Spectators who witness today's style of beep baseball are generally delighted. They see blind athletes dive onto the ground to stop a beeping ball and run full speed toward the sound of a buzzing base to score a run. They see desire, determination, teamwork and in many cases skilled performances of sightless players having fun in the midst of extreme competition.
Comprehending the game is relatively easy. A team is composed of a minimum of six blind, or visually impaired players and two to four sighted people (a pitcher, a catcher and 1 or 2 defensive spotters). Finding visually impaired recruits is not as hard as some may think because players do not have to be totally blind. Many N.B.B.A. players are partially sighted. Because players have varying degrees of impairment all players are required to wear blindfolds while batting or fielding.
A contest lasts for six (6) innings unless more are needed to break a tie. A team has three (3) outs per inning. However, there are some differences from regular baseball. There is no second base. First and third bases, that are four foot padded cylinders with speakers, are placed one hundred (100) feet down their respective lines and ten (10) feet off the foul line (away from the field of play). This is to prevent a runner from colliding with a defensive fielder.
The bases contain sounding units that give off a buzzing sound when activated. The batter does not know which one will be turned on. When the ball is hit, the base operator activates one of the bases. The runner must identify the correct buzzing base and run to it before a defensive player fields the ball, if the runner is safe, a run is scored. In other words, there is no running from one base to another.
A player does one of three things when batting -- hit the ball and make an out by being retired by the defense; hit the ball and earn a safe call, scoring a run; or striking out. A batter is allowed four (4) rather than the traditional three (3) strikes and only one (1) pass ball. The fourth swing must be a clean miss.
To better understand how the game is played, keep in mind that each team has its own sighted pitcher and catcher. The catcher sets the target where the batter normally swings. The pitcher attempts to place the ball on the hitter's bat -- the ball is pitched from a distance of twenty (20) feet.
According to the rules, a pitcher is obligated to clearly verbalize two words. He must say, "ready" just before the ball is about to be released. This alerts all players that the ball may soon be hit. As the ball is being released, the pitcher says, "pitch" or "ball." The batter allows a split second of time to pass before swinging.
If contact is made, one of the two bases is activated and then it becomes a race between the runner and the defense. Also, a hit ball must travel at least forty (40) feet to be considered fair. A hit ball that does not reach the forty (40) foot line is considered foul. A ball that travels one hundred eighty (180) feet in the air is considered a home run. A hit ball rebounded off the pitcher is ruled no pitch. It helps for pitchers to be quick and agile.
Even though a pitcher never fields or bats, his role is a crucial one. Most pitchers are generally good athletes with competitive spirits. Their success is in direct proportion to the number of runs their team scores. High ERA's are most preferable.
Playing defense is the most challenging aspect of beep ball. Rather than nine (9) players on the field at a time, there are only six (6) players in beep baseball. Not all teams use the same defensive placement of their players, but generally teams will field 3 infielders. A First Basemen and a Third Basemen that will play slightly more toward the center of the field than in standard baseball, the third infielder will normally play between where 2nd base would usually be and the pitchers mound. The 3 outfielders play a normal left and right field position while the center fielder plays closer in toward where 2nd base would usually be.
For defensive purposes the field is divided into six imaginary zones between third base and the center of the field and between first base and the center of the field. Each team has two sighted spotters positioned in the outfield, one on either side of the field. When a ball is hit, the spotter on the side of the field toward which the ball is hit will instantly call out a number indicating the general zone or direction the ball is traveling.
The players coordinate their defensive moves according to the number that is called. However, spotters cannot pass on any further information; only one (1) number may be called. The players can verbally communicate with each other and frequently do. But, if a spotter says more than the allowed number, the batter is awarded a run. All good teams have spotters with the ability to give out quick and accurate number calls.
A defensive player does not have to throw the ball to another player to record an out. Outs are earned by fielding the ball before the runner reaches the base. In the umpire's opinion, the fielder must have the ball in hand and off the ground to constitute possession.
Players do not normally snatch balls out of the air. Many attempts have been made to catch a fly ball, but in the N.B.B.A.'s history, there have been only four documented cases of a hit ball being caught in the air. However in the rare event of a fly ball being caught it is scored as 3 outs and the inning is over.
Good defensive players learn to use their bodies and the ground to block and trap hit balls, and then pick up the beeping sphere and display it for the umpire's call. Because most fielding is done in this manner, flat grassy areas, free of trees and bushes, make the best beep baseball fields.
Many teams keep individual statistics on their players. Good hitting teams may have several players with batting averages of .500 or above. Players openly admit they enjoy the thrill of heftily swinging at a pitched bail and making solid contact and then charging down the base path to score a run. But, they absolutely love the exhilarating feeling of diving off to one side or the other to cleanly field a hit ball and make an out. Even the most modest players are all too willing to graphically describe the putouts they made.
Beep baseball has evolved into a wide-open competitive game. Each year, new and improved training and coaching methods are introduced. Throughout the country, there are now many, many good players and teams. As time goes by, beep baseball will get bigger and better than it already is.
Organizing new teams to play competitive beep baseball is not a simple matter. More than one ingredient is necessary in molding a group of individuals into a coordinated unit. Three absolutes are essential: dedicated sighted help, players, and reliable equipment. Absence of any one of these requirements is guaranteed frustration.
A team of outstanding beep ball players would flounder without benefit of good sighted help. The key here is sighted people who are not afraid to tell a blind person to get his duff in gear and get with the program. Successful teams have sighted help who are willing to devote the time it requires to become skilled at pitching, catching, "spotting" and to serve as chauffeurs for practices and games.
If you, or someone you know is interested in playing for, starting or helping a beep baseball team in the Chicago land area contact us and we can help.