Blind baseball World Series coming to St. Charles

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Close your eyes and imagine standing in the outfield of a big baseball game. You can’t see the ball but after the pitcher winds up, you hear the crack of the bat.

Your first step is backwards as you get your first view of the ball, flying further and further away as the ball rapidly approaches the grassy surface. The only thing you can do is reach out your glove as you run at full throttle, then you hear the sudden puff of the ball hitting your glove.

Now imagine doing all of that, but blindfolded. Welcome to Beep Baseball.

Garnering recent attention through social media, the word of Beep Baseball has spread across the country. Advertising itself as a blind accessible sport, Beep Baseball puts all players on an even playing field, as almost everyone on the field, including the hitter, wears a blindfold.

The 2024 Beep Baseball World Series will take place in St. Charles, MO, starting July 21, with multi-gold medal olympian Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee throwing the ceremonial first pitch.

Here’s the rundown of the rules; a sighted catcher and blindfolded hitter await the slow pitch from the sighted pitcher. The pitcher yells “ready” to signify to the blindfolded fielders and hitters that the ball is about to be live. The ball makes a constant beeping noise, hence the name, and as the ball is thrown, the pitcher yells “pitch” to alert the hitter the pitch is on its way. 

Gateway Archer Richie Krussel making contact with a pitch. Photo by Mike Curtis

The hitter is only given a few split seconds to make contact with the ball, and if it’s put into play, then the chaos begins. The goal for the blindfolded fielders is simple: retrieve the beeping ball. For the hitter, they must blindly sprint towards either first or third, which are designated by a dummy making a constant buzzing noise, and touch it before the defense can field the ball.

If the hitter is able to successfully reach the base before the ball can be picked up, that team scores a run and the next hitter comes up to the plate. The hitter can’t decide whether they run to first or third, instead one is randomly selected and starts buzzing, so they must listen closely to which base to run to.

In the national circuit of Beep Baseball, you must be visually impaired or legally blind in order to field or hit. Each team is allowed three sighted players and at least six visually impaired players.

Many of the players in the National Beep Baseball Association also compete in other professional blind sport circuits, including Ricky Castaneda of St. Louis’s own Gateway Archers.

Castaneda will represent the nation as an outfielder for the USA Blind Soccer Men’s National Team. As well, Zach Buhler of the Indy Thunder competed in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games in Goalball.

The city of St. Louis is no stranger to the phenomenon of Beep Baseball, as the Gateway Archers won their first Beep Baseball tournament championship at the Viva Las Beepball tournament in March. Taking place in Las Vegas, the Archers faced off against five other National Beep Baseball Association organizations, including teams from Austin, Philadelphia and Indianapolis.

Gateway Archer Kyle Borah scavenging for live beep baseball. Photo by Mike Curtis

The St. Louis based nonprofit MindsEye Radio runs the team. Founded in 1973, MindsEye started as a radio reading service for the blind or visually impaired in the St. Louis area. 

The nonprofit would have volunteers read newspapers, magazines and other content and broadcast through specialized radios given out to those with a visual impairment. Now, with modern technology and the internet, MindsEye is able to get readings out through multiple avenues.

MindsEye Radio brought the game of Beep Baseball to the Webster campus in 2017 during Disability Awareness Month. Webster’s Academic Resource Center invited MindsEye to help raise awareness as students were taught the basics and played on the quad with the nonprofit’s ambassadors.

Mike Curtis, Director of Special Initiatives for MindsEye Radio, helps oversee the Gateway Archers. Curtis, a former coach for the Archers and current pitcher for the team, joined MindsEye eight years ago with a background in music. In 2018, MindsEye fielded a team of players in a once-a-year Beep Baseball fundraiser to help supplement the broadcast side of the nonprofit.

St. Louis had a professional Beep Baseball team named the St. Louis Firing Squad, but the team stopped playing nationally and eventually dissolved in 2020. Following this, members of the Firing Squad reached out to MindsEye about starting a new team, leading to the creation of the Gateway Archers. 

 

Gateway Archer Kyle Borah getting ready to step up to the plate. Photo by Mike Curtis

Mike Curtis took charge of the program on its inception until volunteer coach Orlando Gonzalez took over head coaching duties in 2022. Gonzalez has been involved in MindsEye and Beep Baseball for over a decade, including umpiring recreational Beep Baseball tournaments and translating events to Spanish for non-native English speakers for MindsEye Radio.

 

Curtis describes his time as the head coach as overwhelming yet rewarding. “It’s not a thing I thought I would be good at, but I think I have a knack for it,” Curtis said. “It’s kind of cool seeing other people and seeing yourself evolve over time, not knowing some things you’re capable of, like leading a team of visually impaired Beep Baseball athletes.”

Despite the Archers raising the Viva Las Beepball tournament trophy in March, the team has had their struggles since their inaugural season in 2020, as they lost 13 straight games before managing to win their first professional game. Fast forward to present-day, and the Archers are a force to be reckoned with as the team heads towards the Beep Baseball World Series in July, taking place close to home in St. Charles, MO, in 2024 and 2025.

When asked about what it means to the Archers to represent St. Louis in the Beep Baseball World Series, Curtis considers it an honor. “St. Louis is a baseball town with the Cardinals and it always has been,” Curtis said. “To win a championship in our hometown is something we have high ambitions to do, so hopefully we can do that this year and next year, but at least one of those years is the ultimate goal.”

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