Torneo de Wiffs Recap

torneo de wiffs.jpg

 

MAY 5, 2018 (YORK, PA) - It was a wild sixty hours for Dave Capobianco.

The Thursday before the second Mid Atlantic Wiffle tournament of the 2018 season, the New School Risers’ captain informed MAW officials that he would have to withdraw his team from the event. The erstwhile Old School Riser suffered a grade-2 calf strain a day earlier. As his team’s only pitcher, he believed the injury was severe enough that it would prevent them from competing. It was agreed upon by both parties that the New School Risers debut would be delayed until MAW’s June 16th event.

It was only after contacting the tournament organizers that Dave alerted his teammates of what was going on. Dave’s fellow Risers – who, we should mention, also moonlight as his teenage daughter and son – reacted with enough disappointment that it caused him to reconsider. The elder Capobianco – once a star southpaw on Fast Plastic Maryland region stalwarts, the Old School Risers – iced his calf muscles and decided to give the tournament his best shot. Some sixty hours later, the Risers had four big wins, a walk off homerun, several nail-biting victories, multiple clutch hits, and a second-place finish under their belts.

Good thing he listened to the kids.

The Risers’ run to the championship game was the talk of the tournament. The Salisbury, Maryland team began their day in impressive fashion by mercy ruling the Barrel Bruisers in 1 ½ innings. The Risers were patient and took the free passes offered up by the Bruisers’ Colin Dimitris. Dave made quick work of the Bruisers’ usually solid offense, striking out all six batters he faced.  

The Risers failed to score a run off ERL’s Connor Young in their second game of the tournament and dropped the contest by a score of 1-0. The trio bounced back in their third game, taking it to the Yaks by a final score of 10-2. The Risers ended their pool play schedule with a 2-0 loss to the defending champions, the Stompers. A couple of wins and a .500 record would have made for a solid day, but the Capobiancos were just getting started. The two victories earned them a play-in game against a fellow debuting 2-2 team, the Ridley Park Longballs, with the final spot in the single elimination round at stake.

The play-in game made it through the two innings of regulation without a score. Dave picked up a single and a walk, while his son Matt also added a single, and the Risers took a comfortable total bases lead into extra innings. In the third, the Longballs’ Joey VanHouten narrowed the total base margin to 3-1 with a one-out single. Unfortunately for the Longballs, that was as close as they would get. In the bottom of the third, Dave led off with a walk and two batters later sent his team into the semi-finals on a walk off two-run blast.

The walk off ended what was an impressive showing for the Longballs. The group was as deep on the mound as any team in the field. They threw four different pitchers and all four showed talent and upward projection. The Longballs finished the tournament with a very solid +8 run differential. The team represented the Ridley Park Wiffleball League well and the talent in that league is undeniable. Look for these guys to continue to make some noise in MAW – and elsewhere – later this summer.

“I loved the Ridley Park guys’ energy and enthusiasm,” Stompers’ captain Tim Cooke told The Drop. “And that was before they stepped on the field. A lot of young talent out there. Multiple guys who could pitch and their bats really heated up as the day went along. These are the guys we need to keep coming back. They compete and will step to the next level quickly with a little bit more experience. They were really good on the field and good guys off the field as well.”

  Dave Capobianco (Risers) gets ready to deliver a pitch.

Dave Capobianco (Risers) gets ready to deliver a pitch.

The Risers walk-off win set them up for a date with a 4-0 My Name is ERL squad. ERL pitchers suffocated opposing offenses throughout round robin play. Young shutout both the InHumans and Risers, while Dan Whitener – making his ERL debut – shutout both the Stompers and Bruisers. ERL’s bats, however, continued to lag well behind their arms. After putting up seven runs on the InHumans, ERL managed only two runs in their next three games – a pair of 1-0 victories and a 0-0 total bases win against the Bruisers. It was still an improvement over the first tournament, where ERL scored only one run in three games and created far fewer scoring opportunities.

“I’ll never be satisfied, let’s be honest,” ERL manager Young remarked about his team’s offensive output. “But truthfully we took a step forward today offensively. I would have liked for us to put together better at bats in the semis but we surely took a step forward . . . Joe [Schlindwein] has become more aggressive on balls in the zone, which is great.”

Having already scored off Dave Capobianco once and with Blake Hoffman completely fresh, ERL were the heavy favorites against the Risers in their semi-final meeting. The game that followed was the best of the tournament and among the most exciting games played in MAW’s 15 months of existence.

The game entered the third inning scoreless. After retiring the first batter of the inning, Hoffman walked Matt Capobianco but came right back to punch out his dad. A first pitch strike to Kyleigh Capobianco had Hoffman just one pitch away from getting out of the inning and keeping the game notched at zero. Instead, the talented southpaw left a screwball over the plate and Kyleigh got all of it. The ball nearly cleared the right field fence on Horn – an impressive feat given that field’s dimensions and slight upward slope – but instead bounced off the wall for a run scoring triple. The big blow seemed to take all the wind out of ERL’s sails. Hoffman regrouped to keep the margin at one, but ERL’s offense failed to convert on a first and second opportunity in the third and then went quietly in the fourth.

Three outs away from a loss, Soup took matters into his own hands. ERL’s captain led off the 5th inning with a triple to put the tying run ninety feet away. Whitener followed up with a walk but Capobianco got Schlindwein and Hoffman to strike out. Not deterred, Soup shot a single back up the middle to tie the game and give ERL new life.

A rejuvenated Hoffman struck out the side in the 6th. In the 7th inning, however, Dave got a hold of another pitch and pulled it over the right field fence for a tiebreaking homerun. This time around, Dave made the run hold up. He shut down ERL in the bottom half the inning to pitch his team into the finals.

As for ERL, Soup chose not to dwell on the loss and instead offered some perspective on his young left-hander.

“People haven’t grasped how new this kid [Hoffman] is to competitive wiffs. He’s just getting onto the field. He’s thrown what – maybe four games his whole career outside of the backyard? He’s learning every event. He probably learned more losing that game than he would have winning. I’m ecstatic he’s a part of this team. His development from young phenom to wiffs superstar is going to be fun to watch.”

The final was a matchup of the tournament’s two iron men as Capobianco squared off with the Stompers’ Chris Sarnowski. Entering the finals, Capobianco had 23 innings logged on his arm already while Sarno came in with 20 innings pitched. Despite the heavy workload, neither pitcher showed any signs of giving in early. It was not until the 4th inning when Sarno broke through with a solo homerun – his third of the tournament. The homerun seemed to ignite the Stompers’ offense as they followed with four straight baserunners (walk, single, double, single) to plate an additional three runs. The cushion was enough for Sarno and the Stompers held on for their second straight tournament win.

Cooke had plenty of praise for both of the championship game pitchers.

“Sarno was fantastic. Words really cannot describe the job he did. He let up his two runs in the first two games and then was lights out, which is incredible considering he had to face Capobianco twice and Potter once. I think the most impressive thing was he kept us engaged in the first two games. Once we got through those, his arm started to feel good and he went to another level . . . Capobianco was the first lefty we faced this season. You can see why he was so good in 2005/2006. Great drop, plus riser and occasional slider. I think his old style scuffing added something different to his drop. It never dropped the same and kept us off our of game for 7 innings. We were fortunate that he eventually tired out late in the championship game but if he comes back, I’m hoping he’ll be some other team’s problem until the later rounds.”

The tournament win is the Stompers’ fourth in a row dating back to last September and including the October Championship Tournament. The group holds a 19-1 record during that period.

Despite that, it was the Capobianco family that rightfully won the attention and affection of the rest of the tournament field. The trio battled all day, got major contributions from all three team members, and never wavered in their determination.

For Dave – whose experienced Wiffle Ball success in the past – making this run with his family was extra special.

  All in the family - the New School Risers battled through a very competitive tournament field to finish in 2nd place. (L:R Kyleigh, Dave, and Matt Capobianco).

All in the family - the New School Risers battled through a very competitive tournament field to finish in 2nd place. (L:R Kyleigh, Dave, and Matt Capobianco).

“When I brought up the idea to them, they were pumped. They had heard about my competitive Wiffle Ball days and wanted to see what it was all about.  Our goal was to simply have fun and enjoy the adventure, which we did! But after our first win, they both started thinking strategy and how we could make it into the playoffs and have a shot at winning it all. We are a pretty competitive family like that.”

While Dave was the driving force behind his team – and in almost any other tournament, the clear-cut tournament MVP – his two teammates contributed big hits throughout and only improved as the day went along.

“My highlight of the day was seeing them fight through the humbling at bats that naturally come facing any good Wiffle Ball pitcher,” The Risers’ patriarch commented after the tournament. “Each came through with big hits on our road to the finals . . . Priceless!”

Here and There

  Chris Owen (Bruisers) cracks a smile before going into his wind up as his teammates look on.

Chris Owen (Bruisers) cracks a smile before going into his wind up as his teammates look on.

Did you notice anything different about Chris Owen on the rubber last Saturday? The tall righty ditched scuffed balls in favor of a clean one after figuring out a 12-6 overhand drop with it. The results – two runs over eight innings of work against the Yaks and ERL – were self-evident . . . As speculated upon in our tournament preview, Jarod Bull was indeed unavailable to pitch on Saturday, confirming why he played with the InHumans rather than the Yaks. Bull – who thinks the shoulder soreness may have come from throwing a football – believes the injury to be minor and is hopeful it won’t keep him off the flat hill for very long . . . The question was raised on Saturday as to whether the New School Riser’s 1 ½ inning mercy rule victory over the Barrel Bruisers was the shortest game in MAW history. Our crack team of statisticians went right to work on the answer and can confirm that the game did indeed set the record. Interestingly, the Bruisers were on the good side of the old record (two full innings) with 2017 drubbings of Squad 51 and the Stompers . . . The third-place game between the Yaks and ERL was only the second third place game in MAW history. Way Too Beautiful defeated the Barrel Bruisers last July in the first consolation game . . . On Sunday, several tournament participants made their way Baluvelt, NY for the second week of the Palisades WBL season. Connor Young made his debut with the Brewers, picking up two wins while tossing six scoreless innings. Young’s ERL teammate, Dan Whitener, went 1-1, but did not allow a run over 11 innings while playing for the Yankees. April tournaments participants Jordan Robles (1 run, 5 IP) and TJ Hannon (7 runs, 5 IP) also pitched on Sunday in New York.

Quotable

  The Longballs look on as ERL and the InHumans do battle on Sheff in an early round robin game.

