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Beep Baseball

Beep baseball is the adaptive version of America's pastime played by visually impaired individuals. It began in 1964 when Charlie Fairbanks, an engineer with Mountain Bell Telephone designed a standard softball containing a sound source. While this was an innovative concept, the balls frequently malfunctioned upon impact with a bat. It wasn't until 1975 when a 16-inch more durable beep ball was designed that beep baseball began to flourish around the country. Today nearly 20 visually impaired baseball teams compete in the National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA). In addition to several regional tournaments, the NBBA annually holds the Beep Baseball World Series. While the beep baseball concept is based on regular baseball, there are a variety of rule, boundary, and team modifications that make it competitive for players who are visually impaired.

Beep baseball is played on a snow cone shaped field. The bases include home, first, and third. There is no second base and players do not run around the bases: they run to a base. First and third base are placed 100 feet from home and 10 feet in foul territory. When activated, the bases emit a sound to orient the hitter. Either first or third base is activated on a hit. The hitter must then run to the sounding base before the fielder retrieves the hit ball. If the runner reaches the sounding base first, he scores a run. If the fielder retrieves the ball prior to the hitter touching the base, then the runner is out. At that point the play is over; the hitter does not remain "on base". The umpire randomly selects which base to activate. The bases are usually 4-foot padded cylinders to cushion the impact.

The cone-shape design is made by the arks that are drawn between the foul lines at the 40-foot and 180-foot point from home plate. A ball that does not cross the 40-foot line is considered foul and counts as a strike. However, if a player hits the ball past the 180-foot line on the fly then he/she automatically scores two runs. Typical games score 20-30 runs per team. The game is played for six innings with each team allotted three outs per inning. The teams are co-ed and consist of six players and two sighted assistants. Each player and hitter is blindfolded to assure equality.

The team on defense positions its players in six numbered zones behind the 40-foot ark and in front of the 180-foot ark. One, but no more than two sighted spotters for the defensive team call the number for the player/zone where the ball is hit. Other than warnings of immediate danger, this zone cue is the only verbal instruction allowed from the spotter. Even though a specific zone is called, any player can retrieve the ball. Once a defensive player locates the ball, he must hold it in the air, away from his body to signal a catch. The inactive base operator than calls "Caught" to let the umpire know the ball is in possession of the defense. An out is recorded if the hitter has not yet reached the sounding base. In the rare instance of a ball caught on the fly, the defense automatically records three outs and becomes the offensive team.

The offensive team consists of the six fielders as well as a sighted pitcher and catcher. Batters use standard softball bats and stand with one foot behind home plate. The batter can take the first pitch but he must swing at every follow-up one. He is given four strikes before an out is recorded. Foul balls count as strikes except on the last strike which must be a clean swing. The pitcher's job is to throw underhand at a constant speed and location for the batter to make contact. Pitchers stand approximately 20 feet from home plate. When the pitcher is preparing to throw he says, "Ready" to alert the batter. Upon his release, he says "Pitch" to cue both the batter and the fielders that a hit could be eminent. Catchers and pitchers must communicate nonverbally to adjust the height of the throw to the batter's swing. Upon a legal hit, the hitter must determine which base is sounding, and run to it. The operator of the sounding base calls "There" when the runner arrives. If he reaches the base before "Caught" is called, than a run is recorded. The offensive team bats until they have made three outs.

Beep baseball can be fast paced and intense. Fielders charge toward the beeping baseball with little regard for possible injury. It's not uncommon to see a runner tumble over a base. Some players where protective gear including elbow and knee pads. Catchers as well as pitchers where chest protectors, face masks and athletic cups. Since the pitcher is only 20 feet from the batter, it's vital that he has quick reflexes and stay constantly alert to avoid batted balls. The game requires players with good orientation, tracking skills, direction following ability, and physical fitness. Beep baseball is often just as rewarding to players and fans as a regular baseball game.

Starting an official beep baseball team can be expensive but offering it as a fun activity or physical education lesson does not have to be. Use spray paint to mark the ground where the bases should be. Have a sighted person stand beyond the base to either call, clap, or shake a noise maker that guides the runner. Use bandanas or strips cut from an old bath towel as blindfolds. Instead of batter's swinging at a moving ball, start them off using a standard batting tee. The beep baseball is the only regulation equipment necessary. At a cost of $25 each the balls can be purchased from the New Outlook Pioneers, 1600 Osgood Street in North Andover, MA 01845. Their phone is (978) 960-4012. For additional information about beep baseball, visit the NBBA's web site at www.nbba.org.

 

 


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