ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) – Baseball is a game that has been played by almost everyone; including people with partial or total visual impairments. BEEP Baseball, in fact, is the only organized sport adapted for the blind or visually impaired. Intrigued by this, “FOX in the Morning” spoke with the leagues' secretary, as well as their social media activist, to find out what makes this adapted form of baseball so unique.
“What makes it unique is the ball that beeps, the bases that beep and the bases are down the first and third baseline, where ordinarily, you would have three bases.” Stephen Guerra, who is Secretary of BEEP Baseball, explained to us the unique adaptations to the popular American past-time. “The object of the game, is to put the ball in play and get to the base before the fielders, or the defense, field the ball. If that happens, it's considered a run for your team. And if they field it, it's an out. There are three outs in an inning and six innings in a game. The pitcher and catcher are on the same batting team, in order to enable the batters to maximize the opportunity of hitting the ball. In the standard game of baseball, the pitcher and catcher are on the opposite team,” explained Guerra. “Not all of the participants are completely blind. So, to level the playing field, players who have next to normal vision, are blindfolded, while fielding and batting. The pitcher and catcher as well as the field spotters are sighted to help assist the players on the field find the ball quicker and to walk those who need assistance, on and off the field said Guerra.
Guerra says having this adaptation of baseball around helps to build social and communication skills, as well as team building. “I think because BEEP Baseball is the only actual organized team sport for the blind and visually impaired, it gives everyone who plays the sport an opportunity to learn the mechanisms and the makeup of what a team involves. The old adage of: 'There's no I in team,' really illustrates the message for our participants. It's not an individual sport. However, individuals are statistically tracked in terms of what their batting averages are and how many put-outs they are making defensively. They're contributing to their teams success by making all of those runs and making all of those put-outs. It enables the team to excel and win more games and also finish at a higher ranking at the end of the tournament week.
Although BEEP Baseball may be popular among it's participants, it's something that is usually not sought after by the general public. John Lykowski, who is Treasurer, Chief Financial Officer, has undertaken a new and much needed position. “I'm a photographer for the league, but just this year, I've also been asked to become the social media specialist. I've been charged by the league to really keep people up to date on the league, via social media,” said Lykowski.
Lykowski first encountered BEEP Baseball when he was younger, and went to his father to help at some games just like these. Lykowski says that since 1964, which is when BEEP Baseball was founded, there have been major and welcome changes taking place. One of the changes has to do with the bases. “The bases are these blue pylons that are basically foam with a buzzer in them that's constant,” explained Lykowski. “They're use to be just a traffic cone that sat on the ground, with a pylon that came out of it. It was basically a plastic stick they had to go touch. Someone had to stand by this orange cone with a mechanism inside it that made the noise. And they literally had to flip a switch on this cone and get out of the way, before the player came down the baseline to hit this pylon. Fortunately, technology has improved, so it's become a lot safer and advanced, now with remotes and wires and someone sits behind home plate with a little switch. So, they can be way out of the way for these runners to hit these things running down the line full speed,” said Lykowski.
So, why does Lykowski feel the need to memorialize these unique games? “ I can distribute these pictures to the teams, so they can use them as a marketing tool to get fund raising. That allows the players to be able to participate in these tournaments and do their own tournaments in their area. I just want to give back to those who are less fortunate than me,” Lykowski said. When asked what should be learned when watching this game, Guerra says the game speaks for itself. “The blind and visually impaired are as normal as anyone else. The only difference is that we don't have usable or workable vision and shouldn't be looked at any different than one looks at themselves.”