Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Big League Wiffle Ball Hits It Out of The Park

When Nick Benas and Jared Verrillo of Big League Wiffle Ball were kids, they had no idea that the game they played on the cul de sac at the end of Bunker Hill Road could wind up being a career. Or maybe they did.

“I remember thinking,” Benas says, “Someday I’ll do this for living.”

Not an hour’s drive from where wiffle balls and wiffle ball bats are made in Shelton, Connecticut, Benas and Verrillo played wiffle ball until the sky went black. Their parents almost had to handcuff them to get them back in the house. “The best part was, you always knew where to find them,” Benas’ mother, Dian says. “They were always out on the cul de sac playing wiffle ball.”

Twenty years later, they saw the game that they loved transitioning into a sport. Benas knew that it was more than just a child’s game. It was baseball for the 21rst century. Where neighborhood-wide baseball games were nearly impossible to amass due to fast paced schedules, a highly competitive wiffle ball game only took three or four players, two if necessary. The white plastic ball with eight holes in one side caused pitches to defy the laws of physics.

Fields could be creatively adapted to backyard nuances. Even a young person’s limited finances could be accommodated as a bat and ball cost less than ten dollars. Above all, it was a form of baseball that still enabled your average American kid to be a champion. It didn’t take steroids and scholarships and big money contracts. All it took was friends, a love of the game, and a few bucks for a ball and bat.

Benas explains: “Nothing is more American. This is the evolution of baseball. People don’t realize what a pitcher can do with a wiffle ball scuffed to his or her liking until they see the videos on the internet. People don’t realize until they see it. Then they become intrigued. Then they invest in a ball and bat. Then they spend some time in front of a strike zone, pitching and swinging a bat. Then their friends get interested. Then they sign up for their first tournament. Then they’re officially hooked.”

Benas and Verrillo have been running some of the most premier wiffle ball tournaments in the country. All the strongest contingent of professional wiffle ball players reside in New England, they’ve run tournaments on both coasts and even have a branch in the Midwest. They had a wiffle ball homerun tournament at Fenway.

They’ve made wiffle ball an official game at Connecticut’s Nutmeg State Games. Other states are falling in line to make wiffle one of their state games. A reality show is being filmed about their exploits, and they are gunning for the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest wiffle ball tournament in history.

They have a weekly show on their website where interviews are posted with premier professional wiffle ball players and business people. Benas says: “Once people get passed the idea that this is a kid’s game and see that it is coming into its own as a sport, it begins to make sense to them. All it takes is for them to see what a professional wiffle pitcher can do with the ball and the feeling of cracking a line-drive homerun passed their opponent.”

America is catching on. With serious money being handed out for tournament prizes and professional wifflers transforming what was once just a backyard game into a highly competitive, organized movement, there appears to be no height that Benas’ and Verrillo’s dream can’t scale.

When America’s pastime collides with the innovative and ever-evolving American dream, why shouldn’t it?

article from RBI Magazine

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