The Longballs look on as ERL and the InHumans do battle on Sheff in an early round robin game.

  •  For a guy whose scouting report was that he has control problems at times, he certainly didn’t show it on Saturday. Had his fastball and screwball working. The fastball riser got on you before you could feel comfortable in the box. Wish we had a gun on Saturday because it would have been very interesting to see what his fastball was registering.” – Tim Cooke on ERL’s Dan Whitener
  • Depth. We needed depth. Especially with me deciding to play Palisades as well this year. I won’t be able to take on the kind of innings in a single day like last year.” – Soup on the decision to add Whitener
  • Having my kids push and encourage me definitely gave me extra motivation. Ultimately, I am just pleased we had some success and they got a taste for professional Wiffle Ball and had a blast . . . We will be back!” – Dave Capobianco on his tournament experience
  • Our bats weren’t as good as we had hoped. Potter – I mean – once he gets going it is just scary to face him. I am glad he is on my team. It took him a few games to get going, but once he got going he was just crushing the ball.” – Adam Milsted on the Yaks’ offense

Postseason Race

With two tournaments under our belt, it is time to take a first glance at the overall standings.

constantexchange (1).png

The Stompers put a little distance between themselves and the rest of the field but with four tournaments remaining, the top spot is still up for grabs. ERL sits solidly in the second spot thanks to consecutive 5th and 3rd place finishes. Things get really muddied in the middle with five teams sitting between 12 and 14 points. The runners up at the first two tournaments – Naturals and New School Risers – could be sitting pretty if they can repeat or better their prior finish at an upcoming tournament. The Yaks have yet to fire on all cylinders, yet still are right in the thick of things thanks in large part to their fourth place finish at Torneo de Wiffs. A top two finish in an upcoming tournament would put them in prime shape for a solid playoff seed.

With 15 teams competing over the first two tournaments, the Championship Tournament purse is on pace to top $1,800 dollars.* There is still more than enough time for returning teams and new teams to grab a spot in the six-team Championship Tournament with four tournaments – including the Canonsburg auto qualifier – yet to come!

* The cited Championship Tournament purse is based on 45 teams over six tournaments. The actual amount could be more or less depending on the number of teams that participate in the regular season tournaments.

Up Next

  Dan Potter (Yaks) makes the throw home after fielding a grounder in a pivotal game against the Ridley Park Longballs.

Dan Potter (Yaks) makes the throw home after fielding a grounder in a pivotal game against the Ridley Park Longballs.

Can you think of a better way to spend Father’s Day weekend than playing Wiffle Ball? We can’t! Join us on Saturday, June 16th in York, PA for Wiffle Wars – the third tournament of the 2018 MAW regular season!  A handful of teams are already committed for the event and interest in this one is high. This could very well end up being one of the most competitive tournaments of the summer anywhere, so don’t wait to sign up! Contact timcooke1982@gmail.com or visit www.midatlanticwiffle.com for more information!

After June, MAW returns to York twice more in 2018 on July 14th and August 4th. It is not too early to register for either of those events, both of which promise to be ultra-competitive as the season heads down the home stretch.

Last but certainly not least, MAW caps off the regular season with our debut in Canonsburg, PA on August 18th. Located just outside of Pittsburgh and home to our friends and co-tournament sponsors, the Wiff is Life League, Canonsburg is an ideal location for teams in Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia looking to compete. Not to mention, the winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid to the MAW Championship Tournament on Saturday, September 8. This is a tremendous opportunity for teams from anywhere in the country to test themselves against top notch competition, win some cash, and earn a chance at winning even more come the Championship Tournament.

And as always, check out our friends at www.wiffleballtournaments.com for the latest information on tournaments and leagues all around the country. Whether is with MAW or elsewhere, get out there and play ball!

May 5, 2018 Tournament Preview

After just three short weeks, MAW is back in action with the second tournament of 2018! On Cinco de Mayo, seven teams will be compete for first place and over $400 in cash prizes. With a six week layoff between this tournament and June's Wiffle Wars, some playoff hopefuls look to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the field, others up to reverse a slow start from April's Opening Day tournament, and a pair of first time teams attempt to make a splash.

SHORT HANDED

  Winners of three straight MAW tournaments, the Stompers will be without Jordan Robles (top right) and Nick Schaefer (bottom right) on Saturday.

Winners of three straight MAW tournaments, the Stompers will be without Jordan Robles (top right) and Nick Schaefer (bottom right) on Saturday.

Opening Day Tournament champions, the Stompers, will have an uphill battle in their quest to repeat. The team will be without both Jordan Robles and Nick Schaefer on the 5th. As a result, Chris Sarnowski will have to shoulder much of the pitching load. Sarno is coming off a title win in the first GSWL Yard League tournament of the year this past weekend and pitched eight high quality innings back in April for the Stompers. He will look to keep the momentum going on Saturday with another big performance.

The trio of Sarno and the Cooke brothers combined for 13 hits (7 for extra bases) and a .536 wOBA on Opening Day. If their bats stay hot and the team can pick up a landslide victory (or two), that should relieve some of the pressure on their otherwise temporarily limited pitch corps. The Stompers have not lost a game dating back to last September and have won three MAW tournaments in a row.

HOFFMAN UNLEASHED?

In his MAW regular season debut in April, ERL’s Blake Hoffman was limited to one game and four innings pitched. Hoffman was very good in his abbreviated debut, striking out all twelve Way Too Beautiful batters that he retired. After the tournament, ERL captain Connor Young hinted that his star southpaw would see more action the next time out. If ERL does indeed unleash Hoffman on Saturday, it could spell big trouble for the rest of the field. Blake has not yet faced any of the teams in Saturday’s tournament and Sarno is the only player with any prior plate appearances against him. That combination of opponent unfamiliarity and tremendous stuff could lead to a big day for the young pitcher.

ROSTER SHAKEUPS

  Adam Milsted will make his York Yaks' debut this Saturday, providing the team with another quality bat and arm.

Adam Milsted will make his York Yaks' debut this Saturday, providing the team with another quality bat and arm.

May 5th was supposed to be debut of the full 2018 York Yaks squad with Adam Milsted officially joining the club. While Milsted is still slated to suit up for the Yaks on Saturday, we hear that the Yaks still might not be at full strength. Reportedly, at least one Yak is scheduled play with the InHumans (in which case, the InHumans will be ineligible to earn points this tournament). Additionally – although not completely unrelated – there are rumors that Jarod Bull might not be available to pitch after suffering a non-wiffleball related injury to his pitching arm. It goes without saying that the Yaks will have a tougher go at it if they have to play without their ace. Just how the Yaks and InHumans rosters shape up will be one of the stories to watch early Saturday morning.

A team representing the Ridley Park Wiffleball League (RPWL) will be in action on Saturday. Who exactly will be on that team remains to be seen. For various reasons, RPWL will not be sending their usual traveling roster – a group that shocked some folks last year in finishing 6th at the NWLA tournament – but are expected to have a representative team present. We know league ace Tommy Loftus – out for the season recovering from a herniated disc – will be missing, but that’s about all we know at this time. Ridley Park has plenty of talented players that have the potential to make an impact including, but not limited to, Dylan Harshaw, Colin Pollag, Sean Bingnear, and Austin Bleacher.

  The match ups for pool play. Top four teams advance to single elimination round.

The match ups for pool play. Top four teams advance to single elimination round.

OLD BECOMES NEW

After getting their feet wet playing in Wiffle Up! events in the early 2000’s, The Old School Risers from Maryland’s eastern shore made their mark on the Wiffle scene in 2005 when they finished in the top half of the field (16 out of 40) at the Fast Plastic National Championship tournament. The team followed that up by dominating the Fast Plastic Maryland region in 2006. A decade later, the Risers are back in action . . . sort of.

Say hello to the New School Risers. The Old School Riser’s stalwart lefthander, Dave Capobianco, is keeping the wiffle tradition in the family and will team with his two teenage children on Saturday. Capobianco spent many years as a dependable, strike throwing southpaw and will likely lead his new Risers squad on the rubber.

  Dan Potter (Yaks) reached base 15 out of 21 plate appearances in April.

Dan Potter (Yaks) reached base 15 out of 21 plate appearances in April.

BY THE NUMBERS

  • Can Potter keep it up? The 2017 MAW hitting award winner was out of this world at the plate on Opening Day. He reached base in 15 of his 21 plate appearances, hit four homeruns, and had a tournament leading 23 total bases. It might be about time that we stop talking about Potter as one of the most underrated hitters in the game and start talking about him as one of the best hitters in the game.
  • Chris Owen’s (Barrel Bruisers) pitching line from Opening Day certainly doesn’t look impressive (6 IP, 12 R, 12 BB), but it might be a bit deceiving. Chris no hit the Cuban Raft Riders in the Bruiser’s opener, but lost 1-0 thanks for four first inning walks. He was hit hard by G€M in his second game, but once again did himself no favors with 6 walks in two innings of work. Finding a way to limit the free passes will be key for him on Saturday.
  • ERL’s two-headed pitching monster of Connor Young and Blake Hoffman did a lot of things right on April 14th, even as the team stumbled to a 1-2 record. The duo allowed only two runs (fewest among all teams), limited the number of walks to 7 in 10 innings, and led all teams with 11.6 K’s/4 IP.
  • If Soup and Blake are to pick up more wins this tournament, ERL’s offense will have to carry its own weight. On Opening Day, the team hit just .111/.200/.194. Granted, those numbers came against some stiff pitching competition but the offense will obviously need to do better. The possible season debut of Gerard Fitzgerald should help in that regard. Fitzgerald is a quality hitter who has posted a career slash line of .308/.407/.620 over three seasons in the Palisades WBL.
  • Currently, seven teams are expected to compete on Saturday. A seven-team field means a four-game round robin schedule and six games needed to win the whole thing. The additional round robin game will lead to some interesting strategy decisions for every team, particularly those that are short on pitching. To win the tournament – and barring any mercy rule wins – a team will need at least 25 innings from its pitchers compared to the usual 22 innings needed in an eight-team field.

The Historical Significance of Chris Schrock & The Zoo Crew

Tomorrow evening, Chris Schrock will be interviewed on WROC’s Fast Plastic Radio. Billy Owens prefaced the announcement on last Wednesday's show by stating that “99.9 % of you don’t know who this is”, which is admittedly not the typical way to sell an interview (“Come listen to this guy you never heard of!”). It  is, however, accurate. Schrock’s relative anonymity should not scare listeners away. In fact, it is precisely why you should listen to the show. Schrock and the team he played on are an important and interesting - if not vastly underappreciated - part of the history of our game.

