1977 World Series
by John P. Tharp
The Kansas City Star
"ONLY BEEP GUIDES BAT IN DARKENED WORLD"
"The blind umpire is a scapegoat at most baseball games, but in Beep Baseball the players are blind. The players can't see, but they usually can hit a beeping softball and then run to a buzzing base to score. Ten teams from over the country are participating in the National Invitation Tournament World Series of Beep Baseball this weekend in Lawrence.
"Playing is not only challenging your opponents, but yourself too," said Charlie Vassallo, president of the National Beep Baseball Association. Vassallo also plays on the Lawrence team, Quantrill's Raiders. Vassallo lost 95 per cent of his sight from wounds suffered in the Korean War. Because he can distinguish contrasts, he must wear a blinders as required in association rules.
A regulation sized softball in which an electronic beeper has been installed is used. The balls sell for about $20. A pitcher, who has eyesight, from the batter's team lobs the ball across the plate after saying, "Ready pitch," and the batter swings at the ball. If the slugger gets a fair hit, he dashes to one of two four foot high cones which buzz. They are located where first and third bases would be on a regular field. While he is doing this five blind fielders are racing to pick up the ball. They are helped by two sighted spotters who can only yell a player's name indicating which person the ball is nearest or the word "Duck," as a warning. If the fielder can snag the ball and hold it up before the runner tags base, no run scores. If not, the team at bat gets a point.
There are more rules but, nothing comparable to the initial rule book that came out when the game was introduced in 1972. Dan Duffy, captain of the Phoenix Pioneers, one of two Arizona entries said "at first there was no running, then when running was allowed there was a shorter base set up". " Heck, we wanted to run and make it as competitive as possible, and as similar to regular ball as, we could. We didn't want anything special" Duffy said.
Duffy, 29 has been blind from a bone cancer operation since he was 13 and has been playing the game from the start. He said the original rules were too easy. His team refused to wear the helmets, once required of all players. "They made it more of a little kids game," Duffy said.
Today it's not. Runners often charge the bases at top speed, not knowing how the fielders are reacting, and bowl over the bases. They roll and get up immediately. If they are safe, the entire bench breaks the silence and erupts into cheers. Rules call for players and fans to be quiet during the pitch and while the ball is in play so the fielders and the batter can hear the beeping ball. But they can "cheer like a mad hyena" after the play.
Some teams have a sighted player wearing a blindfold. In Lawrence there is a special league in which Quantrill's Raiders are the only blind players. Members of the other five teams all wear blindfolds. Breck Marion, who is currently with the Raiders played on a blindfolded team and a regular softball team last summer. He said Beep Baseball is more challenging than softball and he has a better feeling of accomplishment when playing with blinders on. " The first thing you notice with the blindfold is a lack of all normal depth perception, then you're disoriented with your balance and distances seem greater, but the sound carries easily." the Raider player said.
Marion said playing can be rough, which is why his team wears helmets now. Last month two Raiders collided head on while scrambling for a ball and each suffered cuts requiring more than 26 stitches.
It was the banged up team that managed to get the series scheduled in Lawrence. Vassallo said he and teammate Gary Marshall went to the tourney last year in St Paul with promotional letters from the Lawrence city and Douglas County commissions and from civic groups, stating their support for a tournament.
"At first we had to sell the association on the idea, but the sport needs to be exposed, and the Midwest is the best area to do so," Vassallo said.
Only one of the bases buzzes for each batter after he hits the ball. The umpire predesignates secretly which one so the batter will have no forehand knowledge on where to run. This makes the game more challenging. Players are allowed five strikes and only two balls may not be swung at. Three outs end a half inning and all three are scored at once if a defender catches a fly ball.
In the second and fourth innings an adjustable tee holds the ball for the first five hitters or three outs.
The paper also included three actions shots of Chuck Hallenbeck of the Raiders swinging at the ball, Raider player Loren Buntemeyer running towards the base and Allen Woody of the Copper State Lions of Phoenix about to field a ground ball."
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