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Beepball: Leveling the Playing Field for 125 Years

A man coaching a student on how to swing a baseball bat.

“The boys have modified it somewhat so that they have aright good game,” reported KSB teacher William Frederick at a meeting ofteachers of the blind in 1894. The first recorded game of baseball for people who are blind was actuallyplayed here in Louisville, at the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB), in 1894.
The Museum at the American Printing House for the Blind is celebrating125 years of baseball history when it hosts a demonstration beep baseball gameat the Kentucky School for the Blind on April 27.

 

“The pitcher stands about eight feet from the batter andcounts one, two, three. At three he lets the ball go, and I think that twiceout of five times the batter will hit it. When he hears himself strike the ball he runs.”

 

Back then, the bases were trees, and, yes, playersoccasionally ran smack into them.

 

Various other ways ofadapting the game of baseball for athletes who are blind were attempted over the years.In one, the runners kept one hand on a shoulder-high cable that circled the fourbases. In another version, the ball was rolledalong a brick pathway, and the players swung bats like golf clubs.

 

Now, the game follows the rules of the National BeepBaseball Association, first written down in 1964. There are 32 registered adultteams nationwide, and every year they compete for the World Series of BeepBaseball. The Indy Thunder (Indianapolis) is the 2018 world champion.

 

There is currently no team in Louisville, although severalpeople would like there to be one, including Randy Mills, who is coaching theKentucky School for the Blind (KSB) team for the April 27 demonstration game. Retired from a career as an adaptive physical educationresource teacher with JCPS, Mills took on a stint last year as an interimphysical education teacher at the Kentucky School for the Blind. Since earlyFebruary he and a dedicated troop of 14 young athletes in grades 6-12 have beenpracticing beep baseball.
The ball is similar to a softball, with the beeper burieddeep inside. Teams number six players. The pitcher is on the batter’s team, andthe ball emits a beeping noise once it leaves the pitcher’s hand. The runnerruns to base – or rather, directly into it, since the base is made from spongerubber and is about four feet high. Thebase buzzes so the runner knows where it is, and the ball continues to beepwhile it is in play.

 

It’s a very noisy game, but the fans in the stands have tokeep as quiet as possible so the players can hear the beeping and buzzing. Insteadof the good hand-eye coordination prized in some sports, these young athletesneed good “hand-ear” coordination.

Players score a run by making it to a base before the otherteam locates the ball. When a fielder focuses on the sound, he or she oftendives headfirst onto the ball, trapping it on the ground.
All the players wear blindfolds. Fact is, most people whoare blind can see a little, even if it’s just light and shadow, so wearingblindfolds level the playing field. Gary Mudd, who is blind and a vice president at the AmericanPrinting House for the Blind, says he “grew up on baseball” and he’s lookingforward to the game at KSB. “It’s America’s game,” he says. “Everyone should have anopportunity to experience it.”
Too often, people focus on the things that people who areblind can’t do, or on the precautions, they must take.

 

On the beepball field, kids know no obstacles. They’rerunning and swinging as hard as they can, just like any player on a majorleague team. Sure, it’s a blast to play, but it’s also an opportunity forthem to show what they can do as athletes.
Mills hopes that, given this taste of baseball, the youngplayers will go on to participate in thenew Louisville Miracle League, which is intended especially for kids withdisabilities. Games will take place at the fully accessible baseball field,playground, and splash park in Fern Creek Park.

 

The Museum’s demonstration game is at 1 p.m. onApril 27th. The public is invited to attend this event at Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB). Bring lawn chairs and/or blankets as this game is in the grass behind the cafeteria.

 

The game will be broadcast on KSB radio online, with museumdirector Michael Hudson providing the color commentary. There will also beconcessions and jubilant fans along the sidelines.

 

Stan Greenwood
A humble human, who is always found working on something or drinking coffee. A perfect introvert who talks barely anything but shares a lot through his blog posts at FredForum.

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