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'Beep baseball' showcased in Manchester

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 26. 2018 8:18PM
Caleb Gaffny swings at a pitch Sunday during a “beep ball” game at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester. Gaffny was playing for the Knights, a team of visually impaired children and adults who relied on their sense of hearing to play the adapted version of baseball featuring beeps and tones that the players use to locate the ball. (DOUG ALDEN/NEW HAMPSHIRE UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — The Future in Sight Knights celebrated a special victory Sunday at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.

The final score mattered less than who was playing as the Knights, a team of visually impaired children and adults, took their cuts in a game of “beep baseball,” an adapted version of the game that allows players to use their sense of hearing to hit, run and play the field.

“They were just really excited to come on the field and show people that it doesn’t matter what kind of vision loss you have. You can come out and still play ball,” said Nancy Druke, vice president of program services for Future In Sight, a Concord-based nonprofit which partnered with the Fisher Cats to put on the game.

The Knights took on the “Fisher Cats” — members of the club’s front office and grounds crew — on a makeshift diamond set up in the left-field corner of the ballpark. In addition to bats, balls and bases, players also wear blindfolds.

“The blindfolds put everyone on an even playing field,” said Druke, who donned a black-and-white striped shirt and served as the umpire and official scorer.

The Knights were thrilled to be there and had plenty of support from dozens of friends and family members watching from the stands.

“I liked it a lot,” said 29-year-old Drew Crooks of Manchester. “I wish we had a team — like a more regular thing.”

The players had just one practice to learn the game. Although they can’t see through the blindfold, an audio sensor in the ball beeps on its way to the plate and batters hone in on the sound.

Two bases are upright, padded blue cylinders that look a little like a football tackling dummy placed on the foul lines to the right and left of the plate. The bases emit a buzz that guides the runners to where they’re going once the ball is in play. The object is to get to the base before the ball is fielded by the defensive players, who are also blindfolded and rely on the beeps coming from the ball in order to locate it.

There are also volunteers stationed throughout the diamond to help out the players.

Crooks, who said his vision is good enough for him to “be able to look at who’s talking to me,” was grateful for the chance to play. After getting in some cuts during a practice Saturday, Crooks was ready Sunday and belted one of the hardest hits of the game.

“I can’t see a ball at all — especially one that’s moving,” Crooks said.

The Knights featured adults and kids, who sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and chattered on the bench while waiting their next turn.

Noah DeWilde, 12, of Amherst, was pleased with himself after almost knocking over the base while running out a hit. He described the game as a little bit nerve-wracking and lots of fun.

“I think it’s sick! Wooo!” he said.

Teammate Ryan Menter of Berwick, Maine, said he lost his sight at 22 months because of a pediatric brain tumor. Menter, 14, said he learned in May that he’d be making his “beep ball” debut and had been excited ever since.

“It’s amazing. I love how a sport that a lot of blind people wouldn’t think was possible to do was adapted in such a way that it’s so similar to the regular game and we get so much enjoyment out of it when we get to play,” Menter said. “Just being able to play and knowing that you’re representing a lot of visiually impaired people who maybe at this point doin’t know about beep baseball. If they learn about it, maybe they’ll then have an interest and you could be the motivation that shows them the sport.”

After winning the exhibition 15-11, the Knights and their families stuck around to see the Fisher Cats play the Binghamton Rumble Ponies on Sunday afternoon.

Lisa and Brian Mathison were there to see their daughter, Megan, play for the Knights and were grateful to all of the organizers.

“It was awesome watching the kids get out there and be able to run around the bases and hit the ball,” Brian Mathison said.

“She had a good time.”

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