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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.

"Some of the players come from Northern California, but we also have players from San Diego, Illinois, New York, North Carolina and Texas. They are from all over," Finn says.

The players try to get together at least once a year for a multi-day practice prior to the World Series. This year they practiced for three days, going six hours a day, in Concord.

Finn, 39, has been sight impaired since he was 2 years old. He has some sight up to about six feet, allowing him mobility as he goes about his work as a fitness trainer.

He says his interest in fitness began when he was 14 years old and found himself a 220-pound couch potato.

"That was when I really picked up the habit of exercise," he says. By the time he graduated from high school he was 6 feet tall and weighed a slender 175 pounds. He was also on the school track team.

"Physical fitness turned my life around," he says. He began running in races sponsored by the United States Association for the Blind, and then began running in what he describes as "able-body" track and field events and 5-kilometer runs.

"I just enjoy being active and feeling good," he explains.

Eventually, he discovered beep baseball was well suited for his explosive quickness and quick reflexes. "Unlike baseball, there is very little standing around," he says. "You have to be active and you have to be in shape."

He has also been able to turn his love for physical fitness and activity into his life's work as owner of Finn Fitness and Wellness.

He says fitness and health is a lifestyle rather than just training for one particular sport or activity,

"It is about the basic things we do to be healthy, not just exercise, but eating right, sleeping well. It is a lifestyle that allows you to be healthy."

He explains that proper training includes making certain that all the body parts are working in coordination and harmony as they were designed to function.

"It is developing patterns and movement to make the body function better as an overall unit," he says.

It is a theory he and his teammates put to the test each year in the challenging and physically demanding sport of beep baseball.

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