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Chin Music - The National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA)

When baseball aficionados talk about dominating pitchers, they often mention the names of Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Roger Clemens, and Sam McDowell. All of these Demons op the Diamond specialized in controlling the hitter’s strike zone.

Don Drysdale
Don Drysdale
Bob Gibson
Bob Gibson
Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens
SamMcDowell
Sudden Sam McDowell

Whether surgically working the outside corners of home plate or changing speeds to keep hitters off balance, the flame throwers of the game know that nothing establishes dominance of the strike zone faster or more emphatically than the brush-back…the high-inside hummer. chin music.

On Sunday, June 13, 2010, baseball in New Jersey saw a different kind of chin music. Not the kind that intimidates hitters, rather a new genre that aims to empower them. That’s the date that The New Jersey Lightning hosted an inaugural doubleheader in Matawan, New Jersey between two special teams of players, playing a special brand of baseball.

First Organized Baseball Game Hoboken’s Elysian Fields: June 19, 1846
First Organized Baseball Game
Hoboken’s Elysian Fields: June 19, 1846

The National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA) empowers players in ways that revolutionize the sport as much as Alexander Cartwright’s original codified set of rules did 164 years earlier on an equally special day in Hoboken.

In Beep Baseball the classic confrontation between pitcher and batter instead becomes a unique collaboration. In Beep Baseball the pitcher and catcher play on the same team as the batter, and the pitcher throws the ball so the batter can hit it. He has to, because all the hitters on the offense wear blindfolds. Instead of controlling the strike zone in opposition to the batter, Beep Baseball pitchers try to control contact with the ball where the hitter is swinging the bat.

Beep Baseball - Empowering the Vision Impaired
Empowering the Vision Impaired

The softball-sized ball has a small speaker inside it that makes a constant beeping sound. The sound aids batters in trying to make contact with the pitched ball, and helps fielders in trying to locate it when the batter hits it fair. The kinesis of all this shifts the emphasis from eye-hand coordination in traditional baseball to ear-hand coordination in Beep Baseball.

Introduce yourself to baseball for the vision impaired. National Beep Baseball rearranges the rules and structure of baseball in ways that Alexander Cartwright would not recognize, but in ways that njb believes he would approve. For example, besides having the pitcher and catcher playing on offense, batters get four strikes not just three, and they only have to run to 1st base or 3rd base in order to score a run.

Making Contact Beep Baseball Style
Making Contact
Beep Baseball Style

The defense has only six players on the field, each of them responsible for fielding batted balls in a prescribed area, assisted by sighted ‘spotters’ who call out the direction in which a batted ball is hit. To be fair a batted ball must travel a minimum of forty feet, past a chalk line arc that extends from the 1st base line to the 3rd base line, which is drawn behind the pitcher’s mound. Also sighted are the pitcher and the catcher, who help their hitters by positioning them properly at the plate and announcing when a pitch is being delivered.

Once a batted ball travels the required distance, the defense must field the ball by possessing it before the batter touches 1st or 3 rd base. Players with the greatest range of vision – blindfolds are worn only on offense – take infield positions along the 40-foot arc because most hits in Beep Baseball are ground balls.

Enjoying the Game

When a ball is hit fair, players on defense react to the beeping sound of the ball and receive guidance from their sighted spotters. While they try to locate and possess the ball, the batter, still wearing a blindfold, runs toward a buzzing sound emitted by the base. A base consists of a two-foot square, padded, nerf block from which a four-foot high, padded nerf cylinder stands, rising from the center of the square block. If the batter touches the base before a defensive player possesses the batted ball, the batter scores a run for the offense.

A Level Playing Field
A Level Playing Field

You might reasonably ask, why would vision impaired players have to wear blindfolds? The answer lies in the fact that most players have different ranges of vision. Wearing the blindfolds ensures that partially sighted players do not have an unfair advantage over those with minimal vision or none at all.

New Jersey Lightning players Sherlock Washington and Ohmny Romero have played Beep Baseball for several years, on teams as far away as Chicago and Los Angeles. Both have dedicated themselves to the sport and serve as ambassadors for the game. Two of the best players on the national Beep Baseball scene, both have been recruited to play for different teams around the country, and both have played in the National Beep Baseball World Series held annually in Rochester, Minnesota.

Retinitis Pigmentosa: Progressive Vision ReductionRetinitis Pigmentosa:
Progressive Vision Reduction

Sherlock and Ohmny, as do many of the players in Beep Baseball, suffer from retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a progressive condition, usually inherited, that diminishes one’s sight starting in childhood or later. RP generally results, over time, in gradual reduction in one’s field of vision, either peripheral or central, often culminating in total blindness in later years.

In addition to having impressive playing histories in Beep Baseball, both Sherlock and Ohmny share uncommon resilience and perseverance in life. Whereas Sherlock inherited the condition that limited his vision from childhood, Ohmny acquired RP through a freak accident. Even as a youth, Sherlock “had enough vision as a child to play basketball, ride a bicycle, and play football.” His vision diminished over time to the point now that he can only distinguish different shadings or intensities of light.

Dave Concepcion of the Cincinnati Reds’ Big Red Machine
Dave Concepcion
of the Cincinnati Reds’ Big Red Machine

Ohmny, on the other hand, did not have RP from birth, and, he pitched in traditional baseball in high school and college. In fact, he has the distinction of having played at both those levels with Dave Concepion, star shortstop with the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970s. Ohmny was well on his way to a professional career when fate dealt him a crushing setback. During a media interview at a practice game, a batted ball struck him in the back of the head. The force of the impact detached his retinas, leaving him with traumatically induced RP.

The lives of both these courageous men speak volumes about extracting opportunity and constructing meaning from adversity. Sherlock Washington advanced beyond his congenital vision impairment to major in Computer Science at Rider University, participate in a variety of sports while there, and then, following graduation in 1988, develop and manage his own home based business in adaptive technologies. Likewise, Ohmny Romero rose above his life changing injury to return to college at the University of Delaware, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering.

Angelo’s Pizza in MatawanAngelo’s Pizza in Matawan

The formation of Beep Baseball teams and leagues nationally reflect a visionary outlook that belies the physical vision limitations of their players. One such visionary is John Sanfratello, owner of Angelo’s Pizza in Matawan, New Jersey. Sherlock met John through the food deliveries that he ordered. When Sherlock told John that his Beep Baseball team needed access to a local field for their practice games, John volunteered to help.

Although he admits to having a great appreciation for baseball, John has never coached a team or had to raise funds to equip and manage one. After working with Sherlock, however, he not only obtained a practice field, he soon became coach of the newly formed New Jersey Lightning, coordinated the acquisition of uniforms and equipment, and helped organize the first ever Beep Baseball game sanctioned by the NBBA in the Garden State.

Of John’s new-found passion for Beep Baseball and devotion to his highly motivated and dedicated players, Sherlock Washington says, “We are blessed to have a gentleman like this; he’s embraced this whole idea, made it come to life.” High praise from one of the premier performers in the game today.

The future of Beep Baseball in New Jersey and around the country looks as bright as the Matawan sunshine on June 13, 2010. New Jersey Baseball Magazine and New Jersey Baseball Online wish John Sanfratello, Sherlock Washington, Ohmny Romero, the NJ Lightning team, and all their supporters the best of luck as they continue to move ahead with their vision for this exciting, new brand of baseball in the land where baseball was born.

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