From afar, the May 6 baseball game at John Maccarone Memorial City Stadium between the Long Island Bombers and the Sunset Mets looked like any other game played there. The bases were loaded, friends and family filled the stands, and athletes were patiently waiting for their turn to get their hands and bats on the ball. But the players in this baseball game were all visually impaired.
As the pitcher prepared to throw the ball, a hush fell over the crowd. The only sounds heard were trees rustling in the wind, and a persistent beep emanating from the ball. The pitcher threw it, the batter hit it — and then all that could be heard were his footsteps as he made his way to first base. The crowd needed to remain silent to enable the runner to hear the buzz from the base, which directed him to it.
Those are the subtle sounds of beep baseball, a modified baseball game designed for visually impaired baseball players.
The game is played with a ball that beeps and bases that buzz, allowing players to locate the ball and navigate the field to score runs. Charles Fairbanks, a telephone company engineer in Colorado, originally designed beep baseball in 1964. From there, it’s become a home run with fans.
The Bombers, the only visually impaired baseball team in the state, first came to the attention of the Sunset Mets, a team for players 52 and older, when Mets manager John Alutto, of Oyster Bay, was playing in a tournament in Florida in 2021. Alutto, who operates an online baseball card and memorabilia business, overheard players talking about a “beep ball” team in Rockville Center.
Alutto was intrigued on a personal level, since his friend Joe Esposito has a blind son.
“His son is a rookie on the team. I got to see them practice two years ago, and they’re just phenomenal.” Alutto said. “These guys just love baseball.”
Most of the players on the Bombers are sightless. Those with better vision are required to wear a blindfold during gameplay to even the playing field. Although the game is a source of inspiration and an outlet for committed players, recruitment isn’t easy.
“It’s very difficult to get players, especially when they’re young people and the parents resist,” Alutto said. “It’s a big commitment -- someone has to drive them to practice too.”
Finding a field isn’t easy for beep ball players, either, but with the help of Peter Munda, a Glen Cove chiropractor who plays with Alutto, the Bombers found a place in the city. Munda, a member of the Sea Cliff-Glen Head Lions club, said he was proud to help organize the event since the Lions work with the visually impaired.
Finding a wide range of activities was crucial to Bombers founder Ted Fass, of Rockville Center, who has been blind since a tumor severed his optic nerve when he was 11. He was a huge baseball fan, but his disability forced him to hang up his Little League cleats.
Then, 35 years later in 1998, when Ted and his wife, Gail, were working as mobile DJs, Steve Guerra, a visually impaired stranger, approached Fass after their show. Guerra told Fass about a new game he had heard about called beep ball. They founded the Long Island Bombers that year. Guerra later moved, and Fass became the team manager. The Bombers have continued to grow over the years. They’ve played at both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, and in tournaments.
“The Bombers are much more than a baseball team,” Fass said. “Everybody you see out there, having a team has helped them socially. It’s really been a rewarding situation to be able to help all these kids. It’s not just a baseball game.”
Freeport resident Melchion Wee-Ellis had never picked up a baseball bat before losing his sight three years ago. But when he started becoming more active while adapting to his low vision, he remembered hearing about the team while talking to a specialist about assistive features on his iPhone. Wee-Ellis knew he needed a community for his rekindled lifestyle.
“I really needed something that helped me transition athletically into adulthood,” Wee-Ellis said. “Being on the team feels good because you’re around other blind people and you’re just free to play sports and run and swing a bat as hard as you can.”