In the lineage of this particular brand of Wiffle Ball, which includes the mid-90’s North American Champions in Cincinnati, the New Jersey Wiffleball Association, the USPPBA, Fast Plastic, and current organizations like Palisades WBL and Mid Atlantic Wiffle, Rick Ferroli’s World Wiffleball Association (“WWBA”) is considered the starting point. The organization’s 1989 National Championship is generally considered to be the first genuine national tournament. The 1989 tournament champions (The Hanover Orioles) are considered by some – myself included – to be the first national champions of the sport.

In the second year of the WWBA National Championship tournament, the Zoo Crew from Hamilton, Massachusetts entered the event in Waltham and by their own words “just walked through it” on the way to the title. The following year, the team captured the championship again, but this time among fiercer competition. At the 1991 tournament, the Zoo Crew’s path to the title included a 3-1 first round victory, a 1-0 extra-inning second round victory, and a narrow 2-0 defeat over Bruce Chrystie’s Orangemen squad in the finals. In winning the title for a second straight year, the Zoo Crew became the first two-time National Champions in history, an accomplishment that only two other teams have managed in the years since (Team Trenton 1995-1997, Arizona Vipers 2002-2003).

Although he was not the Zoo Crew’s best player – that accolade belongs to two-time WWBA National tournament MVP Mike Story – Chris Schrock was the most prolific member of the championship team. At the time of the 1991 tournament, Schrock was an inside and outside linebacker – as well as the punter – for the Boston University football team. After graduating from Boston University, Schrock spent some time as a punter in both the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles organizations, although it appears he never made the active roster on either team.

From the little that is publicly out there about the Zoo Crew, we know that they were a colorful and intimidating team. Their unique uniforms (Hockey jerseys! Wool caps!) were chosen specifically so opposing teams would believe they were off their rockers. “You’ve got to question our IQ when you see us,” Schrock told the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan. “People say, ‘You out on furlough from Cedar Junction?’ But that’s the image we want – escaped convicts, psychos, nut cakes.” With three of the four team members standing over 6-feet tall and weighing more than 200 pounds, it wasn’t as if the unique uniforms were necessary to strike fear in the hearts of opponents.

If you are someone who believes that the game of thirty or twenty years ago was a prehistoric version of what we have now, think again. In winning back-to-back titles, the Zoo Crew had to contend with teams and players who went on to make a huge mark in the sport for the rest of the 1990’s and into the 2000’s. Among Schrock and the Zoo Crew’s peers at the 1990 and 1991 WWBA tournaments were Mike Palinczar, Fred Bastedo, Jerome “The Legend” Coyle, Darren Bone, Dan Cryan, Mike Soltesz, and Bruce Chrystie. Anyone that saw those guys play – even past their primes – understand that Schrock and the Zoo Crew went up against legitimately talented players in winning their championships.

Schrock can potentially offer interesting insight into the sport’s first dynasty team, the sport’s first true national organization, the early days of players we remember, and the early days of players we have possibly never heard of. For those reasons and more, do not sleep on this interview tomorrow evening. It holds the potential to be a rare glimpse into an era of the game that often does not get the attention it deserves.

2018 Opening Day Tournament Recap

  The Naturals (Top Left - Bottom Right): Jason Lombardozzi, Matt Herbek, David Herbek, Brian Herbek

The Naturals (Top Left - Bottom Right): Jason Lombardozzi, Matt Herbek, David Herbek, Brian Herbek

APRIL 14, 2018 (YORK, PA) – The first game of the day was a re-match of last year’s Championship Tournament finals. The last game of the day pitted the 2017 champions against one of the more impressive squads to debut in quite a while. In between those two games at Mid Atlantic Wiffle’s 2018 Opening Day tournament, we saw veteran teams struggle, new clubs make their mark, returning teams re-tool, and newcomers impress with their play. If the chaotic and competitive tournament is a harbinger of what’s in store for the rest of the season, we are in for one wild summer in the Mid Atlantic!

One of the joys of tournament Wiffle Ball is the discovery of new and talented teams. For most teams, it takes time – a couple of tournaments, maybe a couple of seasons – to transform into regular contenders. It is rare for a team to show up at a highly competitive tournament for the first time and fire on all cylinders. After Saturday, there is another team to add to the list.

The Naturals – a very appropriately named foursome from Virginia – made their major competitive Wiffle Ball tournament debut this Saturday in York. The team is comprised of the Herbek brothers – Brian, Dave, and Matt – along with Jason Lombardozzi. There are players with major collegiate baseball experience on the team, with Dave having starred at James Madison University and Lombardozzi at the University of Florida. The player’s baseball backgrounds were evident all day long in their business like and polished approach to every at bat.

Baseball accomplishments aside, the Naturals entered Saturday with little competitive Wiffle Ball experience, save for a single tournament a decade earlier. Undaunted, the team cerebrally took down one experienced pitcher after another. Adam Milsted (Way Too Beautiful), Connor Young (My Name is ERL), and Ben Stant (GCM), all fell victim to the newcomers on their march to the title game. Even the one veteran pitcher that managed to defeat The Naturals before the championship – the Stompers’ Nick Schaefer – was not entirely immune to the team’s impressive power. The Naturals hit six homeruns during the tournament – all no-doubters and all coming in big moments. Their approach at the plate and bigtime power was the talk of the tournament.

“We didn’t play in the pool with the Naturals but man can they hit!” Barrel Bruisers captain Jerry Hill told The Drop when asked which players or teams he hadn’t previously seen made an impression on him. “What impressed me most is how they adjusted even when fooled. They know how to drop their lower half and battle. These guys have obviously taken a lot of hacks in their lifetime and as they see more Wiffle pitches and get their timing they will be deadly.”

The Naturals proved they were far from a one trick pony on Saturday. Three out of the four team members took to the rubber and all three pitched reasonably well. Leading the way for the Naturals pitchers was tournament MVP Matt Herbek. Matt pitched three complete games for The Naturals and part of a fourth, covering 14 1/3 innings in total. On the day, Matt allowed just run one on three hits. Prior to the title game, he had allowed just two hits and no runs. Throwing a variety of pitches with very good velocity and solid break, Matt went right at opposing hitters all day long. He allowed just ten walks the entire tournament and only six before the championship game. Both Lombardozzi and Dave Herbek showed serious potential on the rubber, although both struggled to limit the free passes. The team fielded well. They made the routine plays and turned at least one double play like seasoned Wiffle Ball pros.

If the Natural’s hitting abilities were the talk of the tournament, their well-roundedness was a close second. When asked for a team – past or present – that The Naturals reminded him of, Stompers’ captain Tim Cooke was unable to provide a direct answer.

“They really don't remind me of a specific team from the past or present.  Not too many teams have their pitching quality and line up where everyone can contribute.”

Cooke received an up-close look at The Naturals, as they matched up with the Stompers in both pool play and again in the tournament championship. In the first meeting, the Stompers handed the ball to veteran Nick Schaefer. The 38-year old –criminally underrated his entire Wiffle career – found his pitching duties reduced to a one or two game matchup role this season with the return of Jordan Robles and the addition of Chris Sarnowski. Schaefer has as much big game pitching experience as any pitcher in the region and was up to the task against an opponent who to that point in the tournament hadn’t lost and hadn’t been scored upon. Schaefer came at The Naturals with a great game plan and even better execution, keeping them off balance for most of the four-inning game. Three walks and a two-run homerun off the bat of Dave Herbek were the only blemishes on Nick’s record that game. Schaefer also shined at the plate, hitting a two-run shot in the second inning that put the Stompers ahead for good.

“The biggest game of the day for us was game three against The Naturals,” Cooke recounted after the tournament.  “Lose to them, we play Ben Stant in the semi-finals instead of the Cuban Raft Riders.  Also wanted to put Nick in a situation where he could test where he is at physically.  Had no doubt he would deliver and that was a really good hitting team . . . He [Schaefer] is very crafty and understands how to pitch.  He doesn't have the velocity that he once had, but he has the pitching knowledge to know what he needs to do to compensate.”

In the finals, the Stompers went with their relatively fresh ace, Robles, against Matt Herbek, who had already worked more than ten innings on the day. That heavy workload may have taken its toll on Matt, as he was uncharacteristically wild in the first inning. He loaded the bases on walks with one out, before walking the number five hitter, Paul Cooke, to plate an early run. Matt recovered and allowed only one hit – a third inning triple by Paul – but the damage had already been done.

  Jordan Robles was nearly untouchable in the tournament finals.

Jordan Robles was nearly untouchable in the tournament finals.

Robles – who threw just four stress-free innings prior to the title game – pitched a brilliant game. Relying heavily on a low sidearm drop, Robles kept a dangerous lineup off balance for all five innings. Jordan did not allow a hit or a walk the entire game and came one 5th inning groundball out short of an all strikeouts perfect game.

The victory gave the Stompers their third straight tournament victory (including October’s Championship Tournament) and an early lead in what promises to be a long and winding playoff race. The team received contributions up and down the lineup and were the only unit to have three different pitchers win a game. As impressive as his team was in victory, Cooke was equally as impressed with the Stompers’ championship game opponents.

“The finals against Jordan wasn't representative of what they [The Naturals] were doing all day.  That's also a statement about how good Jordan was in the finals.  Fourteen strikeouts with only one ball put into play against a team that had homered in all four prior games . . . I hope they [The Naturals] come back.  Those games were a ton of fun and they have the chance to be a very special team.”

Veteran Teams Struggle

It was a difficult opening tournament for several veteran and returning teams.

  Soup delivers a pitch in round robin versus the Naturals.

Soup delivers a pitch in round robin versus the Naturals.

My Name is ERL dropped a pair of 1-0 heartbreakers to The Naturals and Stompers in the loaded A-Block, before salvaging their tournament with a win against Way Too Beautiful. The story in both losses was one pitch from Connor “Soup” Young – a riser in both cases – that brought in the games’ only runs.

“I wouldn't have thrown that riser that's for sure,” Soup stated when asked what – if anything – he might have done differently in the tournament. “Both games we lost were on the riser. I felt really good, I just missed a couple spots. Both were good pieces of hitting . . . I just know I could have avoided it. I'll learn from it and be back tougher at the next event.”

