What is Beep Baseball?

Just about everyone is familiar with The Chicago Cubs and White Sox, but most people have never heard about The Chicago Comets. The Comets are Chicago’s team of beep baseball, a game played by people who are blind or visually impaired, and the only Chicago team to win a beep baseball world championship. I recently spoke with Kalari Girtley and Richard Schultz from The Lighthouse staff, who are both die-hard baseball fans and members of the Chicago Comets team, to learn more about the sport.

What is beep baseball?

Beep baseball is the equivalent of America’s favorite pastime for the blind or visually impaired, but with a few differences:

  • There are only two bases; first and third. The bases, which emit a beeping sound, are about four feet tall. Players run toward the beeping base after the ball is hit.
  • The catcher and pitcher are in the batter’s team; they are both sighted.
  • There are six fielders in a team, and all of them are blind or visually impaired. Everyone wears sleep shades or blindfolds so as to not give any advantage to players with some remaining vision.
  • The defensive team is allowed two spotters, or sighted volunteers who call out the zone numbers and assist the team.
  • Each game has six innings and four strikes. Games typically last 90 minutes.

Kalari Girtley became blind when she was 6 years old as a result of hydrocephalus, or fluid build-up in the brain.

“I was very angry, a very hateful kid,” she says about that time in her life.

Kalari immediately fell in love with beep baseball after learning about it in school at age 9. She was drawn to the sport mainly because of the freedom she felt when running and hitting the bases. For her, it was a way of taking out the anger and frustration she felt about being blind. The sport also gave Kalari the opportunity to be a kid without feeling overprotected by her family, a common occurrence among children with disabilities. She joined The Chicago Comets when she was 16 years old, and has been on the team for 17 years. Kalari is currently the only woman on the team.

Richard Schultz, who is also blind, joined The Chicago Comets in 2007. He has always been into sports, and has played everything from wrestling to goalball. Like Kalari, Richard enjoys the sense of freedom he feels when out on the field. What he likes most about beep baseball, however, is the fact that sighted individuals can relate to the sport because of its similarity to regular baseball. This is not the case with sports especially designed for the blind, like goalball, for instance.

Kalari and Richard also feel a sense of camaraderie from playing beep baseball. With all of the traveling and teamwork involved in the sport, they enjoy meeting and socializing with other individuals who are blind or visually impaired. For this reason, Kalari and Richard tell as many people about beep baseball. They encourage teachers of the blind and visually impaired to introduce youngsters and their parents to this sport.

The Chicago Comets are constantly looking for new players and volunteers. The team currently consists of 13 members and seven volunteers, who play an important role in the team. Volunteers help with everything, from assisting players during a game, to helping them get oriented to their surroundings during their travels. Current team members range in ages from 13 to 52 years old, and come from different education and professional backgrounds.

The team practices on Saturday mornings at Rainey Park, located in Chicago’s near Southside. Kalari and Richard invite everyone interested in learning more about beep baseball to go and be a part of the practice sessions. For her part, Kalari wants others who are blind or visually impaired to at least give beep baseball a try.

The Chicago Comets invite everyone to their upcoming tournament in June, which will be held in Bolingbrook, IL. For more information or to find out how you can get involved with The Chicago Comets, visit their website.

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