Sports
12:45 pm
Fri July 27, 2012

How the Blind Play Ball: Austin in Beep Baseball World Series

Imagine a baseball diamond.

Now imagine that first and second base are tall, buzzing, blue-foam pillars, and that third base is gone.

Now imagine six fielders and a couple "spotters," who direct fielders toward a beeping ball — because everyone except the spotters, the pitcher and catcher are blind and/or blindfolded.

That’s what a beep baseball game looks like. 

The 2012 National Beep Baseball Association World Series is underway in Ames, Iowa, where several teams of blind and visually impaired players will compete. Representing Austin, the Blackhawks added another win in their fight for the pennant Thursday.  

“It was a really good game for us offensively,” says Kevin Sibson, coach for the team and brother of team captain Wayne.

Wayne (who is blind) and his brother Kevin (who is sighted) founded the Blackhawks together in 1986. The team reigned supreme for most of the nineties, winning the world series from ’92 through ’98.

After the winning streak, the team members’ ages started to catch up with them.

“A lot of our star outfielders got old and moved on to family life. We didn’t have a lot of continuity for a while and the game changed – the athletes got stronger and more athletic,” Kevin says.

“We’ve been rebuilding ever since,” Wayne adds. Now they're trying to regain their reputation as a winning team.

In beep baseball, buzzing towers serve as bases for blind players.
Credit National Beep Baseball Association

The key to the Blackhawk’s success back then was a real focus on defense. Early on, world series teams didn’t have strong defenses, which gave the Blackhawks’ an edge they hope to regain this year.

“There’s a team out of Taiwan that’s really good and we’re going to play Houston next, another really good team,” says Wayne.

Wayne started playing beep baseball when he was nine. He brought one of the baseballs home one day, and his brother would pitch it to him and he would hit it.

“It gave us something we could do together,” Kevin says.

In beep baseball, a pitcher sounds an alert before throwing the ball. (In this version, he’s trying to make you hit the ball, rather than strike you out.) If the ball is hit and in play, defensive players (with an assist from their spotter) can earn an out by fielding the ball before the hitter makes it on-base.

“What you picture in your mind is not how it is,” says Kevin, who also pitches for the Blackhawks. “The guys are really athletic. They can hit the ball really hard, really far. They can do amazing things with their body, just like a sighted athlete.”

A beep baseball description from the NBBA adds, “Good defensive players learn to use their bodies and the ground to block and trap hit balls, and then pick up the beeping sphere and display it for the umpire's call.”

The championship games are scheduled for this Saturday.