Things also did not go quite as planned for another New Jersey squad, Way Too Beautiful. The veteran club was stuck in the difficult A Block and were swept out of the tournament in three straight. Adam Milsted was the first victim of The Naturals’ bats, Ian Crosby fell 5-2 to the Stompers, and Brett Poulton lost 1-0 to ERL in the Battle for New Jersey. The tournament was likely the only appearance for W2B in Mid Atlantic this year, as Adam Milsted will be playing the remainder of the season on the York Yaks (the move was announced prior to the tournament and W2B were therefore not eligible to earn playoff points this tournament).

Speaking of the Yaks, Opening Day was a tournament they would like to quickly move on from. The 2017 MAW regular season champions went 0-3, losing a six-inning extra inning game to GCM in the opener, dropping a wild back-and-forth contest against the Bruisers 14-11, and falling just short of a fourth inning comeback against the Cuban Raft Riders.

Despite the outcome, Yaks’ captain Nick Shirey saw positives in the Yaks’ first tournament of the year, while still recognizing the need for improvement.

“Overall, I am happy with our performance. We outhit every team we played without question. The walks did us in. [Jarod] Bull was rusty but it was a good warmup . . . We were short on arms due to availability and some injuries but we battled all day. Pottsy [Dan Potter] was Pottsy. I only remember him getting out 3-4 times all day.”

  Dan Potter waits for a pitch. Potter reached base in 21 out of 26 plate appearances on Saturday and led all players in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging.

Dan Potter waits for a pitch. Potter reached base in 21 out of 26 plate appearances on Saturday and led all players in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging.

Indeed, Potter’s hitting provided a major bright spot to a disappointing tournament for the Yaks. The 2017 Jerome “The Legend” Coyle hitting award winner put up an almost unbelievable slash line of .625/.714/1.438. As Shirey alluded to, Potter only made five outs all day, otherwise reaching base in 21 of his 26 plate appearances.

First Timers Thrive

Except for the Stompers, the final four consisted entirely of teams playing in their first MAW tournament.

The Ben Stant led GCM went undefeated in pool play, taking down the Yaks, Raft Riders, and Bruisers along the way. Stant handled most of the pitching for his team, with newcomer John Magee handling the pitching duties in a mercy rule shortened game against the Bruisers. Magee flashed a solid rising fastball in his debut. There is clearly room for growth and if he sticks it out, he has the upside to form a formidable one-two punch with Stant. Markus Lee showed off some impressive power late in the tournament. A high leg kick that he uses as a timing device makes him susceptible to off speed offerings, but he does some real damage when he makes contact. Stant hit all day long and logged a tournament leading fifteen innings on the mound. If GCM can find another reliable pitcher – either McGee or someone from the outside – they will become an immediate title contender (if they are not already).

The motley crew that is the Cuban Raft Riders gritted their way into the final four with a 2-1 record before running out of steam against the Stompers in the semi-finals. Led by the arm and bat of Jimmy Cole, the Raft Riders picked up a pair of close victories against the Barrel Bruisers (1-0) and Yaks (4-3).

Other players, including the Yaks’ Shirey, took notice of Cole’s ability on and off the field.

“Kid [Cole] has got a bat to be reckoned with. Great guy and Wiffle ambassador, too. I hope to see him again for a rematch.”

  Jimmy Cole goes into his wind up as teammate Brett Rooney gets set.

Jimmy Cole goes into his wind up as teammate Brett Rooney gets set.

The team lacked the pitching depth to make a deep run but Cole kept them in the running for as long as he could. J.J. Neely managed only a third of an inning on the mound against GCM, which pushed T.J. Hannon into emergency relief duty (a task he handled very well). Three of the four Raft Riders play in leagues in and around the Wiffle heavy Wilkes Barre area. If they can find another pitcher – or two if Cole’s appearance with the team is a one-time deal – they have the nucleus needed to be a team that consistently contends for a playoff round spot.

Talent Influx

Perhaps the biggest takeaway of Opening Day was just how many talented players made their Mid Atlantic debuts. In addition to those already discussed, three other debuting players turned some heads on Saturday.

It was more than five years ago that Collin Dimitris played alongside Connor Young in the Golden Stick fast pitch league. Following a lengthy absence from the sport, Dimitris got in touch with Young this winter. Young referred his old teammate to Hill and the Barrel Bruisers, who were in the market for another pitcher to pair with Chris Owen. Dimitris had a solid debut as a Bruiser and it is evident that once he shakes some of the dust off, he will be a vital member of the Bruiser’s lineup.

Hill was most impressed with Dimitris’ composure on the mound under tough circumstances.

  Colin Dimitris hung in there under pressure in his first tournament game in over 5 years.

Colin Dimitris hung in there under pressure in his first tournament game in over 5 years.

“Collin showed his grit game two versus the Yaks. We were down 0-8, he gave up two dingers to Shirey and another to Potter in the first two innings. That could weigh on a pitcher but he kept his head in the game and we battled back at the plate. In the bottom of the 4th he was struggling a bit, bases loaded, one out in a three-run game and he had already given up two runs. I made a trip to the mound to see how he was feeling. I looked him in the eyes and asked if was ready to win this game. Without hesitation he said I’ve got this. BOOM, he did it!”

The Stompers spent much of this past winter debating whether to add another player to an already crowded roster. The team finally made its move in March, bringing on second generation wiffler Chris Sarnowski. “Red” made an immediate impact in his Stomper’s debut, shutting out My Name is ERL in the opener and then defeating Way Too Beautiful for an encore. The flame throwing right-hander also carries a big stick, adding another bat to a Stompers’ lineup that can often run hot and cold.

Tim Cooke was impressed with his new acquisition’s all-around game.

"I knew Chris had a good bat.  Also knew he had a good arm, plus velocity, with the control being an issue at times.  He scattered the walks and his raw fastball riser has enough on it that he was able to balance the walks by getting swings and misses instead of contact. He had a lot of good at bats.  My biggest take away was that he also had a plan at the plate.  Execution is a little easier with a plan.  Took his walks and passed the baton.”

The most anticipated newcomer was ERL’s Blake Hoffman. While February’s Winter Classic tournament marked Hoffman’s official MAW/east coast debut, Saturday was his first action in a hotly contested, regular season tournament. The Ohio native came into the tournament with a big reputation and big expectations. While ERL’s early exit limited the southpaw to just one game, he nonetheless turned a lot of heads with the bigtime stuff he showed in a 1-0, 12 strike out win over Way Too Beautiful.

When asked what he believes Hoffman’s ceiling is as a pitcher, ERL captain Connor Young replied that he didn’t “want to gas up Blake too much” before doing just that and heaping a considerable amount of praise on the youngster.

  Blake Hoffman waits on a pitch.

Blake Hoffman waits on a pitch.

“This kid is the future. I refuse to put a ceiling on his potential because I really don't think there's anything he won't be able to do on the mound as he gets better with each outing. You can’t compare him to anyone. He's six-foot-four, lefthanded, and throws every pitch fast. Mix that with his phenomenal work ethic and you've got a once in a generation type player. He's gonna get a lot of game experience this summer. I know he'll be giving people fits in Texas. Everybody will see a little more what I'm talking about next time he toes the rubber.”

Here and There

The Wiffle weather gods were exceedingly kind on Saturday, fitting in a perfectly sunny, 80-degree day in the middle of what has been an unseasonably cold April in the Mid-Atlantic region . . . Just how competitive was this tournament? An amazing 13 out of 15 games were decided by 3 runs or less . . . Between the Winter Classic and Saturday’s Opening Day Tournament, Dan Potter has faced Jimmy Cole eight times. Potter has four hits and three homeruns – including a pair in one inning on Saturday – off Cole during that span . . . If we told you that the Stompers would bat .284/.479/.657 as a team, score 20 runs, and run the table on Saturday with Jordan Robles batting .125/.364/.312, how many of you would have believed us? . . . The Yaks’ slow start is nothing new to them. Last year the team’s record stood at 2-8 midway through the third tournament. From there they went on a 7-game winning streak, won two straight tournaments, and finished the year as the top seeded team heading into the playoffs . . . Relief appearances don’t  receive much attention in this sport, but T.J. Hannon’s 2 1/3 shutout innings in relief of J.J. Neely against GCM was as big as they come. His innings gave his team a shot at a comeback and more importantly, allowed Cole to rest before a crucial game three against the Yaks.

Quotable

“I was looking for something I could see.  In my first at bat, I got a drop on the inside half of the zone and then a ephus curve.  I didn't really see anything well the next couple of at bats.  When I finally got the riser, I was able to see it and put it in play.” – Tim Cooke on what he was looking for before his game winning triple off Connor Young

“We’ve gotten as far as we possibly could with one pitcher.” – A resigned Jimmy Cole (paraphrased) as he pulled himself from the semi-finals against the Stompers after surrendering a 3-run homerun to Sarno.

“As for our hitting, I want to say we were just shaking off the rust, but we didn't put together one good inning with the bats all day. We need to start swinging at better pitches. The bats won't stay quiet for long, especially with Gerard [Fitzgerald] back in the lineup.” – Soup on his team’s struggles at the plate (1 run scored in 3 games)

  The Naturals' Jason Lombardozzi digs in against Ben Stant.

The Naturals' Jason Lombardozzi digs in against Ben Stant.

“These guys appear to be the real deal. From what I watched, it looked like they can rake and I am sure that will only improve with more tourneys. Their ace was throwing cheese and with control. If their arms hold up, I predict this team will win MAW in 2018.” – Shirey with a bold prediction about The Naturals

“It would be nice to have that first game back, of course all 0-1 losers say that! Chris pitched a no-hitter but had 4 walks the first inning, that was the game. We caught Jimmy Cole fresh and he kept our timing off and shut us out. Knowing we were in that game gives me the confidence that we can occasionally compete. I know the top tier teams will be tough to beat, especially if we face their ace. However, since we are a mid-tier team we might face more #2 and #3’s and give us a chance to sneak to a 2-1 bracket record. We don’t have the traditional shutdown ace and will need to put up more runs to compete.” – Jerry Hill on his team’s first game and how it impacts his outlook for the Bruisers’ season.

Up Next

There is no rest for the weary, as we’ve got a quick turnaround to the next tournament on May 5th. MAW celebrates Cinco de Mayo with the second tournament of the 2018 regular season, Torneo de Wiffs. Many of the area’s regular teams will be back in action on the 5th and we hear it will be the season debut of everyone’s favorite underdogs, the InHumans, as they continue their quest for an elusive first win. There are rumors that at least one experienced trio might be heading to York on the 5th as well. There are only a few spots remaining for the tournament, so don’t miss this early season opportunity to pick up crucial playoff points!

