Disability Issues

Beep baseball lets visually impaired athletes play for Chicago Comets, other teams

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Beep baseball is an adaptive version of American's favorite pastime. It lets athletes who are blind and visually impaired to play ball with some modifications to the rules.

The Chicago Comets are the local Beep baseball team.

"I think last year there [were] 24 of them registered across the country and internationally there are some from Taiwan, as well," said J.T. Herzog, who coaches 16 players who are legally blind. "Because there are varying degrees of blindness, all the players have to wear a blind fold -- just kind of even up the playing field for everyone."

"We have sighted volunteers as well pitchers and catchers are both sighted, and on defense, we have what is called spotters, and the spotter's job is to get the plays out to their positions," said the coach.

Beep baseball last six innings. There are three outs, but the batter is allowed four strikes.

"Two bases. First and third. Each base is 100 feet from home plate and it's set 10 feet into four territory to avoid collisions with the fielders trying to get the ball and the runner trying to run," Herzog said. "When they hit the ball, one of two bases is turned on randomly; players never know which base is turned on. And they have to run to the base that is buzzing. It's either first or third, and if they touch the base before the fielder picks up the beeping ball, they score a run. If the fielder gets possession of the ball first, it's an out."

Kalari Girtley, 29, has been playing Beep baseball for 13 years.

"I love this sport. I actually originally started playing this sport when I was 9 years old, and I always tell folks that Beep play kind of saved my life because I lost my vision when I was 6, and I was a very angry child because I couldn't run. I couldn't do anything," Girtley said.

Giovonni Francese, 37, is a strong hitter.

"Because I lost my sight when I was about 17 years old, I played football when I was in high school. So Beep ball took over that competiveness and camaraderie that was taken from me when I lost my vision," said Francese.

The Chicago Comets play in different tournaments across the country, and sometimes, they play locally. To learn more about this go to www.chicagocomets.net.

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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