For blind play­ers, base­ball has a spe­cial buzz

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - GREGORY STRONG

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.”

CHRIS YOUNG, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Toronto Blind Jays’ Mark DeMon­tis gets in some bat­ting prac­tice.

CHRIS YOUNG, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Toronto Blind Jays gen­eral man­ager, coach and pitcher Arthur Pres­sick calls out as he throws the ball to a bat­ter dur­ing prac­tice.

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