Outside of MAW, be sure to check out the 14th Annual BWBL Charity Classic May 12th in Wilkes-Barre, PA. The tournament will take place a the beautiful Diamond City Park wiffleball field. All proceeds go to charity and the cost is just $10 per player. The format is two player teams with a double elimination round following an opening pool play round. Check out their Facebook page for more information and to register.

Opening Day 2018 Tournament Preview

it is here..jpg

A new season begins on Saturday, April 14th at the Shi Wiffleball Complex in York, PA. Eight teams are expected to compete on “Opening Day” for $500 in cash prizes and an opportunity to earn playoff points towards September’s Mid Atlantic Championship Tournament.

It is April in the northeast, which means there is at least coin flip chance that players will have to dodge some rain showers during the day. While Mother Nature presents an unknown challenge to every team, each team also has their own specific challenges and questions to face. The eclectic field includes teams representing five states and players from seven states. Among the participating teams are some MAW mainstays, new teams and players, and veteran teams making their Mid Atlantic debuts.

This is what we know – and what we don’t know – about the all eight teams in the field.

Barrel Bruisers (VA)

2017 Rewind: The Barrel Bruisers were the most consistent team in Mid Atlantic last season, finishing in the top four in every tournament and third or better in four of the five tournaments. Ryan Doeppel was the early season pitching sensation and the team’s potent bats – led by home run champ Jerry Hill – put up runs all season long. Unfortunately, Bruiser players dropped like flies as the season wore on and by the end, the team was left with a two-man roster of Hill and Chris Owen. The undermanned duo gave a valiant effort in the Championship Tournament before being eliminated by the Stompers.

What We Know: Owen and Hill are back and will once again be the cornerstones for the Bruisers. Both showed steady improvement on the mound last season and in the CFOT Winter Wiffle league. Owen particularly should provide the Bruisers with a dependable arm capable of beating quality teams. You can be certain that Jerry and Chris will continue to hammer mistake pitches as they did all last season.

What We Don’t Know: The Bruisers roster beyond Hill and Owen is anyone’s guess at this point. There were several players in Hill’s CFOT Winter Wiffle league that impressed but no word if any of them will be joining the Bruisers.

Tournament Outlook: Owen will be asked to carry a heavier pitching load for the Bruisers from the get-go this season. Command of his big bending slider and the further development of his screwball could be key on Opening Day. If he gets the slider over with regularity and mixes in enough other pitches to keep hitters off balance, he can hang with any team in the field. He’s also started working with knifed balls and it’ll be interesting to see if that helps him in any tangible way on Saturday.

The Bruisers landed in Block B, away from Connor Young (ERL), Nick Schaefer (Stompers), and Jordan Robles (Stompers) – a trio that went a combined 7-1 against the hard-hitting Bruisers last season. The team's round robin clash with the Yaks could determine their fate. The Yaks and Bruisers split their season series last year at two wins apiece. A Bruisers’ victory over the 2018 Regular Season champs could go a long way in getting them to the elimination round.

Cuban Raft Riders (PA)

2017 Rewind: N/A as a team. TJ Hannon got in one Sunday’s worth of games for the eventual Palisades WBL champions, The Giants, and another three games for the PWBL minor league Knights. Hannon played for the BWBL team in the NWLA east regionals last season, winning one game for his squad. BWBL lost in the title game of that tournament to Jimmy Cole’s AWAA. Cole showed up all over the place last season, competing in Palisades, Fast Plastic Texas Open, and the NWLA tournament, among other organizations. JJ Neely bounced around a  couple of NWLA affiliated leagues in the Wilkes-Barre area last season.

What We Know: All three players have prior pitching experience, so the pitching duties can be spread around. Hannon is a lefty, so CRR will be able to throw a few different looks at opposing hitters. Cole can rake against any level of pitcher, Neely is said to be a good hitter, and Hannon crushed the ball in his three games with the Knights last year. The trio should be able to do some damage against mid-tier pitchers.

What We Don’t Know: After allowing a homerun to the Yaks’ Dan Potter at the MAW Winter Classic February, Cole pulled himself from the game citing shoulder soreness. Is Cole healthy enough to pitch on Saturday? His ability to give his team a start (or two) could go a long way in determining CRR’s fate. The team could add still add another player before the tournament.

Tournament Outlook:  Keep an eye out for Neely when he takes the ball. The tall righty has a nice rising fastball in his arsenal but has struggled to command it at times in the past. If on, he could be the team’s best pitcher. Cole likes to jump on pitches early in the count and could cause trouble for pitchers that aren’t careful in those situations. The Raft Riders have little to no history with any other players/teams in their pool. Dan Potter (Yaks) led off the MAW Winter Classic with a solo shot off of Jimmy Cole. Ben Stant (G€M) and Hannon were briefly teammates on the Palisades Giants last season. That unfamiliarity could work to the Rafters advantage, however, as their opponents have equally little information with which to game plan from.

The naturals (VA)

2017 Rewind: N/A. The Naturals are making their competitive tournament debut.

What We Know: Not much. The Virginia squad has done their homework and will likely come in as prepared as any first-time team can be. There is a rumor floating around – although unconfirmed – that there is some serious high-level baseball talent on their roster.

What We Don’t Know: Everything else!

OPENING DAY (1).jpg

Tournament Outlook:  Last year we saw a couple of first time players with good arms and solid baseball backgrounds make a relatively easily transition to Wiffle Ball pitching. There are reasons to believe The Naturals could have some players do the same. If that happens – and if they put some runs up on the board – The Naturals could make a splash in their MAW debut. On paper the newcomers appear to have a rough draw, but that’s only because we don’t know what to expect from them. The Naturals' first game of the day – versus Way Too Beautiful – could set the tone for the rest of their tournament. A win in that game sets them up well to potentially advance to the elimination round.

G€M (DE) 

2017 Rewind: N/A as a team. Team captain Ben Stant made the rounds in 2017. He picked up a pair of third place finishes in Mid Atlantic action (one with Way Too Beautiful and one with the Barrel Bruisers), won the New York GSWL playoffs with 10-Run Rule, made his Palisades WBL debut with 2017 champion Giants, and competed in the Fast Plastic Texas Open with the ragtag Jim’s Pub team.

What We Know: G€M is comprised of Stant and three newcomers from Dover, Delaware. The entire team is believed to have a baseball background. We know for sure that Stant can go toe-to-toe with every other pitcher the field.

What We Don’t Know: What sort of Wiffle Ball background – if any – the non-Stant members of the team posses. Will Stant be the team’s lone pitcher or will we see a pitching debut or two on the 14th? The status of the team going forward – whether this is a one-off or the potential start of a regular grouping – is also unknown.

Tournament Outlook: What makes the unknown members of G€M so intriguing is that they have a team captain who is an accomplished player and knows what to expect. Stant will likely have his group well prepared which could be a difference maker. If there is another pitcher among Stant’s teammates and solid bats up and down the lineup, G€M could make a run. Stant and the Yaks’ Jarrod Bull are arguably the two best pitchers in Block B. If Stant is able to pitch the majority of the games for his team – or if G€M does indeed have a quality second pitcher – they look like a strong bet to advance to the elimination round.

My Name is ERL (NJ)

2017 Rewind: The New Jersey trio made their MAW debut last June and wasted no time establishing themselves as one of the top teams in the organization. Thanks to a rubber-armed pitching performance by Connor “Soup” Young, ERL captured the June tournament title in impressive fashion. While a second 2017 tournament title eluded them, ERL played well the remainder of the year, finishing second in August, fourth in September, and second at October’s Championship Tournament.

What We Know: Recognizing the need for a quality pitcher other than himself, Soup moved quickly this offseason to address the issue by adding Wiffle wunderkind Blake Hoffman. Based out of Ohio, Hoffman is expected to be at Opening Day and a couple of other tournaments throughout the season. As we saw at the Winter Classic, Hoffman – a southpaw – gives ERL a double-headed pitching monster that could wreak havoc on opponents. ERL also added Gerard Fitzgerald to their team, beginning with the Winter Classic. However, Gerard will not be in the lineup on Opening Day.

What We Don’t Know: Less and less as the days go by. Originally, both Soup and Hoffman’s status for Opening Day were up in the air but the team has since confirmed that they will have both aces available on the 14th. ERL has been hard at work to add a sixth player to their roster, but it is not known whether they have been successful to that end and whether that player will be part of their Opening Day roster.

Tournament Outlook: With both Hoffman and Young, ERL will be tough to beat. It will be interesting to see how the two pitchers are utilized, however. Will ERL try to keep either Soup or Hoffman fresh for the elimination round or will they share the workload throughout the tournament? We’ve seen teams ride the hot hand and others that stick to a pre-planned rotation. ERL’s offense is also something to keep an eye on. If the team can get consistent quality at bats from Jim and Joe to take some of the pressure off the pitchers, then watch out!

ERL’s 2017 season ended last October with back-to-back losses to the Stompers in the Championship Tournament finals. ERL won’t have to wait long for their shot at revenge as those two teams will meet on Sheff in the very first game of the tournament! On paper at least, the winner of that game should have a leg up in Block A.

Stompers (MD) 

2017 Rewind: The Stompers bookended the 2017 MAW regular season with tournament championships and then pulled off a clean sweep of the Yaks and ERL in the playoffs. When healthy, Nick Schaefer shut down opposing hitters as he has done for more than 15 years but he also battled a shoulder ailment much of the season. The late season acquisition of Jordan Robles gave the Stompers an excellent one-two pitching punch and proved to be the difference maker in the 2017 championship scene.

What We Know: Robles is back with the Stompers for the 2018 Mid Atlantic season and is expected at Opening Day. Schaefer worked diligently all offseason on strengthening his shoulder and reports back that he expects to be much improved this season. After a lot of discussion about whether to stand still or add to the roster this winter, the Stompers officially brought Chris Sarnowoski on board in late March. Sarno will makes his Stompers debut on Opening Day. Lifelong Stomper Dan Isenberg is not expected for Opening Day but will make his season debut in the coming months as the team celebrates its 20th anniversary.

What We Don’t Know: While Schaefer anticipates that his shoulder will be a non-issue, there is no way to be sure until he gets a game or two under his belt.

Tournament Outlook: How Cooke manages the innings between his pitchers will be interesting. He certainly has a lot of options, which can be a luxury or a burden. Likewise, the Stompers expect to carry and bat five players on Opening Day. Some teams view batting five as a detriment and the Stompers will have look for ways to maximize their lineup. If the Stompers can make it through round robin with either Robles or Schaefer completely rested, they will have a leg up on the competition. As mentioned, the Stompers/ERL 2017 championship re-match that kicks off round robin looms large for both teams. The defending champs will have no time for a victory lap, not with ERL, W2B, and promising newcomers The Naturals awaiting them in their first three games of 2018.

