Alex Barrera secured his blindfold before stepping up to home plate, tapping the plate twice with his bat and preparing for a pitch. Barrera is captain of the Long Island Bombers, which hosted several northeastern teams in the Long Island Classic beep baseball tournament at Senator Speno Memorial Park in East Meadow on June 29.
Like many of his Bombers teammates, Barrera, of Bayshore, is legally blind. But on the field, he doesn’t need to see.
Beep baseball, a game designed for visually impaired athletes, is similar to traditional baseball, but with some major differences, including a ball that beeps to alert batters that it’s on the way. All of the players wear blindfolds, regardless of their visual disabilities, to make the game as fair as possible.
First and third base are four-foot-tall padded cylinders equipped with speakers. Each emits a staccato hum before the pitcher, a member of the team that is up at bat, throws the ball to his or her teammate. The ball is an oversized softball, 16 inches in circumference, and is also equipped with a speaker.
After the pitcher tosses it, the ball beeps until the batter swings. Then, if the batter makes contact, one of the bases, chosen at random by a base operator, beeps again to let the batter know where to run. (There is no second base.) Batters score points by making contact with the base before the team in the field can pick up the ball.
Pitchers and catchers are often sighted players who don’t wear blindfolds. One of them is Raphael DeJesus, whose sons Chris, 28, and Joe, 25, are both visually impaired and have been playing the game for nine years.
In addition to the Bombers, the other teams that played in the Long Island Classic included the Boston Renegades, the New Jersey Lightning, the New Jersey Titans, the Philly Fire and the Toronto Blind Jays. The tournament was the first leg of a multi-city competition called the Beast of the East, which will conclude on July 13 in Colts Neck, N.J.
Beep baseball began in 1967, when an engineer named Charlie Fairbanks implanted a telephone speaker in a softball to create a variation of America’s pastime for blind people. Eleven years later, enthusiasts of his game created the National Beep Baseball Association in Chicago.
Today, there are 38 teams in the U.S., one in Canada and one in Taiwan. All are invited to compete in the Beep Baseball World Series, which this year will take place in Tulsa, Okla., July 28 to Aug. 4.
Ted Fass, 67, of Rockville Center, founded the Bombers 22 years ago, and garnered interest by reaching out to Brockville’s Camp Helen Keller for the visually impaired and Hempstead’s Commission for the Blind. Fass had lost his sight in 1963, at age 11, when his optic nerve was severed during surgery to remove a tumor. He played on his local Little League team, but had to give up his passion for the game until he discovered beep baseball.
Now, Fass said, he is just as inspired by the sport as he is by teaching it to others like him. “You get to see the players develop and interact with other blind athletes,” he said. “To be able to see someone who was never exposed to the game learn and grow, to me, is the most rewarding part.”
Many of his first recruits had never touched a baseball or swung a bat. To teach them the proper stance, Fass had them feel the metal player atop a baseball trophy. Since then, the team has grown, and has competed at the World Series almost every year, earning some trophies of its own.
The Bombers also contribute to local events and fundraisers for the visually impaired. Each winter, the team demonstrates beep baseball at the annual Braille Challenge, hosted by the Braille Institute and the East Meadow School District at W.T. Clarke High School in Salisbury.
The Bombers practice every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. To find out more or to inquire about joining the team, call (516) 764 2002 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.