Beepball: Leveling the Playing Field for 125 Years

A man coaching a student on how to swing a baseball bat.

“The boys have modified it somewhat so that they have a right good game,” reported KSB teacher William Frederick at a meeting of teachers of the blind in 1894.  The first recorded game of baseball for people who are blind was actually played here in Louisville, at the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB), in 1894.

The Museum at the American Printing House for the Blind is celebrating 125 years of baseball history when it hosts a demonstration beep baseball game at the Kentucky School for the Blind on April 27.

“The pitcher stands about eight feet from the batter and counts one, two, three. At three he lets the ball go, and I think that twice out of five times the batter will hit it.  When he hears himself strike the ball he runs.”

Back then, the bases were trees, and, yes, players occasionally ran smack into them.

Various other ways of adapting the game of baseball for athletes who are blind were attempted over the years. In one, the runners kept one hand on a shoulder-high cable that circled the four bases.  In another version, the ball was rolled along a brick pathway, and the players swung bats like golf clubs.

Now, the game follows the rules of the National Beep Baseball Association, first written down in 1964. There are 32 registered adult teams nationwide, and every year they compete for the World Series of Beep Baseball. The Indy Thunder (Indianapolis) is the 2018 world champion.

There is currently no team in Louisville, although several people would like there to be one, including Randy Mills, who is coaching the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB)  team for the April 27 demonstration game. Retired from a career as an adaptive physical education resource teacher with JCPS, Mills took on a stint last year as an interim physical education teacher at the Kentucky School for the Blind. Since early February he and a dedicated troop of 14 young athletes in grades 6-12 have been practicing beep baseball.

The ball is similar to a softball, with the beeper buried deep inside. Teams number six players. The pitcher is on the batter’s team, and the ball emits a beeping noise once it leaves the pitcher’s hand. The runner runs to base – or rather, directly into it, since the base is made from sponge rubber and is about four feet high.  The base buzzes so the runner knows where it is, and the ball continues to beep while it is in play.

It’s a very noisy game, but the fans in the stands have to keep as quiet as possible so the players can hear the beeping and buzzing. Instead of the good hand-eye coordination prized in some sports, these young athletes need good “hand-ear” coordination.

Players score a run by making it to a base before the other team locates the ball. When a fielder focuses on the sound, he or she often dives headfirst onto the ball, trapping it on the ground.

All the players wear blindfolds. Fact is, most people who are blind can see a little, even if it’s just light and shadow, so wearing blindfolds level the playing field. Gary Mudd, who is blind and a vice president at the American Printing House for the Blind, says he “grew up on baseball” and he’s looking forward to the game at KSB. “It’s America’s game,” he says. “Everyone should have an opportunity to experience it.”

Too often, people focus on the things that people who are blind can’t do, or on the precautions, they must take.

On the beepball field, kids know no obstacles. They’re running and swinging as hard as they can, just like any player on a major league team. Sure, it’s a blast to play, but it’s also an opportunity for them to show what they can do as athletes.

Mills hopes that, given this taste of baseball, the young players  will go on to participate in the new Louisville Miracle League, which is intended especially for kids with disabilities. Games will take place at the fully accessible baseball field, playground, and splash park in Fern Creek Park.

The Museum’s demonstration game is at 1 p.m. on April 27th. The public is invited to attend this event at Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB). Bring lawn chairs and/or blankets as this game is in the grass behind the cafeteria. 

The game will be broadcast on KSB radio online, with museum director Michael Hudson providing the color commentary. There will also be concessions and jubilant fans along the sidelines.  


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