The cheers rise up from behind the fence. Fans stand on the benches, a collage of voices rooting for their favorite players. Suddenly, a hush blankets the crowd as the batter takes his place at the plate. The pitcher, standing a mere twenty feet from the batter, calls out “Set… ready… pitch” as the sixteen inch beeping softball is thrown underhanded. The batter, braced for action, swings; the crack of the bat is heard around the ballpark. The announcers, caught up in the euphoria of the moment, peel off one metaphor after another. This is the game of Beep Ball.
The St. Paul Midway Lion’s season ended last year with a thrilling 22-5 victory over a rookie team of local celebrities. Now the 2007 season is in full swing.
At our first practice, it was clear that we still had some of that winning 2006 form. Kent, the pitcher, warmed up by tossing the soft ball at a height and speed for best contact with the bat. Kevin took his place in the batter’s box with the bat in hand. The pitcher stepped back several more feet and threw the ball. Crack, oohhhh, aahhh. “It’s an automatic home run,” shouted coach Dennis Stern. No need to chase after the ball, I thought. It’s long gone! And I, for one, did not hear the ball fly past me. I think it must have crossed the railroad tracks. No, it was hit so hard it probably landed somewhere on I-94, several miles away.
Next up was Tom, who approached the batter’s box with his heavy wooden bat. Since he was a left-handed hitter, I wondered if he would hit the ball towards me or drive it to right field. The bat and ball connected, and fielders scram-bled for the ground ball. Nancy ran to her right. Marilynn dove to her left, stopping the ball with her outstretched arm. Just then, one of the two sighted spotters called out “SAFE!” Tom got his run.
Beep Ball is not exactly like conventional baseball. If any of the players have sight, blind folds are pulled down snuggly over their eyes to block out any residual vision (except for the pitcher, who is sighted). We rely only on our hearing to hit or catch the balls. We don’t deal with fast-balls or curve-balls. After hitting the ball, we run to a chest-high cone-shaped beeping base one hundred feet away to either the batter’s left or right. Elbow pads and knee pads are standard equipment. The reason for these cushions to the body becomes clear when the defensive team takes the field. Six players take their places in the infield and outfield positions. We don’t catch the fly ball with a glove. Rather, enthusiastic sideways divers hurl themselves horizontally to prevent the offensive team from scoring. The trick is to use your entire body to stop the ball. Then grab it with your hand and raise it high over your head so the opponent will not get the points for the run. Fielders dart from one spot to another in blinded excitement, trying to prevent a successful home run. There is a pattern to these choreographic movements of the fielders, much like that of any other baseball team that performs this traditional American art form.
The pitch is made on a three beat rhythm—set, ready, pitch. The batter swings the bat to strike the ball, and the beeping ball is heard as it flies through the air. Infielders instantly race in the direction of the ball. If the soft ball gets past the infielder, he or she will yell out “It’s to my right,” or “It’s to my left.” The outfielder will then make quick moves to catch the ball. Spotters announce with either high or low voice-inflection to indicate whether the ball is a long shot or a short shot.
Despite the fact that all players except the pitcher and the spotters wear sleep shades, in my two years of beep ball, I’ve never observed an injury caused by player-to-player contact. Like in traditional baseball, it could happen—it is simply a risk we take in playing this game. But in the thrill of the sport, along with the exercise and team cooperation, such worries take second place. It’s time for a fun game at a ballpark.
To sign up for this exciting sport, contact Coach Dennis Stern at 651-452-5324; [email protected] and join with those of us who make up the Saint Paul Lion’s team. Any team or business that wants to challenge the Saint Paul Lion’s can also contact Dennis Stern.