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Beeping ball and buzzing bases make baseball possible for the visually impaired

  • Author:
  • Updated: June 28, 2016
  • Published June 28, 2016

The first time the ball was hit in Monday night's beep baseball game between the Anchorage Bucs and Seattle Sluggers, the crowd made so much noise that blindfolded batter Cole Maltese of the Bucs didn't know where to run.

He couldn't hear the buzzing base, so he ended up running toward the Sluggers' dugout instead.

Beep baseball is an adaptive version of America's favorite pastime for blind or vision-impaired players, and while you don't need to be able to see to play it, you need to be able to hear. The game features an oversized beeping softball, buzzing bases and simplified rules: If the batter reaches base before a fielder gets the ball, a run is scored. If a fielder gets the ball first, it's an out.

Fans embraced Monday's game at Mulcahy Stadium so enthusiastically that at times players had a hard time hearing the beeps and buzzes. Maltese was called out when he ran the wrong way and a lucky Sluggers infielder found the ball despite the noise.

"I couldn't hear a thing and it hit me in the ankles and I got him out," laughed Sluggers captain Bob Miller, 64, the oldest member of the coed team.

 
Seattle Sluggers Abby Schmidt scores a run by tagging first base before Bryant Harris of the Anchorage Bucs can field the beep baseball. (Scott Jensen / Alaska Dispatch News)

The loudest cheers came when Anchorage's Kevin Whitley came up to bat for the Sluggers. The 52-year-old Anchorage Lions Club member helped organize the event between the Bucs and the National Beep Baseball Association team.

He lost his sight in 2009.

"I was hanging around the wrong people, doing the wrong things and I got assaulted," Whitley said. "I got struck blind. As tragic as it was, that's what it took for me to realize and see what's most important in life."

Whitley went to the plate in the top of the sixth inning as an honorary team member. He was the last hope for the Sluggers, who were down two runs with two outs in the final inning of the six-inning game.

Pitcher Ben Mariano lobbed the beeping, oversized softball to Whitley, who smacked it down the third-base line.

Whitley dashed toward the buzzing, 48-inch first-base pylon as two blindfolded Bucs collided at third base in a scramble for the elusive beeping softball.

The Bucs corralled the ball, but not before Whitley reached the base and scored a run to make it 4-3 and keep the Sluggers alive.

"That ignited the guys again," said Sluggers coach Kevin Daniel, who founded the team in 2013. "They were feeling a little down. That brought the fire back."

Anchorage Lions Club member Kevin Whitley (left), who is blind, is congratulated by Seattle manager Kevin Daniel after scoring a run for the Seattle Sluggers. (Scott Jensen / Alaska Dispatch News)

The Sluggers tied the game in their next at-bat, when Ricky Kim swatted a pitch up the third-base line and fearlessly tumbled over first base before the ball was stopped.

The next three Sluggers struck out, giving the Bucs a chance to win the game 5-4 in the bottom of the inning.

Brody Robinson, the first batter for the Bucs, smacked the ball up the middle and reached first base in time for the walk-off run.

"It was a little nerve-wracking, but it was fun," Robinson said. "You have no idea where you are and you just hear a little beep go past you and you try to swing at the right time."

As the game went on, the fans got better about holding their cheers until after a play was over. They may get more practice at that in the future.

Whitley said the Lions Club is working with the National Federation of the Blind and others to establish a beep baseball team in Alaska. Monday's game acted as a fundraiser for the club.

"This is going to happen, this is groundbreaking stuff right here," Whitley said. "We'll have a beep baseball team — whether it's sanctioned or not, that remains to be determined. … We'll do some good wholesome fun for some good causes."

Beep baseball 101

— There are six blindfolded fielders (generally a first baseman, third baseman, shortstop left fielder, right fielder and center fielder).
— The fielding team has two spotters, who are not blindfolded. The spotters can only call out a number to signify what part of the field the ball is going toward.
— The catcher and pitcher are not blindfolded and are on the blindfolded batter's team.
— There are only two bases, first and third. One of the bases beeps once the ball is hit.
— Games go six innings.
— There are no gender or aged-based restrictions in beep baseball.

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