Teams of visually-impaired men and women, some completely blind, showed Saturday that a scoreboard doesn’t matter when it comes to their sport.
All that mattered was taking the field and challenging themselves to do something some may think impossible: playing softball.
For the first time, the Georgia Games introduced beep baseball (blind softball) into its pool of competition. The event was held at the North Hall Community Center.
Unlike regular softball, the ball used during play beeps out loud at a rhythmic pace, so if it is hit into the field, the players will be able to locate it. It also helps the batter know when a pitch is coming.
When at bat, a player has four swings to hit the ball in play; and if it is a fair ball, the scorekeeper sets off a buzzer to one of two bases located down the field lines. If the hitter gets to the base before a fielder possesses the ball, that player scores a point for his or her team. If possession of the ball is gained before a hitter reaches base, it’s an out and the next batter comes up.
The Georgia Games is an Olympic-style sports festival for all ages and skill levels.
“It’s pretty exciting for me,” event coordinator Jennifer Nelson said about being able to coordinate the first beep baseball game. “I did volunteer (work) for the Special Olympics, and the fact that we can incorporate another disabled sport (for the Georgia Games) is great. It’s great that we are able to try something new.”
Nelson said the community center was donated for Saturday’s event. She said a co-worker who lives in Gainesville contacted the community center about holding Saturday’s event.
After a few phone conversations and a tour of the center, they were given the green light to have the event.
“It worked out. The North Hall Community Center has been very cooperative. They’ve been great,” she said. “Everything is donated, which is great because it helps us out a lot.”
Beep baseball became a main focal point mainly because of Kim and Roger Keeney, Nelson said.
Roger Keeney, blind since 1990 due to a machinery accident, participated in Saturday’s game. He is the director of the Athens Inclusive Recreation & Sports, a company that provides sports and recreational activities to people who have physical or mental disabilities.
Roger says that one thing beep baseball teaches is the difference between sense and skill.
“One of the oldest stereotypical beliefs there is, is that when you lose your sight your hearing gets better. It doesn’t,” he said. “By the time you’re 20, you’ve got all you’re ever going to have. Our hearing doesn’t get better, but hearing is a sense. Listening is a skill, and we can learn to listen better.
“This game does help that. When we’re up to bat, we don’t even hear the beep of the ball. What we hear is the pitcher and his cadence. When we’re in the outfield, we screen everything but the beep out, so that we’re listening to just the ball, so we can judge the trajectory and throw our bodies in front of it.”
Adrene Tamplin, a player for the Columbus Midnight Stars, was blinded four years ago by an inflammation. He said he had always been active in sports before his blindness, and when he tried beep baseball, he fell in love with it. He said the game is about showing others that even though someone may be visually impaired, they can still compete.
“(Beep baseball) needs to let people know that the visually impaired, totally blind, no vision, whatever it is, we can do it (compete) the same, and we got the motivation and the ambition to do it,” he said.
On listening for the softball or the base buzzer to go off, Tamplin said his hearing is, “real good ... Because the only thing you can do is pay attention. When that ball beeps, you just key in on it. When that base buzzes, go straight to it. If you go past it (the base), you come back for it. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes you get it going, and sometimes you just can’t slow down.”
Greg McDuffie, coach of the Midnight Stars, has been partially blind since birth. He said Saturday’s game was exciting for him, and he was glad to bring more exposure to beep baseball through the Georgia Games.
“The only people that can stop us is ourselves,” he said about competing with a visual impairment. “When people say ‘I lost my vision’, and I see them, I say it’s up to that individual to step up and challenge themselves. Always give yourself a level playing field. Don’t ever short-change yourself. If you short-change yourself, then you might as well stay home like you’ve been doing and call it a day.
“Always give yourself an advantage so you can compete because today time’s are really tough. If you take a step, (people) will take three steps with you.”
McDuffie also said that beep baseball is a growing sport, and different countries have teams, and they will field those teams at the World Series of beep baseball in Columbus next month.
For more information on the Georgia Games and their different sports, visit www.georgiagames.org. For more information about AIRS, visit www.airs-ga.org.