Written by guest blogger Judy Byrd, Manager of Atlanta Eclipse Beep Baseball Team, and Volunteer with the Georgia Blind Sports Association and the Beep Kickball Association
The Beginning of the Atlanta Team
In March of 2010, the first practice of the Atlanta Eclipse Beep Baseball Team took place with about 15 players and 8 volunteers, most of whom knew little to nothing about beep baseball. We all joke about it today, recalling that it was definitely the “blind leading the blind” since neither the players who were blind nor sighted knew what they were doing!
What Is Beep Baseball?
Beep baseball is an adapted sport for people who are visually impaired or blind and was created in the mid-sixties for the Colorado School for the Blind. Beep baseball is played with an oversized softball that BEEPS and two bases, first and third, that BUZZ. There are 6 players on a team and all wear blindfolds to equalize their vision. The pitcher, who is sighted, is on the same team as the batter. There is no throwing the ball and no running around all the bases. Simply explained, the batter hits the ball and runs to the base which buzzes and tags it. If he gets there before a fielder picks up the ball, he scores a run. If not, he is out. Three outs, six innings, game over!
How Does the Game Work?
Most people wonder how someone can be so skilled as to hit a beeping ball with a bat without being able to see it. They can’t; it doesn’t work like that. Since the blindfolded batter, the sighted catcher and the sighted pitcher are on the same team, they work together to accomplish the hit. The batter’s job is to swing level, consistently and at the right time. He does not listen to the beep of the ball. He listens to the pitcher’s chant “set, ready, pitch.” This chant is spoken with the same cadence every time and denotes getting ready to pitch the ball in the back swing position and the release of the ball. The pitcher pitches the ball underhanded and stands only 20 feet from the batter. After swinging too early or too late and getting coaching, the batter learns exactly when to swing. The pitcher’s job is to pitch the ball on the plane of the swing and the catcher’s job is to hold his glove in the right place for a target. After lots of batting practice and communicating with each other, the threesome gets into a rhythm resulting in hits over half of the time.
Listening for the Buzzing Base
After the ball is hit, the batter’s job is to listen for the base that is buzzing, first or third. Remember, there is no second base. After dropping the bat, he runs full speed to tag the base; a blue four foot tower of foam that has a buzzer embedded in it. The bases are located 100 feet from home plate and are tackled as often as tagged, usually not hurting the runner or the base. The best players can tag the base in about 5 seconds, but if he misses it, he must return to tag it.
What Do the Players Do?
There are six blindfolded players in the field, assisted by two sighted players called field spotters. One is positioned on each side of the field, and are allowed to call only one number as soon as the ball is hit; alerting players where on the field the ball has been hit. After that call, the field spotters must be silent. It is up to the players to locate the ball, stop it and take possession of it. If possession is taken before the batter tags the base, an out is called. Otherwise, it’s a run, and the next batter is up.
The defensive players must move together, communicating with each other to avoid collisions. Most fielders pursue the ball by jumping on the ground in a superman position with arms parallel over their heads and legs extended straight, creating a wall with their bodies to stop the ball. Their positions on the field are strategically determined by the field spotters, but the players must take charge and communicate during the play. Until the point is over, the spectators must be quiet, allowing the players to hear each other, the beeping and the buzzing.
Atlanta Eclipse Prepares for the World Series
Now that you know the background of beep baseball and how the game is played, let’s get back to the Atlanta Eclipse Team and their road to the World Series. The co-ed players ranging in age from 20 to 57 pride themselves on raising their own funds for team expenses. Over the years, they have sold candy, created and executed raffles and sold Atlanta Braves Baseball Team tickets to cover the $1000 per player needed to go to the World Series. They also manage their own team, dividing themselves into committees- fundraising, budgeting, recruiting, rules, social and travel.
Beep baseball has been around for decades and culminates every August in a World Series. Now, four years later, the Atlanta Eclipse is preparing to go to the World Series in Rochester, Minnesota. Eleven players and six volunteers will spend a week competing against twenty other teams from all over the nation. The best description of going to the World Series is “It’s just like a big family reunion!”
Let’s Play Ball!
So are you familiar with beep baseball? Are you interested in a fun, outdoor sport? Looking for an opportunity to stay active and make friends? Share your comments in the section below and let’s play ball. Also, for more information on beep baseball contact the National Beep Baseball Association. For more information on the Atlanta Eclipse Team contact Judy Byrd at 770-317-2035 or email JudyByrd@gmail.com.