I confess that I was surprised the first time I read about blind people playing baseball. Not because I considered them incapable of carrying out normal daily tasks, as in fact they demonstrate the opposite: they read, write, study, and go to university. But because baseball is a very complex sport requiring skills acquired from childhood.
Yet I learned that the blind have been playing baseball for about 40 years, with the first World Series held in the city of Saint Paul, Minnesota, in the United States, September 10-12, 1976.
This was in large part possible thanks to the invention of a U.S. engineer at Mountain Bell Telephone company, Charley Fairbanks, who placed a telephone module inside a ball, which beeped to allow players to locate it.
The game began to be played in Cuba in 2000, thanks to two Italian coaches, Alfredo Mellit (former league player in his country) and Patricia Bombardieri, who offered training at the José Antonio Echeverría Social Circle in Havana. Today the island has three main blind baseball teams, located in Havana, Villa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba.
A Cuban team recently participated in an international Baseball for the Blind tournament in France, along with teams from Italy and Germany. Cuba won the competition, with Maykel Mediño Ruiz, from Santiago de Cuba, winning the title of most outstanding player.
HOW IS IT PLAYED?
Many are likely wondering how the game is played. Actually, it’s a version of the sport we all know. The U.S.-based National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA) determined the following rules:
The game is played on a traditional baseball field. Only the bases of the extreme right and left ends are used, that is, first and third. The ball, and also the bases, emit controlled high-pitched sounds to indicate their location, allowing players to know where to bat and field the ball. Assistants guide the runners toward the beeping bases.
Each team is made up of six blind or visually impaired players (who use special blindfolds in order to be equal) and four sighted players - a pitcher, receiver, and two assistants. The pitcher belongs to the same team as the batter, as what is sought is to put the ball in play, rather than deceive the batter.
A strikeout takes place with four strikes and the pitcher announces to the batter to which zone he will throw. It is not necessary to throw to the bases to get an out. If the runner reaches the base before an opponent picks the ball up from the ground, he can go on to score a run, otherwise he is out.
Despite not being an international organization, the NBBA has collaborated in organizing teams in Canada, Chinese Taipei, France, Italy, and the Dominican Republic. This sport, known as Beep Baseball, is part of educational activities in camps for the blind and workshops for coaches in Colombia, Costa Rica, South Korea, Japan, Mexico, Panama, and other countries. The NBBA’s greatest aspiration is that Beep Baseball be included in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
According to specialists and players, this sport helps develop the hearing, orientation, and coordination of the blind and visually impaired. It is also yet another display of the infinite force of human will to overcome adversity.