Members of the 24 teams from around the world competing in a national baseball event in Eau Claire this summer will hear the ball rather than see it.
That’s because most of the male and female competitors in the July 31-Aug. 4 National Beep Baseball Association World Series are blind.
Teams will play on 12 ball fields at Eau Claire Soccer Park, Bollinger Fields and South Middle School. The Eau Claire Sports Commission, part of the regional tourism group Visit Eau Claire, landed the event after attempting to bring it here since 2013.
Eau Claire seems like an appropriate location to host the tournament, given its quality ball fields and a local baseball history that includes Major League Baseball legend Hank Aaron, Visit Eau Claire executive director Linda John said.
Aaron played his first professional season in 1952 for the Eau Claire Bears, a minor league affiliate of the then-Boston Braves.
“As a community that is focused on inclusivity and playfulness, when we first heard about the National Beep Baseball Association, we knew that Eau Claire was the perfect place for an event that naturally centers itself around those two things,” John said.
Beep baseball is essentially a modified game of baseball or softball, using a ball that emits a beeping sound. After the batter hits the ball, one of the two bases — first or third — emits a buzzing sound, and the runner must reach that base before a fielder can secure the ball.
If the fielder can control the ball and hold it off the ground before the runner reaches the base, the runner is out. If the runner successfully reaches the base before the ball is secured, a run is scored.
The pitcher and the catcher are on the offensive team and are the only ones on their side who can see. On the defensive side, spotters in the field assist players and try to keep them from colliding and from being struck with line drives.
According to Visit Eau Claire, the world series is projected to have a $406,000 economic impact in the Eau Claire area.
Ken Van Es, chairman of the Eau Claire Sports Commission, said he hadn’t heard about beep baseball before it came to the commission’s attention.
“I was like, ‘So what’s beep baseball?’ “ Van Es said. “But then I learned about it, and I am really interested in seeing them play.”
Van Es said he hopes the unusual nature of the sport prompts people to attend the tournament.
“We are hoping people want to come out and see these athletes play,” he said. “It will bring an event here most people haven’t even heard of, much less seen.”
The event, which last year took place in West Palm Beach, Fla., is a sign of a growing trend of sports tourism across the U.S., John said. The city’s high-quality athletic facilities “have enabled the Eau Claire area to become a major player in the sports event marketplace,” she said.
The Eau Claire Sports Commission, formed in 2000, has helped bring more than 30 national and international events to Eau Claire with a total economic benefit topping $30 million, according to Visit Eau Claire statistics.