In 1975, a team of blind baseball players in Saint Paul competed against a team from Arizona in the first World Series. Our Minnesota team was called The Saint Paul Gorillas, and they won the game 15–10. Rules of the game changed from year to year, but the game had beeping “kitten balls” and buzzing bases, as it does today. In the late 1970s and ’80s, the Twin Cities became a hotbed for the sport, with young Saint Paul jocks Tom Heinl, Chuck Huttle (both St. Agnes grads), Dennis Huberty, and Kevin Moldenhauer playing and competing at high levels—much like the sixteen to eighteen teams we have today in the United States.
But the game became too competitive in Saint Paul, with teams fighting over top players. The game fell on hard times and was not resurrected here until 2003, when the Saint Paul Midway Lions formed a team with Heinl and Moldenhauer as its nucleus. Many of the new players had physical and nervous system problems related to blindness, such as diabetes, pancreatic failure, and birth defects. One girl, age twenty-four, died after that first year after an unsuccessful pancreas transplant. Teammates mourned her death.
The team continued, however, its common threads a desire for fun comrades, exercise, laughter, and competition. The Midway Fighting Lions have played six seasons, and last year they had eighteen players on the roster. Our brand of beep ball is recreational, because it is played equally by men and women, and half the players are over fifty years old. Practices and games are played on Saturdays at Aldine Park in Saint Paul on Iglehart Avenue.
How can the blind play baseball? The beeping ball is pitched by a sighted coach, who pitches and calls out a four-count pitching motion and release. The pitcher aims at the spot where the batter always swings. The batter swings on the last count, and when the ball has been fairly hit, the batter runs outside of the first or third baseline to a buzzing four-foot rubber base 100 feet away. Meanwhile, six fielders (all wearing blindfolds) listen to a sighted spotter on the field for a number designating the direction of the ball. They then dive in front of the ball, knock it down, and pick it up. If they do this before the runner reaches the base, it is an out. If not, it is a run for the hitting team.
Here are some comments by two of our veteran players:
Beep ball is a fun way to get back in shape, exercise, and have fun. It is a healthy way to mix up the day. The nice thing about beep ball is it is a time for enjoyment and camaraderie among participants. All of us start someplace, and the only way any of us will know what we can or cannot do is to try.
—Clarence Schadegg, 55
One of the reasons I like beep ball is that I like to run, and there are very few areas where a totally blind person can run with total abandon. Speed and tactics are important in competition. I can certainly understand why people my age might be afraid to free fall, or even to run in some instances, but . . . we senior citizens need our exercise, too; we can all enjoy the wonderful game of beep ball together.
—Marilyn Highland, 70
The Fighting Lions team has many younger players just learning the sport, and, hopefully, some of them will play in the World Series in Rochester, Minnesota, in August 2010. In 2008, the Minnesota Twins sponsored a special night, when several players from the best fifteen teams in the country put on an exhibition. For more information on beep ball, see HYPERLINK “http://www.nbba.org” www.nbba.org.