Sounds of the Game Make Beep Baseball a Hit

Written by: Gretyl Macalaster

The pitcher prepares his delivery and a hush comes over the crowd. Aside from a breeze in the trees, the only sound is a persistent beep emanating from a large baseball as it travels from the pitcher’s hand to the plate. The bat cracks and the silence remains, interrupted only by the hurried footsteps of the batter running to the base. A play is made, and the crowd erupts in support of the defensive play or the offensive run – or sometimes both.

These are the sounds of Beep Baseball – a modified baseball game designed for visually impaired ballplayers. In 1964 Charles Fairbanks, a telephone company engineer in Colorado, designed the first beep baseball. It took about 10 years and a newly designed ball for the sport to catch on, but by 1976 the National Beep Baseball Association was founded and the first World Series held. This year, the series was held from July 26-August 1 in Rochester, N.Y. with 24 teams from the United States, Taiwan, and Canada participating. With the Series held just a couple of hours from Cooperstown, several members of the league were able to pay a visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Ball from final out of National Beep Baseball Association game between Austin Blackhawks and Indianapolis RHI Xtreme, August 9, 2014 in Rochester, MN for the NBBA Championship Game. B-199-2014 (Milo Stewart, Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Sighted visitors to the Museum now also have the chance to learn more about this unique baseball league. Several artifacts from the 2014 World Series were donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum late last year and help to tell the inspiring story of blind ballplayers.

The items include fielding gloves, a blindfold and an Austin Blackhawks jersey from the final game of the 2014 Beep Baseball tournament held in Rochester, Minn. The jersey was worn by Brandon Chesser, who “caught” the final out of that final World Series game. In an email, Chesser said he has always been a huge baseball fan, idolized Major League players as a child and wanted to grow up to be like them – “playing on the big diamond” but “never in one million years” did he think his own jersey would make it to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum he said.

Rob Weissman, coach of the Association for Blind Citizens Boston Renegades team said “I think it’s kind of neat to see the sport get some recognition at this level and I hope it raises awareness … There are so many people out there who don’t know about it.”

Some might ask, why a blindfold if the players are blind? Not all Beep Baseball players are completely blind, some are able to see shadows and light or have some limited vision, so the use of blindfolds helps to level the playing field for all participants. The only sighted players on the field are the pitchers, catchers and spotters that help to prevent serious collisions.

The game is played using a larger and lighter-than-average baseball that has been cored out and equipped with parts that emit a steady beep when a pin is pulled. Batters time their swings by listening for this beep and players field the ball the same way. When the ball is hit, the batter runs to one of two four-feet tall foam-padded “bases” located at about the locations of first and third base. If they touch the base before the ball is fielded, a run is scored. If they do not, an out is recorded.

Weissman said the definition of competition is different for every individual on a team.

“We are a very competitive team when we step in between the lines but competitive against opponents, competitive to better ourselves, but are supportive of each other,” Weissman said. “We have some people with multiple disabilities aside from being blind – their definition of competition might be different but they have all overcome so much to be able to get on that field.

“It’s a sense of normalcy for these guys … they want to improve and they want to get better and they don’t want special treatment because they have blindness. We joke about the DL – well our whole team is on the disabled list. It is about showing the ability in a disability.”

Defense is one of the most challenging aspects of beep baseball. To record an out, the fielder must have possession of the ball in hand and off the ground before the batter reaches base. Brandon Chesser used this glove to record the final out of the 2014 NBBA World Series. B-6-2015 (Parker Fish / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

The Beep Baseball display is part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s “This Year in Baseball” exhibit and the items will remain a permanent part of the collection.

Gretyl Macalaster was a 2015 library-research intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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