More than 450 visually impaired athletes from around the world gathered in Wellington, FL, last weekend to play in the Beep Baseball World Series.
Since 1976, the National Beep Baseball Association has been making it possible for blind and low-vision individuals to play a modified version of America's favorite pastime.
The game is called Beep Baseball because the softball-sized ball that's used in the contests literally beeps.
Beep Baseball is similar to regular baseball but has a few adaptions that make it possible for visually impaired people to participate.
Sighted volunteers are a part of each team and assume the role of pitcher and catcher. The rest of the team is either legally blind, blind or has low vision.
Teams use a 16-inch softball containing a beeping device inside of it. This allows the hitters to hear the ball coming towards them and time their swing.
Once the ball is hit and in play, a base operator randomly activates either first or third base, which are 4-foot high cylinders that contain speakers inside them. They look like a tackling dummy that's used in football.
These big pylons also beep and the runner must identify the beeping base and run to it before the ball is fielded by a defensive player.
If the runner is safe, a run is scored. Beep baseball doesn't utilize a second base and there's no running from one base to another in this game.
There are six players on defense. After a hit, sighted spotters instantly call out a number that lets fielders know the general direction of the ball.
The fielders coordinate their defensive moves according to the number called. The fielder must have the ball in hand and off the ground to constitute possession and get the batter out.
Offensive and defensive players wear blindfolds during the games because many visually impaired players have some sight.
"Every individual who is at bat has to wear a blindfold so the playing field is level for all."
Did you know Wellington is currently hosting the World Series for visually-impaired baseball players?! The balls and bases beep to help the players. ⚾️ . . Daytona Bats player Tekesha Scaffold, of Riviera Beach, left, is guided by Blair Sloyer, of West Palm Beach to home plate during a game against the Athens Timberwolves at the National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA) World Series at Village Park Athletics Complex today. The championship game will be played on Sunday. 👍🏆 (Meghan McCarthy/ The Palm Beach Post) . . #baseball #visuallyimpaired #nbba #nationalbeepbaseball #wellington #sports
This year's World Series had 22 teams, including three international squads who traveled from Toronto, Canada, Taiwan and the Dominican Republic. It's the first time that the event has ever been held in the Palm Beaches.
The volunteers and athletes braved the South Florida heat to play the game they love. There were players as young as 18 and as old as 70. The oldest player, 70-year-old Roger Keeney, has been involved in Beep Ball since its inception in 1975.
"I don't run as fast as I used to and I get tired quicker but I still can do fairly well," he said. "I scored two runs this morning which put me at .500 batting average, so I can still make my way around the field."
All the players we spoke to mentioned the word "camaraderie" when describing the best part of Beep Baseball. Athens Timberwolves coach April McKaig also used that word to describe her feelings about the sport.
"I have never experienced the kind of camaraderie that happens with this sport. It's incredible for the people you meet ... you make you're own family here," she said.
John Still, one of McKaig's players, said joining the team has been a huge blessing for him.
"It's a feeling of camaraderie and great accomplishment being able to wear a team uniform and play an organized team sport. I never was able to do that. I've been visually impaired all my life and wanted to play little league like my brothers."
Player Tamara Hale-Atkinson said that playing on the team has allowed her to get to know so many wonderful people and get some exercise in the process.
"We all like to joke around, laugh and have fun with each other," she said, while pointing to her teammates.
Dontrey Hunt and his teammates on the St. Louis Firing Squad also echoed the feeling of camaraderie and family on their team.
"We all love each other. It's like one big happy family here."
Jared Fleet, a Palm Beach County Sports Commission representative, said members of the local community have been excited to host the event since they found out they would be hosting it for the first time.
"This event would not be possible without the incredible support of the local community," Fleet said. "We need about 40 volunteers every day to help out on each field."
He said kids from local schools, the boys and girls club and local Lyons club members have stepped up and worked all weekend to make this event happen.
The National Beep Baseball Association welcomes all public and private donations to help them continue to provide a venue for healthy competition, athleticism, a positive psycho-social experience and public awareness of the abilities of visually impaired people. Stephen Guerra, the NBBA secretary, explained that most of the donations go towards helping areas start teams.
"With the use of the equipment of the beeping baseball which is $35 and a set of bases which is $300 ... we try to make start up situations for teams more affordable so they don't have to take it out of their own pockets. Donations help us do that."
To get involved or donate, visit NBBA.ORG.