In the early to mid 60s, at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts, we used to play baseball with a fairly big ball and bat. The bases were marked off by material that driveways were made of and each base had an opposing team member standing there. When a ball was hit, the people at each base would yell first, second, or third base.
In 1964, attempts to modify the game would be made with the invention of the beep ball by Charley Fairbanks, an engineer with Mountain Bell Telephone. Fairbanks produced a normal sized soft ball with a beeping module inside. Some basic playing rules were devised by the Telephone Pioneers of America. This organization also came up with knee-hi cone shaped rubber bases which made a high pitched whistle sound.
At first, this new game had its drawbacks. For starters, the equipment didn’t function consistently and blind players had problems distinguishing between the sound of the beeping ball and the whistling base. Rules for playing the game were also pretty restrictive. All players had to wear face masks and chest pads and running was not permitted during the game. It didn’t matter if you were a fielder or a batter. Another negative aspect to the game was that the ball was hard to hit. This was because pitching styles were not perfected at the time. Overall, the game moved too slowly and it was not challenging enough.
Eleven years later, the Minnesota Telephone Pioneers produced a more effective beep ball which was 16 inches big. This newly designed ball had an improved sound module and the design of the ball would ensure that it could withstand a solid hit. This ball was presented to John Ross, Director of the Braille Sports Foundation. With the new ball, Ross played the game with his other blind friends and attempted to make the rules of the game similar to Major League Baseball. Word of the game soon spread across the Mississippi River to another group of blind athletes. Two teams were formed and competitive Beep Baseball was born.
The rules of beep baseball are different from regular baseball. First and foremost, you can score a run in two different directions, according to our own Bob Branco, who has played the game for the New Bedford, Massachusetts beep baseball team. Bob stated that you have two bags or bases: one on first base and one on third base. If you make it to a particular base before you are thrown out, you score a run. You also know where to run because you can hear the beeping of the ball once a pin is pulled out of the ball and there are sound effect on both first and third base. In addition, the pitcher and catcher are on the same team and are sighted. Bob also said that sighted people can play the game as well as long as they are blindfolded and are not the pitcher or the catcher. Bob also said that there aren’t as many rules as regular baseball because “There are only seven or eight players on the field.”
I asked Bob if he likes the game the way it is and he admitted that he did. However, he feels that with today’s technology, the game could easily be more like a typical 9 inning game with some basic changes.
While beep baseball is, indeed, a great sport for the visually impaired, it would be nice to see some developments that bring it closer to regular baseball. We played that back in the 60s when we were kids, and had a blast. Today’s children could enjoy it the same way and it would also serve as a perfect integration sport for sighted children, since the rules would be so similar.
Do any of you play beep baseball? Let us hear some stories in the Reader’s Forum.