A year of practice, training and anticipation culminates this week for Michael Finn. Finn, as always, is in peak physical condition for the Beep Baseball World Series being played in Rochester, Minn.
The Petaluma physical fitness trainer is a member of the defending world champion West Coast Dawgs, and is anxious to compete against teams from all over the United States, plus a team from Taiwan.
Beep baseball is based on regular baseball, but there are several differences. The biggest is that beep baseball is much more difficult both artistically and physically.
By the end of a game, and certainly by the end of the World Series, where teams will play nine or more games, bodies are not only tested, but bruised and battered.
"Baseball players may dive once or twice a game, but we dive on every play," explains Finn.
To even the playing field for players with varying degrees of sight impairments, every player wears a peek-proof blindfold.
At bat, each team uses its own pitcher. Hitting is done to a cadence. The sighted pitcher calls, "Set! Ready!" and, as the ball leaves his hand, "Pitch!"
"I say, &‘And' and then swing," explains Finn.
It is up to the pitcher to put the ball where the batter swings. Each batter gets four strikes.
There are two bases — four-foot-tall, foam-padded pylons — one down what would be the first-base line and one down what would be the third-base line, 100 feet from home plate. When the ball is hit, one of the bases buzzes (the batter never knows which will go off). The batter must touch the base before a fielder can stop the ball and hold it in the air. If he succeeds, it is a run. If he fails, it is an out.
"You know you have hit it well if there is no sound because the beeps are running together as the ball leaves the bat," Finn says.
He noted that good hitters generally have batting averages of better than .500. Finn hit .745 in last year's World Series, the third highest average in the tournament.
On defense, there are six defenders spread from foul-line to foul-line at different depths. The idea is to listen for the beeping ball, block it with the body and hold it aloft before the batter can reach the buzzing pylon. This requires defenders to be diving and stopping the ball, which is about the size and hardness of a new softball, with their bodies. They do not wear gloves.
"Gloves just get in the way," says Finn.
"It can be kind of tricky," the Petaluma player says. "To develop ear-body coordination can take a year or two."
There are elements to defense that can only be understood by those who play the game. For example, Finn explains that wind can distort, or even blow away, the beeps, and the sound will bounce off walls or other surfaces, making it harder to locate the ball.
And, the players are in pursuit of the ball at a dead run, and making calculations as they sprint.
The defense also takes coordination and constant communication among teammates, although chatter is, necessarily, kept to a minimum. That coordination is sometimes hard to achieve with players scattered from coast-to-coast.