Blindfolded, Indians Players' Eye-Opening Experience

By Indianapolis Indians | June 26, 2016 4:35 PM ET

Indianapolis Indians first baseman Josh Bell steps up to the plate, giving it two short ritualistic taps. Digging in his feet, Bell tightens his grip on the bat. He swings and misses at a pitch and, oddly, one of the International League's best hitters does so repeatedly on several consecutive pitches.

Several futile hacks later, contact is made and Bell takes off running toward third base. Third base?

Clearly this is no ordinary baseball game. It is, though, a very special one. And humbling.

On this hot, sunny Saturday afternoon, Bell and several of his pro baseball teammates are on the north side of Indianapolis playing a version of the game completely foreign to them and has them reduced to neophytes of the game.

What was the difference? They played the game blindfolded.

On this day at Park Tudor School the Indians got their first taste of beep baseball in a practice game with the Indy Thunder.

Beep baseball is an adaptive version of America's favorite pastime for the blind, low-vision and legally blind.

Reliant solely on the sense of sound, players are challenged to listen for the beep of the ball. Unlike conventional baseball, the batter and non-visually impaired pitcher are teammates, and it's his objective to help guide the batter to hit the ball. On contact, one of two large padded pylons which represent first base and third base begins to beep. It is unknown which base will beep and the batter must run to the sound as quickly as possible while still completely blind. Defensively, a ball in play continues to beep, and fielders, too, must also rely on their hearing to locate the moving ball. A frantic race ensues - batter running blindly toward the sound of the base and the fielder honing in on the beeping ball. Reaching the base first is a run, but if the fielder corrals the ball first means the batter is out. (Click here for a video feature about the sport.)

The Indy Thunder has been mastering the game since 2000, and General Manager and Coach Darnell Booker says this year's team, which consists of a mix of youth and adult players, is his best team in a decade.

After winning a regional tournament in June, the Thunder recently won a prestigious beep baseball tournament in Chicago for the first time in team history. Now they have their sights set on the National Beep Baseball Association 2016 World Series, July 24-31 in Ames, Iowa.

"So we are doing really well as far as regular season is concerned," says Booker, "but now we have bigger fish to fry."

In an effort to raise awareness about the sport and to encourage fans to support the Thunder's fundraising efforts to travel to Iowa, Bell was joined by pitchers Frank Duncan and Jhondaniel Medina, catcher Tomas Morales, shortstop Gift Ngoepe and members of the Indians front office.

All beep baseball rookies on this day gained a new respect and appreciation for the Indy Thunder, the sport they play, and more importantly the unique daily challenges faced by the blind, low-vision and legally blind.

"I feel like baseball is a hard sport as it is, and then you take the vision aspect out of it, it makes it that much tougher," Bell said. "Being on defense was probably the toughest for me because you are just standing out there and don't have your bearings set very well."

"I think they [the Indians] got a good experience of listening instead of seeing," Booker said. "We always have a good partnership with the Indians and we hope it continues."

The Indians continue their six-game home stand through June 29 and return to their normal game, but will always remember their experience with the Indy Thunder and the electrifying game of beep baseball.

"The easiest part was sharing a smile with my teammates, sharing a smile with all of the guys out here, I mean it's hard not to smile when you see guys playing it for the first time, and run around in circles," Bell said. "It was a really fun time."

Click here to learn more about the Indy Thunder, including how Indians fans can assist in the Thunder's fundraising efforts to compete in this year's NBBA World Series.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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