For blind players, baseball has a special buzz
TORONTO — With the crack of the bat, an umpire’s call and the hustle and bustle on the basepaths, baseball boasts a soundtrack all its own.
At a Toronto Blind Jays practice, the collection of sounds also includes a beeping ball and buzzing bases.
In preparation to represent Canada at the upcoming NBBA Beep Baseball World Series in Florida, the Jays went to work at Maryvale Park in Toronto’s east end earlier this week. Most of the squad is made up of players who are completely blind or have less than 10 per cent vision.
“We’re all just passionate about the sport,” said Canadian general manager Arthur Pressick. “A lot of these people never even tried baseball until beep baseball and they just love it. To be able to hit a ball and crank it out into the field, it’s a fantastic thing.”
Beep baseball is similar to the traditional pastime in some ways. The goal is to hit the ball and score runs, but the setup is quite different.
Eye shades are worn to negate any potential vision advantage. Players use their hearing to track the ball, which starts beeping once its pin is pulled as play begins.
Players also rely on audio to determine the location of the bases, represented by two padded four-foot cylinders on opposite sides of the field that start to buzz when a ball is in play.
The pitcher, catcher and spotters are sighted and work with batters — they’re all on the same team — to co-ordinate pitch timing and help guide players in the outfield.
If a ball is hit into fair territory, the race is on as the batter tries to reach base before the fielder locates and picks up the ball. A spotter calls out a number — for example, a two for a shallow ball or a three if it’s deep — to give the fielder an idea of where the beeping ball might be.
“Sometimes it’s really scary because the ball is not always on the ground,” said Cassie Orgeles of Fort Erie. “It could be going over your shoulder.”
If the batter reaches base before the ball is secured, a run is scored. If the fielder gets to the ball first, it’s an out.
Pressick, a videographer from Meaford, became interested in the sport after shooting documentaries on beep baseball. He helped put a Canadian squad together for the 2015 tournament in Rochester, N.Y. From that team, a core group of players got together last fall and the 2017 Blind Jays’ roster, which is coed, was filled out in the spring.
Beep baseball bases are in foul territory to avoid player collisions, and the ball must clear a line behind the pitcher to be deemed in play. In addition, there are four strikes instead of three, a game lasts six innings, and fielders use their hands instead of baseball gloves.
Even though the Canadian team is in its infancy, camaraderie was evident on a sunny afternoon in the city’s east end. A 90-minute practice was the second session for the full squad and the first with new blue and white Toronto uniforms and red Canada hats — a welcome donation from Baseball Canada.
The players already have their celebratory handshake routines down pat. There was even some good-natured chirping among the teammates. “Keep your eye on the ball, Wayner!” one outfielder shouted in the direction of home plate to chuckles all around.
Effective communication is critical. And when the team has great spirit and energy, it’s a nice bonus.
“It’s a stronger bond, I think, with this group than traditional baseball,” Pressick said. “They’ve all gone through stuff in life that have brought them together to this point, so right there, they have a lot of things in common just off the beginning.”
Toronto Blind Jays’ Mark DeMontis gets in some batting practice.
Toronto Blind Jays general manager, coach and pitcher Arthur Pressick calls out as he throws the ball to a batter during practice.