Jerry Cockrell, a tall, barrel-chested baseball player, stepped up to the plate, lifted his bat and listened for the ball.

After two pitches and two strikes, he hit a line drive to center field and suddenly the air was filled with sound.

Outfielders scrambled to locate the beeping ball. Cockrell, blind since he was 12, ran like a demon toward a cone-shaped rubber "base" that began buzzing furiously as soon as he hit the ball. A curious, excited crowd cheered him on.

Beep baseball gets its name from the ball -- which beeps -- and is normally played with six on a side. But Cockrell of Fort Worth, Tex., and other players from around the country came to Washington last week to demonstrate the game as part of Inspire 85, a festival to celebrate the achievements of disabled people in the arts, recreation and sports.

"I've never been to Washington before, but it's a great feeling," said Cockrell. "Of course, I can't see the monuments, but there's just something in the air. I think it's the way people move around here."

That sense of movement and excitement could be felt from 10th Street to 14th Street on the Mall as crowds of people, both the able-bodied and the disabled, mingled amid the carnival tents, balloon-wielding clowns, performance stages, art exhibits, playing fields, swimming pool and displays on educational advancements and employment opportunities.

Inspire 85, coordinated by the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, also helped the able-bodied understand what it takes to overcome a handicap.

After the beep baseball demonstration, for example, spectators were given a chance to hit a pitched beep ball while wearing a blindfold.

Most struck out.

"How do they do that?" said one puzzled participant, laughing and shaking his head. Others managed to hit the ball, but often couldn't find their way to a base, sometimes running into the crowds or out into the middle of the field.

"We make this sport look easy," said Cockrell, 37, who's been playing the game for about eight years. "But it takes a while to catch on. You have to have perfect timing between the pitcher and the batter."

"It's one of only two team sports for blind people," said Ed Bradley, 42, of Houston, president of the National Beep Baseball Association. "It's recreational, but it's also competitive and tough. It's a way for us to release a lot of tension from not being able to play other things all our lives."

Under the field house tent, another group of athletes, this time all-star wheelchair basketball players, took a break from their demonstration game to watch the halftime show -- a conglomeration of erstwhile spectators trying their hand at a few minutes of wheelchair basketball.

"It's a sport just like any other sport," said Eric Ramey, 27, who has osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disease in which the bones are brittle and break easily. Ramey, a supervisor with the Micrographics Co. in the District, plays for the Capital Connections. "And we're just like everybody else," he said.

Off the field, a variety of singers, dancers, actors and musicians entertained at Inspire 85's main stage. A sign language expert was always on stage during performances to interpret words and lyrics for the deaf.

A group of children from the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia presented a charming musical called "On the Other Side of the Fence," a metaphorical dramatization using song and dance to illustrate the similarities between handicapped and able-bodied people.

The Settlement school's troupe mixed children who had no mental or physical disabilities with those who had mild handicaps and those confined to wheelchairs.

"We've got classes for able-bodied kids and classes for kids with handicaps. This is a way for all of them to understand that they can be friends like everybody else," said Teresa Maebori, a teacher from the Settlement school and the narrator of the play.

Hi Hopes, a group of nine musically gifted mentally retarded students from Hope University, the only private fine arts college for the gifted mentally handicapped, came all the way from Anaheim, Calif., to perform for Inspire 85.

The Hi Hopes were talented, professional and self-confident, working the crowds, singing old favorites and urging everyone around to join them.

"When I'm reaching out to other people, I'm never nervous," said Gloria Lenhoff, the group's smiling soprano. "I just sing my heart out."

The band included three female and two male vocalists, two guitar players, one organ player, and a blind drummer named Paul Kuehn -- possibly the group's most talented, though most severely disabled, performer -- whose solo version of Harry Belafonte's "Day-O" was almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

"Most of them were in schools for the severely mentally retarded before they joined the group," said Doris Walker, who formed Hi Hopes in 1972 and functions as its director. "Now, they're on the road traveling, making records. They're showing everybody what they can do, and they have a wonderful sense of pride."

The members of Hi Hopes openly and affectionately encouraged one another on stage, slapping each other on the backs, giving high-fives after a particularly good number, passing hugs around and vigorously applauding solo acts.

And their uninhibited attitude quickly spread to the audience, as people began clapping, dancing and keeping time to every number by the end of the show.

After it was over, an Inspire 85 volunteer presented a blue ribbon to each member of the enthusiastic group.

Bill Ouderkerken, a tall, lanky singer who had performed a spirited imitation of Elvis Presley during the band's version of "Hound Dog," strode across the stage to receive his ribbon, arms held high, shouting, "I love you, Washington, D.C."