Way Too Beautiful (NJ)

2017 Rewind: “New Jersey’s Premier Wiffleball team” became “The World’s Best #2 Wiffleball team” this past season following a string of second place finishes outside of Mid Atlantic. After a strong showing in the first GSWL New York tournament of the season, W2B went on its run of bridesmaid finishes that included the runner up spot in The Darren Daulton Foundation’s Wiff or Wiffout Classic. In July, W2B’s Adam Milsted was joined by Ben Stant for MAW’s third tournament. Milsted and Stant went undefeated in round robin only to lose 2-1 in the semi-finals to the York Yaks, in what was one of the best games played in MAW last year.

What We Know: Milsted and Ian Crosby are both quality, veteran pitchers. The tandem has the talent to pitch W2B deep into the tournament. All four W2B players can handle the bat, with Milsted being a particularly under-appreciated top-level hitter. The York Yaks announced that following this tournament, Milsted will join their roster for the remainder of the MAW season (W2B will remain a team outside of MAW). As such, W2B will not be eligible to earn playoff points on April 14th.

What We Don’t Know: As far as we are aware, W2B has not played in many unrestricted pitch speed tournaments in recent years. How their bats will play against some of the harder throwers remains to be seen.

Tournament Outlook: If W2B can make it through round robin without Milsted pitching – or at least with limited innings – the odds of them breaking their runner-up streak will greatly improve. A battle between My Name is ERL and Way Too Beautiful for New Jersey wiffle supremacy highlights W2B’s round robin schedule.

York Yaks (PA)

2017 Rewind: The Yaks were sluggish out of the gate, finishing in the bottom half of the field in the first two Mid Atlantic tournaments of the season and then limping out to a 1-2 start in the July tournament. Led by 2017 Joe Nord Rookie of the Year recipient Jarod Bull, the Yaks rattled off seven straight victories from that point on and captured two straight tournament titles in the process. The late season turnaround was enough to earn the Yaks the top overall seed in the Championship Tournament. Their season saw an abrupt end at the hands of My Name is ERL, who swept the Yaks in their semi-final series.

What We Know: The Yaks’ big offseason move was the Milsted acquisition. Since he is not joining the Yaks until after this tournament, that leaves the hometown team slightly shorthanded for Opening Day. Dan Potter suffered a shoulder injury at February’s Winter Classic while making one of his usual brilliant catches. The word going around is that he still not at 100%.

What We Don’t Know: The extent to which Potter’s injury will impact the Yaks is a major question mark. In addition to providing much needed innings on the mound, he was the team’s (and the organization’s) leading hitter in 2017 and a spectacular defender. It goes without saying that the Yaks are a better team with a healthy Potter than without.

Tournament Outlook: Last season – including at the Championship Tournament – captain Nick Shirey made it clear that he would not overextend Bull even if that meant rolling the dice in early round games. For Opening Day, the Yaks might be down a pitcher with Milsted and possibly Potter unavailable. If that is the case, the Yaks will likely either need a couple of quality games from Jared Laird or will have to consider extending Bull. The latter seems unlikely, which means that the innings the Yaks get from Laird, Shirey, or possibly Potter could determine their fate on the 14th.

The Scout #11: Jordan Castelli

  Castelli (third from left) at the 2017 Wiffleball Bonanza in Ligonier, PA.

Castelli (third from left) at the 2017 Wiffleball Bonanza in Ligonier, PA.

Jordan Castelli might not have the same breadth of Wiffle Ball experience as others we have profiled, but few have as high of a ceiling. Along with Jake Davey, Mike Graziani, and Rob Licht, he is part of a strong core of high ceiling players in western Pennsylvania’s Wiff is Life League.

Castelli is a quarterback on the Division II California University of Pennsylvania football team.  The strong and accurate arm required for the quarterback position serves him well on the flat hill. Castelli has a smooth and easy motion. He generates plenty of power with his lower half and the plastic ball jumps out of his hand as a result. His go-to offering is a big breaking ball that better resembles a 12-6 baseball curveball than a traditional Wiffle Ball drop pitch. The pitch is a true plus offering with strong velocity and outstanding break. Jordan has demonstrated the ability to draw swings and misses on the non-scuffed pitch whether he challenges batters over the plate with it or buries it below the zone. At the Wiffleball Bonzana last July, Castelli befuddled opposing hitters relying almost exclusively on that one pitch. He is another young pitcher whom ball selection is not a big deal for. At the Bonzana, he was able to pick up any ball and throw it, without any decrease in velocity or break.

Castelli did not quite achieve the results he hoped for at his first NWLA Tournament last July, dropping a 1-0 game to the eventual champions the WSEM Dads and later suffering a second defeat at the hands of MNWA (4-0).  Walks appeared to be his undoing, although that might have been an anomaly. A week earlier at the Wiffleball Bonanza, the 6’1 right-hander pounded the zone with no issues. A third pitch to go along with the curve ball and overhand fastball would help Castelli take that next step on the rubber.

Jordan is one of the best hitters in hitter-friendly WILL. While a learning curve would be expected, there is little reason to believe he can’t turn himself into a strong hitter in an unrestricted speed environment with more reps. If Castelli plays in the MAW Canonsburg tournament this August, it will be interesting to see how he adapts in that environment both on the rubber and at the dish. The sky is the limit.

 

Life After Baseball: Three Men's Journeys from Pro Baseball to Competitive Wiffle Ball

LIFE AFTER BASEBALL (1).png

June 3, 1980

It is the first day of Major League Baseball’s annual amateur player draft. For thousands of aspiring professional ballplayers, the next three days are among the most important of their young lives. For some – like Crenshaw High School’s Darryl Strawberry, selected with the first overall pick by the New York Mets – there is little mystery to the day. Strawberry has been on the Mets’ shortlist of top picks for months and as the draft approaches, it is an open secret that New York will take the talented high school outfielder with their first pick. For Strawberry, draft day is simply confirmation of what he knew was coming.

For other Major League hopefuls, the three-day long draft is a rollercoaster ride of emotions and decisions. Some high school players are almost certain to be drafted in the early rounds, but will then be faced with the difficult decision of starting their professional careers or honoring their college commitments. For most, the three-day event is a nerve-wrecking wait to find out whether they will be professional ballplayers or not.

After Strawberry is selected by the Mets, players of all backgrounds and skill sets come off the board. Future All-Stars including Dan Plesac, Chris Sabo, Doug Drabek, and Rick Aguiliera are selected but opt not to sign. In the compensation portion of the first round, Rick Renteria, Terry Francona, Billy Beane, and John Gibbons are taken within a five-pick stretch. All five men will reach the majors, but the entire group is far better known for what they would end up doing in Major League dugouts and front offices then what they accomplished as players. In the 8th round of the draft, the Cincinnati Reds get a steal when they select Strawberry’s Los Angeles area high school running mate and future All-Star, Eric Davis.

251 spots after the Mets select Strawberry, the Detroit Tigers select a left-handed pitcher out of University of California Berkley by the name of Chuck Hensley. The odds of a 10th round pick – particularly a college player – reaching the Major Leagues are slim. There are no $210,000 signing bonuses coming Hensley’s way like there are for Strawberry, but the Tigers have given the tall southpaw an opportunity, which is more than many will get.

After three days of selections, the 1980 amateur draft wraps up on Thursday, June 5th when the Cleveland Indians – making back-to-back picks after the other 25 teams pass on making a selection in the 44th round – take collegiate shortstop Shanie Dugas with the 832nd and final pick of the draft.

With that, disappointment settles in for hundreds of high school and college players who had hopes of being drafted but were ultimately passed by. It is the end of the road for some of these players. Others are not quite ready to give up on their dreams. That group includes standout Ohio University outfielder Kevin Priessman.

As a Bobcat, Priessman slugged his way to three consecutive all-MAC first team honors (1977 – 1979) and set several Ohio University single season and career hitting records. The latter accomplishments are particularly notable given that less than a decade earlier, future Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt – himself a three-time All-MAC selection – led the Bobcats to their only College World Series appearance (1969) on his way to be taken in the 2nd round of the 1971 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite the impressive track record at Ohio, Priessman goes undrafted in June 1980.

Not wanting to hang up his glove just yet, Priessman opts to go the free agent route and eventually agrees to terms with the Montreal Expos. While it is not all that unusual for a player to go undrafted only to hook up with an organization as a free agent, what makes Priessman’s story unusual is that he joins the Expos organization as a pitcher. There is no indication that Priessman pitched at Ohio and if he did, his exploits with the bat far outshine any work he did on the mound. Yet somehow, the guy with the prolific, record setting college hitting career is only able to find a Major League job as a pitcher.

With dozens of draft picks ahead of him on the depth chart, Priessman is assigned to Calgary of the rookie level Pioneer League. As a 10th round selection, Hensley receives a far more pleasant assignment from Detroit and is sent to Lakeland of the A-level Florida State League.

Working out of Lakeland’s bullpen in the summer of 1980, Hensley asserts himself well pitching to a 3.36 ERA over 59 innings. His numbers are far from eye-popping but respectable considering that he already threw 118 innings for his college team that spring.

Unfortunately, Priessman’s first taste of pro ball does not go nearly as well. The right-hander gets into 16 games for Calgary but pitches to a 5.23 ERA, thanks in large part to walking 4 ½ batters per nine innings. To top it all off, he blows his arm out during the ill-fated season, which effectively ends his pro career. 1980 is Priessman’s one and only season in professional baseball.

******

May 10, 1986

The San Francisco Giants are in St. Louis for the middle game of a three-game series against the Cardinals.

In the bottom of the second inning, San Francisco’s starter Roger Mason gets Andy Van Slyke to fly out before suddenly losing all control of the strike zone. Three straight walks are followed by a Ray Burris double, which puts Mason and the Giants into an early 3-0 hole. Mason recovers long enough to get himself out of the inning without further damage but stumbles again in the third on the way to allowing three more runs. Having seen enough, manager Roger Craig summons former starter Bill Laskey from the bullpen. Laskey gets his team out of the 3rd inning jam, but expends all he has in the process. Manager Craig goes back to his bullpen for the 4th inning and calls for a 27-year old making his major league debut – Chuck Hensley.

For Hensley, it has been a long and winding road to reach this point.

