Summertime weather marks the heart of baseball seasons throughout the country. Our country’s national pastime has been adopted worldwide and provides an outlet for athletes across the globe.
One version of the game that you won’t see in national headlines is baseball for the blind, which has quietly been going on for more than 20 years in Italy.
The idea of baseball played by blind was originated by Alfredo Meli and developed with a group of former baseball players out of Bologna, Italy. It is the result of over two years’ worth of experiments on space, time, mode and equipment.
The game expanded quickly from Bologna to Rome, Florence, Milan and Brescia, and has continued to evolve. It has picked up players and coaches from across Europe, and despite several differences in how their games are played, has since partnered with the United States’ National Beep Ball Association.
Last year, the AIBXC, a non-profit organization, held a demonstration training session at Central Park in New York, attended by about 15 blind and visually impaired. Among the educators was Don Landolphi, who has been recognized as a member of the ABCA Hall of Fame. With over fifty five years of service to the game of baseball on both the national and international levels, Landolphi, a long-time coach and Professor of Physical Education and Exercise Science at Brooklyn College, has formed a close connection with baseball in Italy.
HOW IT’S PLAYED
Each team consists of five blind players, one sighted player and one sighted defensive assistant.
The sighted defensive player and the defensive assistant also serve as base coaches at second and third base when the team comes to bat.
The defensive field of play is the area of left field beyond the line between second and third base. First base is sound activated and second base is roughly 170 feet from home plate. The distance between second base and third base and the distance between third base and home plate is the traditional 90 feet.
The batter puts the ball in play by tossing it in the air and hitting it. In order for the batted ball to be ruled fair, it must go into the left field beyond the line between second and third base after having bounced at least one time. The ball cannot be hit into the outfield directly on a fly. The batter runs around first base and attempts to reach second base; he is safe if he arrives before the throw from a blind defensive player is caught by the sighted player positioned at second base. The batter is allowed three swings. If the batter does not put the ball in play on the final swing, it is a strikeout.
During the course of the batter runner’s path between first base and second base, the batter is assisted by one of the base coaches clapping wooden paddles. The runner on second base, also assisted by a coach with wooden paddles, advances to third base and home plate on successive batted balls. When running from third to home, the runner is not assisted by a coach with paddles. “In coaching the game, I found this to be a tough task for the runners,” Landolphi adds.
Runners can leave the base only after the umpire has called a batted ball ‘fair,’ which occurs at the moment the batted ball passes the line between second and third base. The runner on second is assisted by the base coach as he advances toward third base with the sound of wooden paddles.
Upon arrival at either second or third base, the runner must touch the base. He does not have to maintain contact.
A run is scored when the runner crosses the home plate line.
“In coaching players in both Italy and in the clinics in New York’s Central Park, I found that those individuals that became blind over time and had seen the game of baseball played were able to grasp some of the movements involved in playing the game more quickly than those that were blind from birth,” Landolphi noted. “Another observation was the need to teach the blind athlete how to run; many of the blind athletes never took part in running and had to develop confidence in doing so. Try running with a blindfold on- which I did- it can be a challenge.”
Despite its advancements, there are only a handful of teams that compete across Italy, who essentially compete for a trophy and, of course, “for love of the game.”
Many of its coaches and players are volunteers and despite the financial challenges of supporting this version of the game, the AIBXC- largely through donations- continues to press on.
“My hope is to arouse interest from baseball fans that perhaps will find the time to look further into how baseball for the blind is played, and how the love of the game can be shared with all,” said Landolphi.
More information on “Baseball for the Blind” and its rules can be found online via YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gG2ILONAoNo