Laura Gonzalez gets ready to hit the ball before running to first base, which sends out a beeping sound to lead her to it. Photo by Mario Boucher

Playing beep baseball allows blind people to be active and part of a team.

That’s the goal of Darren Keepers, a South Pasadena resident who has been blind since the age of five.

“It’s so much fun to play baseball with friends,” he said. “We want to make children and adults aware that being visually impaired is not a game finisher. We just have to make adjustments and keep moving forward.

“Beep baseball is an extremely competitive sport and a great way for the visually impaired community to drop the disability for a few hours a week and play ball,” he said.

In beep baseball, speakers in the balls and bases allow visually impaired players to find them by listening. The bases are foam pillars that beep and vibrate after the player gets a hit. The batter has to reach the base before a fielder touches the ball.

A sighted pitcher or spotter works with the visually impaired athletes to help them hit, run and field with confidence and trust that they won’t hit another player or an obstacle.

Each player wears a blindfold so that those with partially impaired vision do not have an edge over those who are completely blind. 

Colbey Haney, who has known Keepers for 16 years, said he was happy to help organize a team. That team became the San Gabriel Valley Panthers. He is now one of the Panthers’ head beep ball instructors.

“We’ve made a lot of progress, especially since when we started it was just Darren and I,” said Haney. Now the Panthers have 10 players from South Pasadena, El Monte, Burbank, Oxnard, Long Beach, and Orange County.

“It’s going really well,” said Keepers, though he acknowledges “it is a bit of a challenge to get everyone together at the same time.”

Currently, the team practices at Orange Grove Park every Wednesday between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. It is looking for more players and sponsorships.

“We’re looking for any sponsors,” he said, adding that the South Pasadena Kiwanis Club has been very helpful in assisting to set up fundraising and awareness events.

“It’s about getting people aware of our sport,” said Keepers. “We enjoy being out here in the sun.”

The team’s goal, according to Haney, is to participate at the National Beep Baseball World Series next July in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Teams from around the world play in the annual event.

“We’re trying to find the right field to play and figure out where to play so everyone can attend,” said Haney.

“We’re trying to locate a field for Saturday mornings for three to four hours,” added Keepers.

Haney and Trent Ford help teach the players where to position themselves on the field and how to run to first base.

“They are full of life and it’s amazing to see them play,” said Haney.

Alberto Lopez, a member of the Panthers, appreciates having a team to play on.

“I love this sport and it’s a great way to deal with stress and have fun,” he said. “This allows me to get some fresh air, do some exercise, and do something productive.”

Lopez enjoys the challenge not only of playing the sport but also of belonging to a team.

“You have to have good communication skills to talk to each other and know where we are on the field.”

Beep baseball was established in 1964 and the equipment was created by the Telecom Pioneers. The ball and base speakers were built from old telephone parts.

The National Beep Baseball Association was established in 1976 and currently has 32 teams.

“We’re the only Southern California team currently and the first to be registered with the league,” said Keepers. “The Panthers is the first of several teams we plan to build so it’s special that we get to start in this great community.”

For more information, please call 626-921-6274 or email panthersbeepball@gmail.com. Visit socalblindsports.com for more details.

Mario Boucher
Author

Mario Boucher is the Senior Reporter for the South Pasadena Review. Mario has been a print and online journalist for 30 years.

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