  Chuck Hensley - West Haven A's (1982)

Chuck Hensley - West Haven A's (1982)

Despite his solid rookie season in 1980, Detroit made the odd decision to release Hensley that winter. As odd as that decision might have been, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Hensley hooked on with the Oakland A’s in short order. Not only did the move put him closer to home (he was assigned to Modesto of the A+ California League), but the A’s afforded the left-hander a chance to start after spending all of 1980 in the bullpen. He excelled in that role in both A+ and AA during the 1981 and 1982 seasons. Hensley opened the 1983 season just a step away from the big time as a member of the Tacoma Tigers of the Pacific Coast League. It could have been the notoriously hitter friendly league, a move back to the bullpen, or a combination of many factors, but Hensley struggled mightily that season. He allowed 5 ½ runs per nine innings and saw his strikeout totals plummet. In 1984, Hensley returned to Tacoma and continued to struggle, prompting Oakland to trade him to Milwaukee. Assigned to the Vancouver team in the Pacific Coast League, the change of scenery did him little good. Milwaukee cut bait after only a few appearances and Hensley found himself out of a job midway through the 1984 season.

Hensley knew he could still play but teams were not exactly lining up for his services. With spring training approaching, Chuck switched agents and shortly thereafter landed a spot with the San Francisco Giants. The Giants assigned him to AA – essentially a demotion – but Hensley didn’t sulk and instead took care of business. His 2.81 ERA at AA in 1985 was the lowest of his minor league career and it earned him a mid-season promotion to the PCL. The third trip through the PCL was the charm and Hensley slayed the league in 1985 to the tune of a 3.15 ERA. He returned to the PCL to start 1986 and fired on all cylinders right out of the gate. When the Giants placed reliever Jim Cott on the disabled list on May 9th, Hensley finally received his long awaited – and well-earned – call to the big leagues.

  Chuck Hensley - Phoenix Firebirds (1986)

Chuck Hensley - Phoenix Firebirds (1986)

With his long and winding journey to the majors now officially complete, Hensley takes the ball in the fourth inning. If he is nervous, it is impossible to tell. Facing the top of the Cardinals’ potent lineup, Hensley picks up back-to-back strikeouts on Vince Coleman and Ozzie Smith, before getting Willie McGee to ground out to short to cap off the perfect inning. Hensley retreats to the dugout officially a Major League pitcher. In a good news-bad news situation, the Giants get two runners on with two outs in the top of the 5th with the pitcher’s spot due up. Down 6-0 and in the need of runs, Craig brings in Candy Maldanado to pinch hit for Hensley, ending his night after one perfect inning.

Hensley will go onto pitch in five additional games that June posting a solid 2.45 ERA before being sent back to AAA. He returns at the end of June to once again pitch out of the bullpen. On July 2nd in Atlanta – in his 11th major league appearance – Hensley retires all six Brave batters he faces. There is no way of knowing at the time, but it will be the last game he pitches in the majors.

*****

September 1, 1993

The Scranton/Wilkes Barre Red Barons – at the time the AAA affiliate for the Philadelphia Phillies – enter the 10th inning of a day-night doubleheader tied with Syracuse 1-1.

Syracuse pitcher Mark Ohlms toes the rubber as newly promoted Red Barons hitter Mickey Hyde steps in the box. Hyde spent most of the 1993 season in AA Reading. In September, the National League East leading Phillies dipped into their AAA club for reserves for a September stretch run, opening a spot for Hyde on the Red Barons. The 26-year old had a good season at the plate in AA, at least from an average standpoint. At the time of his promotion to Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Hyde’s batting average with Reading was a solid .285. At times during the summer, Hyde’s average rose above .300, which was good enough to earn him a spot on the Eastern League all-star team.

With base runners needed in this tie game, Hyde puts his contact hitting ability to good use and reaches base with a leadoff single. The next batter, Greg Legg, sacrifices Hyde to second base. Syracuse responds by intentionally walking Tom Marsh to set up a double play but those best laid plans are quickly spoiled when Victor Rodriquez reaches on an infield single. Ohlms has no choice but to go right after Sam Taylor with the bases loaded. Taylor responds by bouncing a single up the middle that scores Hyde for the winning run.

While scoring the winning run in a September AAA game in northeast Pennsylvania is not quite the same as doing it in Philadelphia in the middle of a pennant race, the moment is nonetheless a significant one in Hyde’s long pro baseball journey. Simply reaching AAA was validation of what had been an unlikely pro career.

Hyde grew up in Pavilion, New York – a small upstate town that is about a 30-minute car ride from Rochester. He attended Pavilion Central High School where he was a star baseball player before playing at Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York from 1985 through 1987. Hyde continued to excel on the baseball diamond at Genesee and after earning his associates degree he joined the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) baseball team. His tenure at UNLV was short lived. Hyde was cut from the team during the season. As he told the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper in 1992, UNLV manager Fred Dallimore did not mince words when delivering the bad news.

“He told me he didn’t think I’d ever play pro ball,” Hyde told reporter Jim Mandelaro. “I was devastated. If it weren’t for my father encouraging me to hang in there, I would have packed it in.”

  Mickey Hyde - Batavia Clippers (1989)

Mickey Hyde - Batavia Clippers (1989)

Hyde heeded his father’s advice and attended an open tryout for the Philadelphia Phillies in Batavia (the home of the Phillies’ New York Penn League affiliate). Hyde did not stand out early in fielding drills and felt his pro aspirations slipping away. He was eventually given a chance to hit and something about the 22-year old caught the attention of Philadelphia scouts. The Phillies signed Hyde to a minor league contract later that night. He was assigned to Bativia of the low-A New York Penn League for the 1989 season and moved to the Bend Bucks, who were also a low-A affiliate of the Phiilies, for the 1990 season.

In 1991, Hyde was promoted again, this time to Clearwater in the A+ Florida State League where he was managed by baseball lifer Lee Elia. He continued to produce just enough at the plate for the Phillies to keep him around. 1992 marked the first season of Hyde’s pro career where he didn’t receive a promotion and instead he was sent back to Clearwater. He made the most of this second go around in the Florida State League. Hyde hit .302 in 147 plate appearances, which was enough to earn a mid-season promotion to AA Reading. He finished well in Reading in 1992 and his hot start to the 1993 season eventually earned him his one and only shot in AAA.

Later in life, Hyde described reaching AAA – which at one point must have seemed to be nothing more than a pipe dream – as his greatest accomplishment in sports. Following his brief cup of coffee at the highest level of the minor leagues, Hyde quietly retired from professional baseball.

***********

September 10, 1995

Chris Bechtold is exhausted.

The left-hander from the Chicago suburbs is pitching his 10th straight game at the North American Wiffle Ball Championships in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has faced more than 200 batters during the grueling three-day tournament and is laying waste to his competition. The Chicago Tribune will later report that Bechtold struck out 214 of the 222 batters he faced that weekend. It’s a feat that seems dubious, but not impossible. Bechtold’s ability to shut down hitters at Wiffle Ball’s premiere event is second only to the almost super human stamina he displays in doing so.

It was just seven months earlier that Bechtold tried out as a replacement player for the Chicago White Sox. With the fear that the labor strike would bleed into the 1995 season, Major League Baseball clubs offered try outs to potential replacement players. The White Sox liked what they saw from the 29-year old left-hander but felt he needed to be in better playing shape. Chicago sent Bechtold home with the instructions to work on his conditioning before reporting to Cominskey Park in early April. Unfortunately for Bechtold and the other replacement players, the strike ended in late March and their services were no longer needed.

  Originally printed in the Chicago Tribune (March 10, 1996), Pg. 419

Originally printed in the Chicago Tribune (March 10, 1996), Pg. 419

Now seven months, 10 Wiffle Ball games, 70+ innings, and 200+ batters later, nobody could accuse Becthold of being out of shape. With just his older brother in the field behind him, Chris gets his Becthold Bombers team within one run of winning the first ever North American Wiffle Ball Championship. An extra inning homerun to eventual 3-time champions, Team Trenton, is Chris’ undoing. The Championship might have eluded him, but Chris is rewarded for his superhuman efforts with the tournament MVP and CY Young awards.

The man that presents the awards to Chris also knows a thing or two about having his pro baseball aspirations dashed in an instant – it is Kevin Priessman.

After blowing his arm out just a dozen games into his professional baseball career fifteen years earlier, Priessman left the sport behind. He did what most people do when their big league dreams are cut short – he got a job. Actually, he got two of them. Priessman joined the Hamilton County Parks District in Cincinnati as the athletic programs director. The county job kept Priessman on the fringe of the sport he once excelled in. He organized baseball and softball tournaments for many years and was one of the first to bring the Southern California game of Over-the-Line east. In addition to his nine-to-five job, Kevin and his wife ran the family’s Christmas Tree Farm just over the state border in Indiana.

It was at his Christmas Tree Farm that Priessman discovered another sport in the baseball family. Every Independence Day, Kevin invited family and friends to the farm for a cook out and a Wiffle Ball tournament. At first the tournaments were just for fun and little more than a way to pass the time in between meals. As the years went on, the tournament supplanted the barbeque as the main attraction for his guests. Priessman wondered how he might apply the sport of Wiffle Ball to his day job as Athletic Director.

Priessman pitched his Wiffle Ball idea to the powers-that-be in Hamilton County and received the go-ahead to start a program. In 1994, he organized a league that drew teams from around the greater Cincinnati area. The league was successful enough that Priessman was able to lobby the county for $2,500 for a permanent Wiffle Ball complex. He not only had big plans for the league but saw an opportunity to make Cincinnati the center of the Wiffle Ball Universe. His idea was the North American Wiffle Ball Championship – a three-day tournament that would allow players and teams from all over the country to compete for a National Championship.

  Kevin Priessman at the 1997 North American Wiffle Ball Championships in Cincinnati

Kevin Priessman at the 1997 North American Wiffle Ball Championships in Cincinnati

Priessman believed his tournament to be the first of its kind and although that is not exactly the case, the North American Wiffle Ball Championship had an immediate and indelible impact on the fast pitch Wiffle Ball landscape. The 1995 tournament drew more than 30 teams thanks to an all-out national media blitz, which included a pre-tournament feature article in Sports Illustrated.  During a three-year period spanning 1995 to 1997, Cincinnati became the center of the Wiffle universe. The 1995 and 1996 tournaments were the only tournament appearances for Chris Becthold and the Bombers, who finished runner up both years. Team Trenton made their mark as one of the game’s all-time best teams by winning the Championship in all three seasons. The Lakeside Kings re-emerged on the national radar at these tournaments and played well, placing in the top four all three years. The 1996 tournament was the national tournament debut of Hall of Famer Billy Owens and the 1997 edition marked the first time that Owens and Mark DeMasi teamed together as the Georgia Longshotz. It was due to the success of Priessman’s tournaments that Team Trenton member Mike Palinczar reformed the New Jersey Wiffle Ball Association (“NJWA”) in 1996. The NJWA’s annual summer and fall tournaments would go onto be among the biggest and most important in the game over the next several years.

