Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Beep Baseball is all the buzz

The sharp crack of ball meeting bat. The umpire's cry of "Fair ball!" The flat-out foot-falls of the batter running toward base...

From the sound of it, you've just come across a good old-fashioned baseball game. Listen closer. The buzz you're hearing is more than the excited chatter of the crowd: it's coming from the base. And that beeping? It's not a car alarm triggered out in the parking lot. It's the ball, and it's on its way out of the park.

Welcome to Beep Baseball--an exciting blend of baseball, high-tech gadgetry, and genuine grit and go-for-it hustle. Beep Baseball was born as a response to the difficulties that playing America's pastime presented to people who are blind or visually impaired.

  • Beep Beginnings: The sport traces its origins to 1964 when Charley Fairbank, an engineer with Mountain Bell telephone company, installed a transmitter in a baseball. The result? A baseball that beeped. Charley shared his invention with schools for the blind and the device caught on with the kids. It also fired the imagination of a few adults.

    In 1975, a new, larger beep baseball was invented that could withstand the pounding incurred in game situations. With this new beep baseball, two teams in the Minneapolis-St.Paul region held what is considered the sport's first official game.

    The following year, the National Beep Baseball Association-- the sport's governing organization--held the first Beep Baseball World Series. A crowd of more than 1500 spectators cheered the local St. Paul Gorillas on to a 36 to 27 victory over the Phoenix Thunderbirds.

    While Beep Baseball holds much in common with Doubleday's invention, there are some significant differences.

  • Duration: A Beep Baseball game lasts six innings (unless the contest is tied, in which case the game goes into extra innings.) Each team receives three outs per inning, and each batter is allowed four strikes (rather than the traditional three) and the last strike must be a clean miss and not a called strike on a pass ball.

  • Design: The layout of the field is a little different in Beep Baseball. There are two bases, one located 100 feet up the left foul line from home plate, the other an equal distance up the right foul line. A four-foot tall, foam-encased audio unit is located at each base. When a batter gets a hit, one or the other audio unit is activated and the batter runs toward that base. If the runner reaches base before the fielding team retrieves the ball, he or she is safe and scores a run for the team. If the defending team fields the ball before the runner reaches base, the runner is out.

  • Dream Team: Pitchers and catchers are members of the batter's team. These sighted team-mates work with the batter--the catcher by giving the batter a target and the pitcher by announcing when the pitch leaves his or her hands. Using timing gained through practice and by listening to the ball's audio signals, the batter gauges when it's time to swing. If the batter does connect, the ball must travel more than 40 feet to be considered fair (any distance less is a foul ball). If the ball travels more than 180 feet in the air it's considered a home run.

  • Defense, Defense, Defense: When it's a team's turn to play defense, it sends just six players (rather than nine) onto the field. Since defenders don't have to tag bases to record an out, it's up to each team to determine the defensive placement of its players. There are two sighted spotters -- one working the left side of the field, the other the right -- to assist defenders. The spotters are allowed to tell defenders which section of the field a hit ball is in or heading towards. While caught-fly balls are rare in beep baseball,(just four in the history of the sport, according to the NBBA) it can happen. More often, defenders use their bodies to knock down grounders and line drives. This can result in the occasional bruise and skinned elbow and knee, so prospective players are encouraged to consider their acceptable threshold for pain before joining a team.

  • The Cost of Competing: Due to the specialized equipment needed to hold a beep baseball game, the sport isn't exactly cheap. The 16-inch audio softballs cost around $25 each, while the 4-foot foam-encased audio bases run about $175 per set. There is also the cost of blindfolds to be worn by any sighted batters and fielders.

  • Get in the Game: Beep Baseball has a growing base of supporters and players. There are Beep Baseball leagues in cities all around the country, league tourneys, and even a Beep Baseball World Series hosted by the National Beep Baseball Association.

Want to learn more about Beep Baseball? The following links should help you score some helpful information, including further discussion of the sport's rules, equipment suppliers, leagues and teams.

  • WCRS Presents Beep Baseball
    2004 was the fifth season of covering Beep Baseball on WCRS. On this page you will find the 2004 Viper Classic, and the 2004 World Series held in Columbus. The audio files are in MP3 format, so they can be downloaded to a portible device for listening, or listened to through your computer.
  • National Beep Baseball Association
    The official site of the National Beep Baseball Association contains info on the NBBA, a history of the sport, and audio clips of past Games of the Week featuring Beep Baseball teams from various parts of the country. Contact: Email the NBBA at

  • Ability Magazine, Camryn Manheim Issue
    The article on Beep Baseball in this issue of Ability Magazine provides a good overview of the history, development and rules of the sport.

  • Long Island Bombers
    Visit the official website of the Long Island Bombers Beep Baseball Team.

  • Click this link to watch an ESPN report on beep baseball

The Beep Baseball PodCast

Fans of the sport of Beep Baseball are probably wondering what is PodCasting? Then again, PodCasters are saying, "what is Beep Baseball!"

Well, of course, neither Beep Baseball or PodCasting have anything in common! This is where "The Beep Baseball Guy" comes in to the picture!

The Beep Baseball Podcast is a collection of files which you can download and listen on your computer or MP3 player.

Click this link to learn more about the Beep Baseball Podcast:

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