Follow the Beep: Modified game helps team play it by ear

Published on Thursday, 17 July 2014 19:17 - Written by Faith Harper fharper@tylerpaper.com

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Ron Jordan steps up to home plate at practice, stretches his arms out, and leans left and right as he waits for the ball.

The catcher yells “Ready,” then the pitcher calls “set” and “ball” as it sails through the air toward Jordan.

A loud “thwack” and the ball is in the outfield, and Jordan books it to the base. The castoff bat breaks with the impact, but Jordan makes it safely.

The game of baseball is a tough sport, but Jordan and his Tyler Tigers teammates play with a slight disadvantage — they are all visually impaired.

The Tigers play beep baseball, a modified version of the traditional game.

The team is bound for the Beep Baseball World Series in Rochester, Minnesota, from Aug. 2 through Aug. 10. The team is ranked No. 11 in the league. About 20 teams registered for the series, and each will play three games each day leading up to the championship game. The Tigers practice three times a week to prepare for the competition.

Jordan, 28, of Athens, has been playing the game for two years. He said a friend talked him into coming to a game and he instantly fell in love.

Baseball is a big activity for the father of three. He taught his oldest son, 6, how to play, and he joked the game is constantly going on, even inside the house.

Jordan, who was born visually impaired, is physically active and loves to compete, but there is another reason he plays.

“I have a daughter that is totally blind,” he said. “When she gets old enough, I want her to know there is nothing we can’t do. I see it as making a stand for all disabled people.”

The game’s ball is slightly larger than a softball with a beeping device inside. It’s also softer with padding to insulate the beeper when it’s hit.

The bases also beep, and the game uses first and third base. After the ball goes into the air, the batter has to listen to which padded base is beeping and run toward it. The base resembles a football tackling dummy. Sometimes they run to first base, other times to third.

The defense has to find the beeping ball before the batter makes it to a base. A spotter in the outfield can only say a number to signify the rough direction of the ball, and the players hold it up high in the air to get the out.

Every player is required to wear a blindfold to level out the visual abilities of all players. If the blindfold is removed for any reason, the team is disqualified. The only two players who are not visually impaired are the pitcher and the catcher.

“If you like a challenge, it’s pretty hard,” Jordan said. “It’s sitting down listening to the ball and not being afraid of it. I think everyone gets turned off because you can’t see, and if you’re not visually impaired or blind, that’s a big step, but if my son can do it then anyone can do it.”

Larry Reed, 43, of Tyler, founded the team 20 years ago.

“I couldn’t play competitive sports like all my friends, so when they came out with beep ball, I tried it out,” he said. “I fell in love with it. It was hard, and we have a lot of bumps and bruises along the way, but with determination and the love of the sport, I stayed with it.”

Reed said the game has boosted players’ self-esteem and helped them realize being blind doesn’t make them worthless.

“The world is going to keep spinning whether you’re out, under or sitting on top of it — it’s going to keep going around …” he said. This is “teaching the young kids to never say never. Nothing is impossible. Set your goals high, and strive to reach them.”

Reed’s wife Rosie, 46, also is active on the team. Mrs. Reed said she grew up in a home with three brothers who were athletic, but there were few sports she could play.

Her competitive streak is fierce.

“I love the thrill of being able to put a man out,” she said. “When you see these big 250-pound men get up to bat, and I’m half the size of them and I’m able to get that ball and get them out — it gives me a high.”

Mrs. Reed said visual impairments have never slowed her down. She and her husband go on vacations, cook out with friends and live fulfilling lives when not playing on the team.

“You never know what life has in store for you,” she said. “One day, you might wake up and might not be able to see. We are here to say, ‘Life does go on, and you don’t have to sit at home and become a hermit.’”

The team relies on donations and sponsorships to continue playing. Donations fund uniforms, bats, travel costs to games and the specialized beeping balls, which cost $41 each.

The team typically kills a beeping ball each practice, and estimates they spend about $1,000 each season just on balls.

The team will be at a fundraising event Saturday at Rocket Fizz Candy and Soda Shop, 4129 S. Broadway Ave. from 6 to 8 p.m. The evening includes a meet and greet with the players, autograph session and live music. Proceeds from sales benefit the team’s upcoming trip to the World Series.

Donations also can be mailed to the Tyler Tigers Beep Baseball team, P.O. Box 132496, Tyler, Texas, 75713; and more information on sponsorships and fundraising events can be directed to catcher Cassie Nipp, casnipp@yahoo.com.