MILWAUKEE — More than 50 kids came to play Thursday for the Milwaukee School of Engineering baseball team’s favorite event of the season. The Raiders teamed with advocacy group Vision Forward for their annual beep baseball event at the Kern Center.

Beep baseball is an adaptive game that relies more on sound than sight. First developed in 1964, it uses a 16-inch softball with a noisemaking device, allowing batters and fielders to track the ball. 

MSOE and Vision Forward have partnered for the annual event since 2015, which includes a round of drills before a T-ball game and a postgame lunch with the players. Steve Sanfilippo, Raiders head coach, said his players look forward each season to introducing baseball to kids who are blind and visually impaired.

“They don’t really typically get to hold a baseball, hold a bat and run around like this,” Sanfilippo said. “So for us to be able to do that and give that opportunity to them, it means the world to us.”

The pandemic forced MSOE to cancel its 2020 and 2021 events, but saw a record turnout Thursday. In all, 51 kids gave beep baseball a try, a huge increase from the 19 players who took part in 2019.

Ballplayers came from across the state Thursday. Nine-year-old Axel Sheire rode two and a half hours from Richland Center to play baseball for the first time.

“I think it was pretty awesome,” Axel Sheire's mother, Deborah Sheire said. “I think it was pretty neat to see Axel play with kids who struggle with the same vision problems that he struggles with.”

According to Vision Forward, 70% of children who are blind or visually impaired have never participated in sports. Jaclyn Borchardt, Vision Forward's director of operations, said MSOE’s annual beep baseball event aims to inspire Wisconsin kids and their families.

“What we’re hoping to do is to show them what’s possible and to build their confidence so that in the future, they can participate in sports and activities like this, and recognize that they can do it,” Borchardt said.

For kids like Axel Sheire, trying something new and experiencing success made his first swing at baseball well worth the drive. He said he plans to play more beep baseball in the future.

“Baseball was very fun,” he said. “Also, I made some friends today, so maybe they might come so I get to see them.”