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Friday, August 27, 2010

Why Beep Baseball?

Tom Nagel, president of Baseball for the Blind in France, reports. This story goes from the World Series, to the mourning for the death of Alfredo Meli, who introduced the game in Italy, to the perspectives of the sport in the author's home country


The 35th World Series of Beep Baseball for the visually impaired was held in Rochester, Minnesota, August 2 through 7, 2010. Fifteen teams from across the United States and an all-star team from Chinese Taipei participated. The World Series is sponsored by the National Beep Baseball Association

The Beep Baseball world was saddened to learn that Alfredo Meli, President and founder of baseball for the blind in Italy, passed away on July 31. A great baseball player in his own right, he played from 1965 to 1976 for the Bologna Fortitudo, was coach and general manager. His number (11) was retired in 2003. He founded Italian baseball for the blind in 1994 and there are now seven teams participating in the Italian League.

Under American rules for beep baseball each team has six sight-impaired fielders who play defense, wear masks and who are eligible to bat. More players can substitute as strategy dictates. A team can have a designated hitter and fielder in the starting lineup. Each team also has up to two sighted spotters who help position the defense and a sighted pitcher and catcher.

There is a Head Umpire behind the plate and usually at least one field umpire to rule on defensive actions and an umpire on each base. To start play the Head Umpire asks, "Ready spotters?" and the pitcher "Ready?" Then he signals the controller "Bases?", and the controller tests each base to verify they are functioning correctly. He then tells the spectators "Quiet Please" so that the players can hear the action; he announces the number of outs and "Play Ball."
The pitcher then has 30 seconds to throw the first pitch.

On some teams, the catcher positions his glove to mark the batter's spot for the pitcher. When the pitcher begins his motion he announces to the batter "Ready" and then "Pitch" as he releases the ball. There are many styles, strategies and speeds of pitching the ball to the plate 20 feet (or 6.1 meters) from the batter.

The Head Umpire announces "Strike" if the batter misses the ball, or "Foul Ball" if the ball goes out of bounds or does not reach fair territory. A ball must travel at least 40 feet (or 12.2 meters). It must be within fair territory when it passes the base although it can veer out of bounds and still be considered in play. Another possible call is "Foul Tip", which is always a foul ball. A batter can decide not to swing at the pitch. The first time this is a "pass ball", after that it is always a strike. A batter is out on the fourth strike.

Here is a strong fly ball hit down the third baseline. The base operator turns on one of the bases immediately upon contact. The runner charges aggressively to the base 100 feet (or 30.5 meters) down first or third and 10 feet (or 3.5 meters) out of bounds. A fast base runner can get to the base in less than 5.5 seconds! Runners usually tackle the base like in rugby. This takes practice. Try running with a mask!

On a fair ball, one of the spotters announces the number of one of the six defensive field areas. Only one of the two spotters can announce one number one time. Defenders can take position anywhere in fair territory. Defenders can talk to each other to help locate the ball. "Left", Right", "Over" are frequently heard as quick indicators of what the ball has done as it passes a short or intermediate fielder. When a defender has control of the ball and says "Ball" or "Up" the field umpire signals out. The base umpire signals safe when the runner touches the base. The Head Umpire then decides if the point counts or if the runner is out.

Defenders use their full body to first block the ball, and then to seize the ball and show control to the field umpire. Pitching and hitting are the result of long and frequent practices, often using dead balls and not a beeping one. A smooth and predictable swing with a slight upper cut to put air on the ball is best in Beep Baseball. The best "strike zone" is the one that assures the ball hits the bat!
It is almost impossible for a batter to hear the ball coming, so it is a question of desire, repetition and positioning. A line drive that hits the pitcher is considered a "no pitch" or a "dead ball" and is replayed.

After a defensive error you might hear "the sun got in his eyes" or "he was squinting" from the players or the crowd.
Defensive strategy requires reflexes, teamwork and communication between the defenders to stop and to locate the ball. A tight-knit defense is a skilled team.

The final of the World Series was an exciting six-inning cliff hanger. The West Coast Dawgs prevailed over the Taiwan Homerun in the last inning by one point (12 - 11) to win this year's Series. Next year's World Series will be in Indianapolis, Indiana.

This game is easy to understand, even if it is more difficult than it looks. There is exciting action and suspense on every play. It requires practice, courage and determination. Even those who don't understand baseball find beep ball captivating and thrilling to watch.

Those who have played beep baseball for many years have noticed the confidence and self-assurance veteran players demonstrate at home, with others and at work. The transformation is profound.

Report by Tom Nagel, President of the ABBF, Baseball for the Blind in France:



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