Beep baseball brings pride to Spokane's blind community | Community Spirit
It takes patience, timing and good form to make a solid connection to a ball with a bat. Now, imagine doing all of that blind, guided only by a beep being emitted from the ball as it comes toward you. On Saturday, Spokane Pride Beep Baseball will play their fist home game guided only by the sounds around them.
“It can be challenging, but it's all worth it,” said Spokane Pride coach Troy Leeberg. This is the second season for the city's only beep baseball team, and it's the first season that there's been another team close enough for them to play against. On Saturday, the team will face off against a new team out of Seattle for a double header.
Beep baseball looks and plays differently than the traditional game. The sport is a cross of baseball and softball that's been adapted so that the visually impaired can take part in America's favorite past time. The ball is slightly larger than a softball and is equipped with a speaker that signals the players to it's location with a loud, continuous beep.
“It's amazing how that sound carries,” said pitcher Kelsey Weir. Weir shouts “pitch” as she releases the ball toward her own team mates who then time the sound of the ball with Weir's verbal cue to make contact. If the batter hits the ball the catcher turns on one of two large bases, that also beep, located at first and third.
Six defensive players scattered through the outfield follow the sound of the beep ball to field it. Once the ball is fielded the play ends. If the batter makes it to one of the bases before the outfielders make contact with the ball they score a run.
It's a disorienting experience, even for those who live without vision every day. Every surrounding noise, from traffic to spectators, even the wind, changes which direction you hear the beeps of the ball and bases coming from. Volunteers guide the players verbally to make sure they are squared up at home plate and to avoid collisions, but for many of the blind players it's the first time they've run freely.
Before Vivian Huschke lost her sight she used to play softball. In the late 80s her vision became a problem and in the last five years she's lost it completely. Huschke said this is the first time she's been able to run with out the aide of a cane or the assistance of a friendly arm in years.
“I was very cautious,” said Huschke of the first time she stepped up to the play. Coach Leeberg said Huschke tip-toed to the bases, afraid to let loose and run.
“I said 'You want me to do what?',” said Huschke adding that the experience was both scary and exhilarating. Encouraging mobility and independence is one of the reasons the team was started. Leeberg explained that aren't many outlets for the blind community to work on those skills, especially through sports.
“It's really exciting because now it's available to us,” said Huschke.
Leeberg's players go all out on the field, swinging hard and diving toward the sound of the bases. One of his goals is to create more awareness of what's going on in the blind community. In order to do that, the team is hosting a get to know you social prior to their first home double header on Saturday.
The social will also act a fundraiser for the team. Because the only other beep baseball team in the region is in Seattle, Spokane Pride has to travel if they want to put their skills to the test. Funds raised on Saturday will go toward travel expenses as well a general equipment needs. Six dollars will get you two hot dogs, chips and drink. There will also be a raffle and the game sponsor, Gentle Touch Chiropractic, will be providing massages and donating the proceeds to the team.
“It's beep baseball's first real premier game,” said Huschke. The team couldn't be more excited. Excited to share their sport and excited for the freedom that the game provides them. The team hopes to host a National Beep Base Association tournament in Spokane next year, and wants to take their love of the game to the NBBA World Series.
Festivities for their first home game start at 12:30 pm on Saturday, September 7th, at the Franklin Park Softball Complex. The double header starts at 2:30pm, each game is six innings. The team will celebrate with an after game party, the location will be announced at the game.