by Kallie McConkie
Visually-impaired people have been playing beep baseball since 1964. The sport was introduced by a man named Charlie Fairbanks, who was looking to create an activity his visually-impaired daughter could participate in with the other children.
The sport caught on quickly, and the first World Series of Beep Baseball was held in 1975. Sixteen teams are currently in the United States and two play in Taiwan. Men and women (teenagers and older) participate in the sport.
The sport is played on an open field, rather than on a traditional baseball diamond. Sighted pitchers throw 20 feet from home plate and only first and third bases, which buzz and are on padded cylinders, line 100 feet from home plate. The players play with six defenders and one or two spotters on the field.
The current ball used for beep ball is a 16-inch softball. The softballs do not tend to last very long and often the electronic pieces inside fall out during play after they have been used numerous times. Balls are often hit in the wrong spot, due to the way they are constructed.
Tim Dennany, maintenance mechanic II; Tom Harrington, pipefitter II; Mike Ouderkirk, maintenance mechanic II; and Todd Wilson, construction planner/inspector/analyst I, are contributing to this continuously-growing sport and technology. The team from the Physical Plant is working to develop new technology to improve the beeping ball.
"The ultimate goal of this project is to make the ball more durable," said Wilson.
The team from the MSU Physical Plant first made a mold out of wood to practice and then moved on to an aluminum mold. They have been making the molds using the Computer Numerical Control Mill, which takes five one-thousandths of an inch off the mold with each circle it makes. Although this is something these men normally don't work on, they are enjoying the change of pace.
"I think it's a blast," Wilson said. "It is really fun to have a challenge."
Once the mold was complete, it was sent to Stephen Blosser at the MSU Resource Center of Persons With Disabilities. Blosser took the mold to a company that inserted the electronic parts, ensuring that a new, more durable and technologically sound beeping ball could be used in the National Beep Baseball Association.