Wiffleball: From Backyard to Playing Field

Apparently, without knowing it, I played wiffle ball with my best friend throughout my childhood  We played at his house where we set up areas for singles, doubles, triples, and home runs, playing out a full nine-inning game.  The games usually got pretty intense and led to a couple of fights because Mike’s (aforementioned friend) baseball skills were two times better than mine. Therefore, I would get my ass kicked a lot.  The only difference between our version and wiffle ball, is we played with a tennis ball and a mini-souvenir bat that we got for free at a baseball game.  Years after I hung up my bat, wiffle ball has transformed from a run-of-the-mill backyard game that kids play in lieu of actual baseball, to something much, much more.  People have started wiffle ball leagues with their own creative, modified rules, specialized equipment and more.

The adult game is played with a standard wiffle ball, which is very light, making it very difficult for the batter to get good contact. According to Wiffle.org, the ball curves very easily and like in baseball, a pitcher can throw a curveball, slider, and ‘straight’ (a fastball in baseball terms).  I did a quick YouTube search to see these pitches in action and found out a few things: 1. if I batted four times, I’d maybe get a hold of one pitch. 2. There are some true superstars in this game who can do things with a wiffle ball that nobody would ever expect. (Google Jim Balian, the 2009 Ultimate Wiffler)  3. The pitchers of the sport have figured out how to create different pitches such as; a sinker, screwball, and a riser which is where the ball begins low in the zone and then comes up near shoulder level.

There are two different types of wiffle ball – one that requires only 2 people and the other with a full team, which is a lot closer to baseball. The first version is meant for a one-on-one contest in an alley, backyard, or park. The field should be at least 20 by 60 feet with the players agreeing to areas that are home runs, triples, doubles, and singles. The only way outs are made are to strike out, fly out, or ground out while the ball is in motion.  While easy to play, the expansion of 2 person wiffle ball is limited and the full, team version is the version that has gained the most popularity. .

League wiffle is played with five players on each team: a catcher, pitcher, double area, triple area and homer area.  The players have to choose their areas and stick with those spots the entire game because where you play matters in terms of the batting order. The game is played on a regular softball/baseball diamond, when available. In more laid-back leagues, the strike zone is a lawn chair. Any pitch that hits the back or seat of the chair is a strike; pitches hitting the arms or any other part of the lawn chair are balls. Batters are allowed 5 balls and can choose if they want to take a walk or not. A standard 3 strikes are allowed, with unlimited foul tips. Any caught foul ball is considered an out.

Base running rules are similar to baseball, with a few exceptions. A runner hit with the ball, while not on a base is considered out, including batted balls and balls thrown by fielders. Also, they enforce something called “pitchers hand,” where if the pitcher has secured the ball before the runner reaches first base, the runner is out.

For example, while playing a game and I lead-off with a single, my at-bat stays at first no matter what (cannot steal, get picked off, etc.) If there are only 3 players and the bases are loaded, a ghost-runner is allowed, with the person that batted first allowed to bat again.  Players don’t have the ability to advance extra bases, removing the element speed from the game. Essentially, this makes the game much fairer and allows for anyone, no matter their shape or ability, the chance to play.

Leagues, like the Milwaukee Wiffle League (MWL), have a laid-back approach about the game of wiffle ball, while others are a little more serious. While MWL has relaxed and competitive leagues, it’s the type where I could grab a beer beforehand at a tavern, go play, and then afterwards drink heavily with my team. The goal seems to be fun first and foremost. Their website states “MWL expects all players to respect the other players that have paid to play in this league. The league does NOT allow unpsportsmanlike behavior during games. All these offenses are grounds for dismissal, without prior warnings … by the league commissioner.” With this one steadfast rule, MWL seems to have set themselves apart from some of the softball leagues, where one can attempt to relive their high school days as if they were Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite.

The Golden Stick Wiffle Ball League (anyone else chuckle at Golden Stick?) is a far more intense version of wiffle ball. This is easily seen, as their tagline is “A Backyard Game Taken Way Too Far.”  GSWL admits that this is wiffle ball on steroids, (rumors of testing next summer, I kid!) and the passion is at a boiling point. Golden Stick is headquartered in New England, but there are leagues all over the East Coast, ranging primarily from Boston, Philadelphia, Vermont, New York, Sacramento, CA and St. Louis, MO (the lone west and Midwest representatives). Tournaments are held throughout these leagues, primarily in New England, and the best players from each region meet in Las Vegas for the Golden Stick National Championship. Yes, an all-expense paid trip to play wiffle ball.

In addition, GSWL has an official bat. Moonshot Bats, which run over 100 dollars just for a wiffle bat! Granted, this is no ordinary bat and you get free batting gloves with purchase, but this is an investment for only the most serious player.  I doubt most people who play wiffle are breaking the piggy bank for a leisure activity.

While MWL and Golden Stick are downright polar opposites, these leagues highlight how wiffle ball is definitely a sport that could expand dramatically throughout the United States, similar to dodgeball and kickball. In my opinion, there is something for everybody, whether it is the player who wants to have a relaxing night with friends, but with a dash of competiveness, then a league like Milwaukee Wiffle would suit you well.  On the other hand, for the player who wants an alternative from softball, kickball or dodgeball, while still maintaining a high level of competitiveness, then a league like GSWL is available. Not to mention, if you get enough people interested in playing this classic game, creating your own wiffle league would take minimal time, effort and equipment, perfect for the sporty, but not-too-ambitious adult. If nothing else, there’s always the old standard of playing wiffle in the backyard with some friends, having a few drinks without the organization hassle.   Regardless of which path you choose- Play (wiffle) ball!

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