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Beepball gains recognition at FanFest

Beepball gains recognition at FanFest

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PITTSBURGH -- Marty Skutnick has been playing competitive baseball on a national level for 25 years.

He enjoys the anticipation when he senses the ball leaving the pitcher's hand, hearing the crack of the baseball on the bat and diving fearlessly to make plays in the field.

So what if he is blind.

That doesn't stop him or other players on the 18 teams in the National Beepball Association from enjoying the national pastime.

"It's wonderful. It's opened up a world of competitive sports to me, and it involves all the same off-field things," the 46-year-old Cleveland Scrapper said on Saturday at All-Star FanFest at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. "On the field, it's competitive as can be, but off the field, we have fun. The camaraderie is great."

On "The Diamond," the Beepball Association held an exhibition to teach kids a game the visually impaired have been playing for over 30 years.

In beep baseball, a pitcher standing 20 feet away from the plate lobs a beeping ball. When contact is made, one of the two bases -- a four foot padded cylinder at a spot similar to where first and third are in baseball -- randomly buzzes. Spotters will then alert the six fielders which "zone" the ball is in. The runner is safe if they can reach the bag 100 feet away before the opposition's diving fielder has corralled the ball and raised it in the air.

Some 15 kids gave it a shot. Wearing blindfolds, the beeping balls were tossed to them from a couple of feet away. A few made contact, but all were visibly hesitant in running up the line to first base -- which is what Skutnick finds to be the toughest part about learning the game.

"Fear," he said. "You have to overcome the fear and have trust in yourself that you won't trip over yourself or hit something. We get injured and we get scraped up just like you would in any other sport, but you can't be afraid. You have to make that step."

Once they make that step, the benefits are significant for blind children.

"It's something they can do instead of sitting around," Skutnick said. "That's our goal. To get them out. When they get a taste of it, that's when it starts growing."

The demonstration provided inspiration all around, the children having gained a new appreciation for their own gifts.

"It was really interesting, but hard," said 11-year-old Andrew Mentzer, of Pittsburgh. "In [baseball] now, we shouldn't be missing anything."

Jimmy Orr, 11, of Pittsburgh said of the blind players: "I don't know how they do it."

He was then asked if he thought he could ever do it -- reach the level displayed by the league on the video board in center field, where players drove the ball effortlessly?

"Yeah, with a lot of practice," he said. "Probably like three years."

David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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