Even if you're familiar with baseball, you may not have heard of a lesser-known adaptation: beep baseball.
Beep baseball is a version of America's pastime developed for those with vision impairment. The sport uses audio cues and special equipment to alert and guide players to act and is governed by the National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA), one of dozens of adapted sports organizations in the United States.
The history, fanfare, and spirit of competition and camaraderie make beep baseball one of the oldest and most beloved American sports for the blind, legally blind, and visually impaired.
Beep Baseball History
Although it was invented in 1964 by Charles Fairbanks, a telephone company engineer from Colorado, the sport of beep baseball didn't gain popularity until the mid-1970s.
The first ever beep baseball World Series was played in Minnesota between St. Paul and Phoenix in 1975. One year later, a group of five founding fathers known as "The Dirty Dozen" met in Chicago to establish the National Beep Baseball Association.
Today, the association touts 32 teams in the 13 states, featuring fierce competition and an annual World Series, typically held in the summer.
Who Plays Beep Baseball?
The game of beep baseball was developed for players that are blind, legally blind, visual impaired, or partially sighted. In addition, four visually unimpaired players — the catcher, pitcher, and two spotters — are also part of a beep baseball team.
The age of beep baseball players varies significantly from team to team. For example, former beep baseball world champions Chicago Comets have a 13-member team with ages ranging from 13 to 52.
Most teams also travel with a crew of around half a dozen volunteers who help with everything from assisting during games to dealing with the logistics of travel and helping players get oriented to new surroundings.
What Do You Need to Play?
Beep baseball equipment is different in several ways from baseball or softball, and the sport requires several pieces of uniquely designed equipment:
Beep baseball. The ball used in beep baseball is bigger than a regular baseball. It also weighs less because the inside of the ball is empty since the core is removed. In its place, a special sound mechanism is placed inside the ball. As the name suggests, this device emits a steady "beep" sound to help players locate the ball.
Bases. There are only two bases, with their positions roughly equal to first and third in baseball. The bases are 4 feet tall and 10 inches wide. They're typically covered in vinyl or canvas and are made of foam. Each base also has a sound-emitting device that activates during gameplay.
Preventive eyewear. All participating players (except the pitcher, catcher, and spotters) must also wear sleep shades or some form of special goggles to cover their eyes. The purpose is to put everyone on a level playing field and not give an advantage to those playing with partial vision.
Bat. The bats in beep baseball are similar to those in baseball or softball games.
How to Play Beep Baseball
Beep baseball rules resemble those of softball when it comes to pitching, batting, and fielding, albeit with several modifications:
- There are six innings in a game, which generally lasts 90 minutes.
- Each half-inning awards three outs to either team.
- The pitcher, batter, and catcher are on the same team. While the batter is blind or partially sighted (using preventive eyewear), the pitcher and catcher have unimpaired vision.
- Six defensive players spread the field, each blind or visually impaired and wearing an eye cover.
- Each team also has two "spotters" with unimpaired vision. Spotters help direct fielders to the ball's direction by calling out the general vicinity — or zone — that it's hit to.
- When fielders and batter are in position, the pitcher first primes the players by saying, "Ready." Then, they will call out "Ball" or "Pitch" before delivering an underhand throw.
- Unlike baseball, each batter receives four strikes to hit the ball before they're out.
- When a ball is hit into fair territory at least 40 feet, the base closest to it will alert the batter in which direction to run via a buzzing sound. At the same time, fielders will follow the beeping ball and attempt to corral it.
- The ball stops beeping when picked up, and the base stops buzzing when it's touched.
- A batter scores a point if they can reach and touch the sound-activated base before the ball is collected. If the fielder gets to the ball first, the batter is out.
- If a ball is hit at least 170 feet in the air, and the batter can reach base within 30 seconds, it's considered a home run and worth two points.
Interestingly, there have only ever been five instances in beep baseball history where a batter was out because a ball was caught directly in the air.
What Are the Benefits of Beep Baseball?
Beep baseball offers an incredible opportunity for those with partial vision, visual impairments, or blindness to participate in America's pastime and reap the various mental and physical benefits of playing.
In addition to the cardiovascular advantages of running and fielding, players rely entirely on their ability to hear and feel for the ball. Over time, this helps those who play regularly enhance their sensory reflexes as they become familiar with the game's dynamics.
Additionally, players who see the game as both an opportunity for competition and camaraderie reap the benefits of being part of a team — winning and losing together, working with coaches, and pleasing fans — all of which contribute to mental and social well-being.
Is Beep Baseball Safe?
By and large, beep baseball is considered a safe sport. But that doesn't mean that injuries and mishaps don't happen.
Although safety is always the utmost priority in beep baseball, as with any competitive sport, the risk of minor injuries like a scraped elbow always exists. As in all sports, players gladly accept the injury risks for playing and love for the sport.