enjoyment, exercise, camaraderie and confidence to hundreds, and potentially thousands of people.” The St. Paul Lions are eager to invite new members to join its winning team. Contact Dennis Stern about how you can join the Saint Paul Lions or a Beep Ball team for the 2006 season. He can be contacted at 651-699-1462.