Saturday, June 6, 2009

Big League Wiffle Ball Goes International

When Big League Wiffle Ball's Midwest Managers Cpt Cory Newmann and Sgt Ben Biddick were deployed to Iraq, they brought the yellow bat with them.

They continue Nick Benas' legacy of bringing wiffle to the Middle East. While Benas served in Iraq with the Marine Corps in 2004, he attempted to teach Iraqis the game. “The concept of a bat and ball was foreign to them. They preferred soccer. But after a little practice, they started to get the hang of it.”

The Midwest Managers serve in the Wisconsin Army National Guard and are bringing wiffle to their fellow troops stationed at Camp Liberty, near Baghdad.

Cpt. Cory Newmann and Sgt. Ben Biddick linked up with Big League Wiffle Ball creators Nick Benas and Jared Verrillo in 2008. They organized their first tournament in Madison, Wisconsin, before receiving word that they would be deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “Since we were going to be gone for a year, we figured we'd bring Big League Wiffle Ball with us. We love this,” Biddick says. “Nick and Jared were all for it.”

May 19, 2009 was the inaugural Mideast game of Big League Wiffle Ball. Braving heat that exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit, approximately twelve troops constructed a field complete with a BLWB official strike zone, water bottles, machine guns, and blast walls. Their First Sergeant walked by, shaking his head and grinning. Curious soldiers stopped by to see what was going on.

Spc. Michelle Weissinger took an instant shine to the game. By the end of the contest, Weissinger had crushed a two run homer and struck out seven batters. Her opponents and teammates dubbed her “The Natural.” With no prior wiffle experience, she rapidly developed a wicked curve ball that had her opponents wiffing.

“You know what they say,” said Sgt. Frank (the Tank) as he stepped into the batter's box, drenched in sweat, “If you can't stand the heat...”

Weissinger commented on the game: “It was intense at first, but I started to get the feel of the ball, the bat, and triangular field. I definitely enjoyed it. They were talking a lot of [trash] out there, so it felt amazing to strike out seven of them. You'll see me at the next game, no question.”

Her friends talked about using the blast walls to make a “Wall of K's” for her. The blast walls are in place to prevent against potential mortar and rocket attacks.

“We had a good day today. We sparked some interest, developed some skills, and had some quality competition in our games. This is a great way to enjoy some downtime, get some light exercise, and build some unit cohesion. We're hoping the word will spread.” Biddick says. “Based on the feedback I'm getting from the troops, it looks like it will.”

Sgt. Charles Austin is also in the unit. He donned his military uniform and presented the colors during the National Anthem (sung by the Wisconsin Children's Choir) at the first Big League Wiffle Ball Tournament in the Midwest. A lifelong baseball and softball player, his team was voted Most Improved at the Madison, Wisconsin tournament. “Next game I'm in,” he says.

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