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Blind, sighted lovers of America’s pastime take a swing at beep baseball

Baseball for the blind. To the uninitiated, it may sound like an open invitation to injury. But for members of the San Gabriel Valley Panthers it’s a passport to freedom and autonomy and, above all, a darned good time.

Since its formation last year by South Pasadena resident Darren Keepers, the team has maintained a busy practice schedule that has allowed members to learn and progress at the adaptive sport beep baseball.

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This modified version of America’s pastime uses sound wires to guide blind runners to one of two bases in the first- and third- base positions of a diamond, while outfielders pursue a beeping ball. If the runner makes it to base first, a run is scored. If the outfielder gets the ball first, the batter is out.

Sighted participants, “spotters,” pitch, catch and call out where the ball has landed by zone, making sure runners don’t stray too far from the baselines. Since not all players are equally blind, blindfolds level the playing field.

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“There are [beep baseball] teams all around the country but not here,” Keepers, 31, said of the sport. “I wanted to play, so I decided to start one.”

On Saturday, the San Gabriel Valley Panthers offered the sighted the unique experience of playing beep baseball during a Beep Ball Bash team fundraiser at the Rose Bowl baseball fields. With blindfolds in place, kids and adults took a swing at the game.

Mia Viligiate, 8, of Santa Monica was first at bat. With five swings allotted her, the newbie was encouraged to swing from a tee rather than handling a standard pitch. After a few foul balls, her bat connected, and the catcher triggered a sound wire to guide her toward one of the bases.

Afterward, Mia expressed her nervousness at the endeavor.

“It was scary,” she said, adding that her parents had coaxed her onto the plate. Finding the outfield more to her liking, the blindfolded Mia darted with glee toward the sound of ball beeps in her zone.

The Panthers are sponsored by the Pasadena Host Lions Club, a service group that counts supporting vision- and hearing-related charities chief among its philanthropic efforts, according to President Mitch Pomerantz, who is blind.

In 1925, the deaf-blind activist and author Helen Keller spoke at a Lions Club International convention, urging members to become “knights of the blind.” Today, every June 1, Lions worldwide celebrate Helen Keller Day by implementing sight-related service projects.

When Keepers approached the Pasadena Host Lions in May 2018 about sponsoring a blind baseball team, club members roundly supported the idea. Pomerantz, who tried beep baseball for the first time Saturday, said adaptive sports help shatter stereotypes about what blind people are capable of.

“Anytime the sighted public can see people who are blind or have limited vision doing things that are not sitting in a rocking chair, I think that’s positive.”

Keepers said he hopes beep baseball will expand in Southern California (the nearest team is in Las Vegas) as more people catch on to its physical, mental and social benefits.

“There are a lot of people who live full lives, and then they lose their vision and they feel like they can’t do it anymore,” he said. “We’re showing you that you can do it — you can get back what you lost.”

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