Columns

2017.07.19 Wiffleball is one nutty sport

By DAVID GREEN

Listen carefully and you can hear the whiff of the wiffleball as it zips toward the batter.

The speed of the wiffleball pitch might be the most surprising aspect of the sport to me. Well, on second thought, maybe the most surprising thing is that a national tournament exists. And perhaps the next most surprising part is that grown men drove and flew great distances to play wiffleball in Morenci.

I was at Wakefield Park Friday to take photos of the “community team” championship with a local team playing. The pitches were soft.

I watched the home run derby—my favorite part of the weekend—and pitches were lobbed to the plate as fast as the batter was ready. Two solid minutes of swinging hard. It was tiring business. I think the winner hit 20 or 21 over the fence.

It’s fun because so many players are gathered around to cheer and jeer, and outside of the fence are more players leaping to make catches.

Then out came the pitching rubber that was put in place farther away from home plate. Then out came a pitcher for a real game—the all-star clash. Holy smokes! Those are fast pitches.

They throw curves and sliders, and they really zip into home plate. There are a lot of strikeouts as the wiffleball takes an odd trajectory from pitcher to home.

Morenci was the site of a regional tournament last season—the last stop before the national finals. Perhaps I don’t give my home town enough credit, but I didn’t think the players would appreciate hanging out in such a small town for a weekend.

Last year when we published a story about the tournament, Yankee Stadium was in the background of the photo. Here in Morenci? Well, there’s the City’s DPW building to aim for or perhaps General Broach Company at another field. It just doesn’t have the same appeal as the Big City.

Morenci was given that regional game last year because our city administrator, Michael Sessions, is on the national committee and he suggested scheduling a tournament here.

Participants enjoyed Morenci so much that they looked forward to a return visit. And what eventually happened is that we lost the regional tournament but gained the national contest. Yeah, right here in Morenci.

I played a small role in the return visit. When I was taking photos last summer, I overheard one of the organizers complaining about the difficulty of obtaining vegetarian food. I went home and cooked some scrambled eggs and served him brunch. He was impressed with small-town service.

It still seems nuts. It seems nuts that these guys take the sport they once played in their back yards so seriously—seriously enough to travel from Florida, from Missouri, from New York, etc.

And what a great group of people. I talked with a guy named Truck who puts on wiffleball fund-raiser tournaments. He’s brought in about $50,000 for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

I spoke with a guy who goes by the name Mippey5. He’s a rapper from Fridley, Minn., and he makes some very funny videos. Overall, he said, he’s wasted a lot of time over the years. I suppose, but it’s good entertainment.

Mippey5 was enthralled by so many farm ponds. His team stayed at a bed-and-breakfast near Metamora and, yes, it has a pond.

Truck explained the difference between adult softball and adult wiffleball. It’s camaraderie, he said. Of course wiffle games are competitive—especially when you’re playing for the national title—but when the game ends, everybody is friends again. You could see it at the park. They wore different colored shirts, but they almost could have been one giant team.

Michael received a lot of good reports about the event. “Can’t thank you enough for having us out for a truly first class wiffle event! You did great and you should be proud!” “Thanks for all of the hard work. I’m already looking forward to next year.”

There wasn’t a big crowd of local people watching, but many came and went throughout the weekend, and I heard good reports from them, also.

I’m a sucker for events that shouldn’t be serious, but they’re taken seriously along with some tongue-in-cheek attitude.

That’s adult wiffleball. It’s nutty, and I love it.