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Playing baseball by listening

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POSTED July 29, 2009 12:59 a.m.

They came from different parts of the world, nearly 250 athletes from 14 teams making their way to San Joaquin County this week to play in the 2009 National Beep Baseball Association World Series.


In this case, these competitors are blind or visually impaired.


On Monday, the teams participating in the NBBA World Series were introduced by Jan Traphagan of the Chicago Comets during the opening ceremony held in the Stockton Hilton.


The players wore their team jerseys, making for a colorful display consisting of pride and camaraderie.


Traphagan encouraged each team to belt out their signature cheer during the introductions, with the West Coast Dawgs, last year’s World Series winners, waving their team banners.


Among this year’s teams are the three from Texas (Tyler Tigers, Austin Blackhawks, Bayou City / Houston Heat), two from Kansas (Wichita All-Stars, Kansas All-Stars), and one each from Colorado (Storm), Indiana (Indy Thunder),  Illinois (Comets), North Carolina (Carolina Pride), and Massachusetts (Boston Renegades).


The Taiwan Homerun came the furthest, traveling across the Pacific Ocean to be here – later, they surprised Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston by presenting her with a team cap – while the Stockton Stingrays had the luxury of staying home.


Beep baseball relies on sounds rather than sight. Each team is made up of a minimum of six blind or visually impaired players and two to four sighted players (a pitcher, catcher and perhaps one or two defensive spotters).


In order to even the field – some in the NBBA are partially sighted – each player must wear a blindfold while batting or fielding.


On defense, the blind athlete will go all out to stop the sound of the beeping ball while the player on offense will run full speed towards the sound of a buzzing base in order to score a run.


Unlike a regulation baseball, beep baseball consists of only two bases – first and third – placed 100 feet down their respective lines and 10 feet off the foul line. This was set up to prevent a runner from colliding with a defensive fielder.


“The greatest feeling in the world is hitting the ball,” said Eric Scholz of the Stingrays.


The Escalon native has been playing beep baseball for seven years and is one of the original eight members of the Stockton team.


He relies on his sighted pitcher to yell out “ready” before the release of the 16 ounce ball. Scholz attempts to make contact after his pitcher says “pitch” or “ball.”


The ball must travel over 40 feet in order to be considered fair, and 180 feet in the air can count as a home run.


A regulation beep baseball game goes six innings and three outs per frame.


NBBA World Series games will be played throughout the week at the brand new Stockton soccer complex at Morada Lane just west of Highway 99.


The California Golden Bear Chapter of the AT&T Pioneers is one of the organizations volunteering at this year’s event, with championship game taking place on Saturday.


Games will be broadcast via the internet courtesy of Valley Sports Network at www.valleysportsnetword.com/live.


For more information, log on to www.communitycenterfortheblind.org/index.php.


To reach reporter Vince Rembulat, e-mail vrembulat@mantecabulletin.com

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