By Julie Aufdenkamp
Like many Americans, I love the competitive nature of sports, not as a spectator but as a participant. When I was a teenager, 35 or so years ago, I was on three or four high school teams. My favorite sport was fast-pitch softball. Even though I was legally blind, I figured out ways to compensate for my tunnel vision so that I could play. No, I wasn’t a star, but I was out there competing with my sighted peers. By the time I turned 30, my vision loss had progressed to the point where it was unsafe for me to play. I got hit right between the eyes with a speeding ball one too many times and I had to call it quits.
I have not found a readily available blind-friendly sport that provides the sense of competition and team spirit that I have missed so much — that is, until now. I recently joined the newly organized Iowa Reapers beep baseball team. I absolutely love it. It provides the sense of competition that I remember and requires as much, or more, teamwork than many other sports.
Before a game gets underway, all batters and fielders don sleep shades. This ensures an even playing field for both teams. A beep baseball game typically last for six innings. Each team has three outs per inning. In regular baseball there are three bases. However, in beep baseball there is no second base.
First and third bases consist of four-foot tall padded cylinders with speakers that give off a buzzing sound when activated. The batter never knows which one will be turned on. When the ball is hit, the base operator activates one of the bases and the runner must determine which base is buzzing and run to it before the ball is fielded by a defensive player, in which case a run is scored. If the ball is fielded before the runner reaches the base, he or she is out. There is no running from base to base.
A batter is allowed four, rather than the traditional three strikes, and only one pass ball. Each team has its own sighted pitcher and catcher – neither is allowed to field or bat. The catcher sets the target where the batter normally swings. The pitcher attempts to place the beeping ball in the target area.
The pitcher is required to clearly verbalize two words. He or she must say “ready” just before the ball is about to be released. This alerts all players that the ball may soon be hit. As the ball is being released, the pitcher says, “pitch.” The batter allows a split second of time to pass before swinging. If contact is made, one of the two bases is activated and then it becomes a race between the runner and the defense.
An effective batter must focus on the beeping ball and the timing and cadence of the pitcher. A solid hit comes from a level, full swing with body weight behind it. When the batter hits the ball and becomes a runner, he or she must run hard, and not be afraid to collide with the soft, cylindrical, buzzing base.
Rather than nine defensive players on the field at a time, there are only six in beep baseball. The fielders must work as a team and verbally communicate with each other to field the beeping ball, and to avoid collisions. I’ve been told that good defensive players learn to use their bodies and the ground to block and trap hit balls, and then quickly scoop up the beeping sphere and display it for the umpire’s call.
After watching The Reapers play for about 20 minutes, my teenage daughter came up to me and said, “Hey mom, you had some good hits! But, no offense, you run funny.”
I have no reservations about giving my all when I swing at a pitched ball. However, I am a bit fearful about running as hard as I can and plowing into a base, even though it is very soft. I am also somewhat apprehensive about throwing my body on the ground to knock down and block a ball that has been smacked with a bat. Honestly, I don’t believe that my issues with running and fielding have anything to do with blindness. I am, however, pretty certain that it has everything to do with being a “bit” older and more than a “little” out of shape.
Fortunately, I still have that “Tomboy” mentality, and I intend to muster up a plan to improve my physical condition. I can’t do much about my age. I can, however, do something about my shape.
Beep baseball is a strong incentive for me to get moving. Our season will officially begin next spring, and, I can hardly wait. The game is actually played world-wide and the 2012 NBBA Beep Baseball World Series will be held in Ames, Iowa July 22 – 28.
The Beep Baseball season is just months away. I better start hitting the gym so I can conquer my anxiety surrounding plowing into bases and diving to the ground to stop beeping balls. Apparently, I also need to work on improving my running style.