This article was written and produced by Dave Kinnoin
South Pasadena resident Darren Keepers has a true heart and clear vision for ensuring that blind and visually impaired persons can play an adapted version of baseball called Beep Baseball.
He is the founder of SoCal Beep Baseball, a nonprofit startup, which will bring the Southern California visually impaired community together through the love of the game.
He is also the founder, general manager and player for the organization’s first team, the San Gabriel Valley Panthers, which is currently the only official team in Southern California. As the organization adds more teams, visually impaired individuals will be able to play competitively in various counties throughout Southern California without having to commute several hours. Other than the Panthers in SoCal, there are around 30 active teams registered with the National Beep Baseball Association. Teams come from several U.S. states, Toronto, the Dominican Republic and Taiwan.
Darren, 31, has been totally blind since age 5 and has experienced bi-lateral vocal cord paralysis since 15. His indefatigable spirit, intelligence, and hard work are impressive.
“I always move forward, despite the blindness, voice loss, brain tumors and several other issues, there has never been a reason to give up or dwell on the past,” said Keepers. “There is always somebody in worse conditions, so don’t let them down by not living your life to the fullest. Determination is grown out of inspiration; the game of beep baseball activates that inspiration deep within each player, inspiring them to become more determined and successful in their everyday lives. The game gives them the opportunity to discover their athletic abilities, abilities they may have never known they had. Beep Baseball promotes independence, communication, team-building skills, and most of all physical and mental health.”
He taught assistive technology to blind adults in Los Angeles at Wayfinder Family Services (formerly Junior Blind of America) for five years, and he is now getting his associate of arts degree at Pasadena City College. He will transfer to a Cal State university soon.
About Beep Baseball
A beep baseball is hand-made, weighs one pound, is 16” in circumference, and costs $35 per ball. Balls break frequently due to an audio beacon built within, which emits a beep so that the fielders can locate the ball. A sighted pitcher throws underhand from 21.5 feet. It’s the pitcher’s responsibility to pitch the ball to each player’s wheelhouse. This requires a lot of time, teamwork, and chemistry to become successful. I’ve seen Darren bat twice. Both times he smacked the ball hard on his first swing and made it safely on base.
Each team has six players, each wearing a blindfold. Not all players are totally blind, so wearing a blindfold puts every player on a level playing field. Hitters hit the pitched ball and run to one of two buzzing bases, which are randomly activated by a volunteer. If the hitter reaches the buzzing base before one of the six fielders picks up the beeping ball, the hitter scores. If a fielder picks up the ball before the hitter reaches the base, the hitter is called out. A set of Beep Baseball bases costs $350 and get beat up quickly from players tackling them.
In beep baseball, there is no second base, balls are not thrown, and there is no base-to-base running. When the runner reaches the base, the play is over and they return to the bench to await their next at bat. Hitters get four strikes, innings have three outs, and games are six innings. The season is March – October.
The Panthers currently have 15 players and 10 volunteers supporting the team, who have worked with children as young as four, but players typically begin playing competitively at age 13. Darren’s talented and dedicated group of volunteers include head coach Colbey Haney (who met Darren in 8th grade), equipment manager Kymberly Keepers (Darren’s wife), pitcher Eric Kern, catcher Trent Ford, batting coach Linda Delez, bench coach Lisanne Kern, public relations manager Natalie Gross, and media editors Ben and Kerstin Bruckie.
Players commute hours by train and bus each Saturday from as far away as San Diego and Oxnard to the Montecito Recreation Center in Highland Park. Their motivation and dedication proves how special this sport really is.
Official games and tournaments are mostly played in the central and Eastern time zones, so the Panthers depend on private donations, corporate sponsors and fundraisers to travel to distant tournaments in order to play competitively.
The future holds a double-header in Seal Beach on Sunday, May 26, and their first community outreach game at Brookside Park in Pasadena Saturday, June 8 on Diamond 3 from 4 to-9 p.m. Darren and the Panthers invite the public to learn about the game of beep baseball and even take a swing of a bat and running under blindfold.
The organization’s fundraising goal this season is $25,000, which covers equipment, uniforms, playing field expenses, out reach, airfare, and tournament lodging and fees. In leu of monetary donations, they will happily accept donations of equipment, uniforms and travel rewards.
SoCal Beep Baseball is supported by a nonprofit program for blind athletes with 501©(3) status. To make a fully tax deductible donation, make a check payable to:
United States Association for Blind Athletes
Memo: “SoCal Beep Baseball”
SoCal Beep Baseball
P.O. Box 50638
Pasadena CA 91115
To learn more about the Panthers, how beep baseball works, active fundraisers, and other contribution options, visit www.socalbeepbaseball.org
Follow the team on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @pantherbeepball for player interviews, live games, and updates about upcoming eve