Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wiffle Ball Goes Big League

I bought a regulation WIFFLE ball and bat for less than ten dollars. If I asked you when you thought the prior statement was true, you may have answered, "Ten years ago." Or if you were a young buck full of spunk, you may have said, "A long time ago, back when you were a kid." But both answers would be wrong.

I bought a regulation WIFFLE ball and bat yesterday at a drugstore for less than ten dollars. I'm playing in a tournament this Saturday too, and I may win eight hundred bucks if I take the top prize.

The first WIFFLE tournament a buddy and I played was at a city park. Big League WIFFLE Ball provided free water, soda, and sports drinks while we played.

The Big League WIFFLE founders Nick Benas and Jared Verrillo even brought donuts for the contestants who were signing in that morning. I was told the donuts were a mainstay of the tourneys that Big League WIFFLE throws.

Me and a buddy slammed a few glazed donuts, filled our coffee mugs, and began warming up. I couldn't help grinning at the sound of the WIFFLE ball against the bat. "The snap of the plastic," I murmured to myself in quote of Nick Benas after he got our team name and signed us in.

I took a few practice swings; my buddy wound up and pitched. I swung for the fences and wiffed. I pulled a muscle in my back, but I would not be dissuaded. My determination began to crystallize, along with a grin that became sealed on my lips throughout tournament play. We lost every game we played that day, and we had an absolute blast.

Our team name at the first tournament was Gee Willikers. It spoke of how confounded and curious we were about WIFFLE culture after finding flyers jammed under the wiper blades on my windshield.

Big League WIFFLE Ball? A tournament?

After doing some internet research I was stunned at all the specialty pitches, the commentary on technique, the passion and energy that people put into it. I became fixated on the yellow bat and the almost magic ability of the ball to curve, drop, and rise toward the strike zone.I swung for the fences and wiffed...

When I walked into my living room with a newly purchased WIFFLE ball and bat, my wife thought I had purchased a premature gift for our infant daughter. My wife commented: "Honey, she will probably need to be able to stand up before she can swing that." I confessed that the long thin yellow bat was actually mine. Then I showed her what I hoped some of our future weekend afternoons were going to consist of in the backyard. I thought that she would just roll her eyes and dismiss me as a complete idiot. Instead, by the end of that half-hour, she hit a pitch into our neighbor's garden and began saying things like, "Is that all you got?"

Our team name shape-shifts depending on our mental state. Recently a buddy and I played a tournament. I was operating on 2 hours sleep after my infant daughter spent the night screaming with colic. My buddy's four year old also happened to have been sick the night before, something about a virus that caused repeated vomiting. That day we christened ourselves the Insane Daddies. It cost us $99 to register. If we hadn't pre-registered two weeks before the tournament, it would've cost $125. In my estimation, even through the haze of our sleep deprived minds, it was worth every cent.

Some of the guys who attend these tournaments drive hours and hours to get there. One said, "We even put off drinking a night so we could be fresh for this tourney."

According to the lumberjack of a man that said it, that was a big deal. He then threw one of the sickest curve balls I've ever seen. The range of the curve must've been at least three feet. His buddy, the batter, almost lost grip on the bat as he wiffed.

I have been playing organized WIFFLE ball now for over a year. Honestly, I love getting out the yellow bat. My WIFFLE balls are scuffed to my satisfaction so that I can get supreme movement on my pitches. I love giving the strike zone a little tap before wagging the bat over my shoulder and swinging for the fence. I have come to hunger for the snap of the plastic.Our team name shape-shifts depending on our mental state. Long live the WIFFLE...

I think a lot about why I come out weekend after weekend and almost daily peruse www.bigleaguewiffleball.com for tourney updates or blogs written by "The Franchise" and "The Animal."

It might be the fact that the guys and girls I play with and against are eclectic, hilarious people who possess a hunger to win equaled by a hunger for genuine fun.

It might be because I see a middle-aged father batting against his son while his grandson watches; all of them with massive smiles on their faces.

It might be because my wife got just as hooked as I did and has played in tournaments on her teams WIFFLE Women and Lady Luck.

It might be because it only takes two people to have a game, and sometimes that's all you can find between schedules that have very little breathing room as we work three jobs to feed our kids, pay our health insurance premiums, credit card debts, and fill our tanks with gas.

This is one of the few venues where buddies and families show up and enjoy an entire day together, finishing it off with a beer or some ice cream while recounting the highlights of the day. Or it might be that I can still buy the iconic bat and ball for less than ten dollars and no other equipment is needed, which means that absolutely no one is excluded.

This is baseball for the 21rst century, and I would dare say that this is one of the rare, remaining places where the playing field is truly level.

article from www.iplayoutside.com

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