In addition to bringing influential players and teams together, Priessman’s tournaments introduced a game-changing piece of equipment.  He devised an all-in-one backstop and strike-calling device that would affectionately became known as “The Hole”. The Hole was a wooden backstop with a rectangular hole cut in the middle to determine balls and strikes. The Hole went onto be the standard piece of strike calling equipment until the USPPBA re-emerged in 2001 and introduced the target strike zone nationwide.

While not as short-lived as his time in professional baseball, Priessman’s time as Wiffle Ball’s top promoter came and went rather quickly. Following the 1997 North American Championship, Priessman left his Athletic Director position to concentrate full time on his tree business. The Wiffle Ball complex remained, but Priessman’s successors showed little interest in continuing the national tournament. Although his time in the game was short, Priessman’s Wiffle legacy lives onto this day. A clear line can be drawn connecting Priessman and the North American Wiffle Ball Championship to Mike Palinczar and the NJWA to Billy Owens and Fast Plastic to present day organizations including the Palisades Wiffle Ball League and Mid Atlantic Wiffle.

*********

October 9, 2004

It is early in the day on the first day of the 2004 Fast Plastic National Championship Tournament in Cedar Park, Texas. The day begins with an abbreviated two-game round robin that will reduce the overflowing 33-team field to a manageable 28 teams. For the most part, these first round games lack the excitement and intensity of the later rounds. A team must simply avoid being one of the bottom five in the field during the first round – by both record and run differential – to survive. Moving onto the next round is all that matters, whether that is accomplished with two wins, one win, or no wins. That reality leads to a slate of games that are relatively mundane by National Championship Tournament standards.

A couple of the first-round games rise above those circumstances by sheer force of talent. The best example is the matchup pitting New York region champions and long-time Wiffle Ball power house In the Box against the second-place finishers from Northern California, Oldies but Goodies. The talent on the two teams is enough to make for an interesting game, but there is another story lying below the surface. The matchup is a rare Wffle Ball occurrence where a pair of professional baseball players turned competitive Wiffle Ball players compete against one another.

Following his two 1986 call-ups with the San Francisco Giants, Chuck Hensley bounced around the minor leagues for three more seasons without ever getting recalled. After throwing 22 innings in 1990 for Seattle’s AA-affiliate, the 31-year old called it a career and retired from pro baseball. Six years later, he returned to the game as a west coast scout for the New York Mets. Baseball was never far from Hensley’s mind and he continued to look for ways to play.

While scouting for the Mets, Hensley heard about the Fast Plastic wiffle ball organization, which in 2004 had regions spanning coast to coast, including one based in Northern California. Hensley grabbed a friend and entered an early season qualifier in the Northern California region. His team – dubbed the Oldies but Goodies due to both players being in their mid-40’s – split a pair of games against the Gunners before losing to Make Ya Whiff in the tournament finals. Not satisfied with the second-place finish, Oldies but Goodies returned later that season and eventually took the second spot in the highly competitive region.

Following his cup of coffee in AAA in 1993, Mickey Hyde left professional baseball behind for good, satisfied with what he had accomplished on the diamond. Hyde entered the world of financial services, a career that soon took him out of New York and down to Florida. It was while living in Florida that Hyde first discovered competitive Wiffle Ball. In 2002, Hyde’s team – The Toadkiller Dogs – ran through the competition in the USPPBA Southeast region and earned a spot in in the four-team national championship series. Although he did not pitch as a pro baseball player, Hyde turned himself into quite the Wiffle Ball pitcher and earned Most Valuable Player honors in the southeast region that season. The Toadkiller Dogs came up short against the New Jersey-based State of Mind in the national semi-finals in 2002. The following year, Hyde’s team made it the final eight at the Fast Plastic NCT before running into the Joel DeRoche and the eventual second place finishers, the Shockers.

  2004 Fast Plastic National runners-up, In the Box (L:R Mickey Hyde, Tom LoCascio, Joe Nord)

2004 Fast Plastic National runners-up, In the Box (L:R Mickey Hyde, Tom LoCascio, Joe Nord)

2003 was Hyde’s final season with the Toadkiller Dogs as he and his family had already relocated back to New York. When In the Box captain Tom LoCascio – who had an inimitable knack for making great player acquisitions – heard the news, he quickly signed Hyde to play for his team. The move paid immediate dividends. The 2004 In the Box team of LoCascio, Joe Nord, and Hyde had one of the best regular seasons of any team in the history of the game, going 31-1 on the way to the New York region title. Hyde continued to pitch but with Nord on board he did not have to shoulder the load like he did with the Toadkiller Dogs. It was during the 2004 regular season that Hyde established himself as one of the game’s greatest hitters.

Now, the two former pro baseball players find themselves across the field from one another at the 2004 National Championship, vying for a chance at Wiffle Ball immortality. Hensley takes the ball for the Oldies but Goodies against In the Box, as he will for every single game his team plays in Cedar Park. The big bats of In the Box win out over Hensley’s talented left arm, as the New York club edges outs the California duo by a score of 2-1.

That type of low scoring, close game becomes the theme of the day for Hensley and the Oldies. They drop their second first round game to Arizona’s Cuatro 2-0, but their low run differential secures them a spot in the final 28. In the 3-game round robin that follows, Hensley blanks Massachusetts’ champions the Blue Sox (New England) 3-0, is edged by eventual champions The Swingers (New Jersey) 2-1, and triumphs over Pacific Northwest champs The Rolling Blackouts 3-0. In the day’s final game, Hensley allows a single run to New England’s Doom Gone Wild, which eliminates the Oldies in the round of sixteen.

  2004 Fast Plastic NCT Most Valuable Player, Chuck Hensley

2004 Fast Plastic NCT Most Valuable Player, Chuck Hensley

In a marathon pitching performance that even Chris Bechtold would find impressive, Hensley throws every single inning (46) of every single game (6) for his team. The seven runs he allows are good enough for a 0.91 ERA, but it’s the strikeout and walk numbers that are truly mind-boggling. The San Francisco Giants reliever turned Wiffle Ball ace strikes out 128 batters (16.7 SO/6 IP) while walking only 6 batters (0.8 BB/6 IP). For every batter the southpaw walks on the day, he strikes out more than 21 of them. The performance is so undeniably brilliant that Fast Plastic takes the unprecedented step of awarding the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award to Hensley rather than a player on the championship winning team. Not too bad for a 45-year old.

For Hyde and In the Box, the tournament goes just as planned up through the semi-finals. Box goes a perfect 7-0 to reach the final four, including two victories over DeRoche and the Shockers. In the semi-finals, Nord – who carried the pitching load for the team that weekend – goes down with an arm injury. Playing as a two-man team, Hyde and LoCascio take down the 2002 and 2003 champions, The Vipers, before being shut out by the Swingers in the finals.

For Hyde, the disappointment of the finals loss would prove temporary.

The following year he returned to Cedar Park once again as a member of In the Box, but this time playing the entire tournament as a two-man team with Nord as his only teammate. In one of the game's greatest two-man performances, the duo stunned the competition and captured the title. In doing so, Nord and Hyde became the only two-man team to win a National Championship Tournament in the history of the sport. That accomplishment places Hyde in select company and forever etches his name in the Wiffle Ball history books.

*****

  Hyde taking a hack versus Joel DeRoche and the Shockers at the 2004 national championship tournament.

Hyde taking a hack versus Joel DeRoche and the Shockers at the 2004 national championship tournament.

Two years before winning the national title, Hyde - who in addition to baseball and wiffleball, dabbled in softball, bowling and golf - was asked by his hometown paper which sport is his favorite to play. "Wiffle Ball," he told the Democrat and Chronicle, "because it is the most challenging." From an athlete that reached the highest level of the minor leagues and once bowled a perfect game, Hyde's words offer an important insight into unrestricted, competitive Wiffle Ball. The sport - when played at its highest levels - doesn't take a back seat to any other in terms of competition and skill level.

The Major League Baseball season kicks off this week and full season minor league organizations get underway next week. When you are out at the ballpark this summer, take note of the players. You might just be watching the next Wiffle Ball star.

*****

Postscript

The competitive Wiffle Ball career of Chuck Hensley was short lived his 2004 MVP performance serving as his Wiffle Ball highlight. Hensley later joined a pre-Bill Owens version of GSW in 2006 which was his final year in competitive Wiffle Ball. That same year, he switched sides in his day job going from scouting to player representation. In 2008, he returned to scouting, this time with the team that brought him to the Majors, the Giants. Hensley was on the Giants scouting staff for the organization’s 2010, 2012, and 2014 World Series victories. In 2014 at the age of 55, Hensley pitched a perfect game in the Men’s Senior Baseball League (MBSL) in Arizona. It is not entirely out of the question that he could pick up the plastic ball one more time at a future Fast Plastic event.

Despite some efforts to convince Hamilton County Park District to resume the North American Wiffle Ball Championship in the late 1990’s, the facility has not been used for a major tournament championship since 1997. Kevin Priessman has not been heard of in Wiffle circles since, although he still runs his Indiana Christmas tree farm. Chris Bechtold disappeared from the Wiffle Ball scene along with the North American Championship, but his accomplishments in the 1995 tournament are forever immortalized in the pages of the Chicago Tribune.

Winning the National title as a two-man team in a highly competitive field solidified Mickey Hyde’s as one of the game’s all-time great players. In the Box morphed into the post-Tom LoCascio New York Knights in 2006 with Hyde still on board. The Knights made it to the finals of the 2007 Fast Plastic NCT but came up short against GSW. According to Tom LoCascio on a recent FP Radio broadcast, we could see an In the Box reunion with Hyde, Nord, and himself, at a tournament later this year.

The Scout #10: Jarod Bull

Screen Shot 2018-03-23 at 2.52.44 PM.png

As the lone rookie on an otherwise veteran team, Jarod Bull led the York Yaks to a regular season title in Mid Atlantic Wiffle in 2017.  The towering right-hander gained steam during the summer, including one three-tournament stretch where he allowed zero runs over four games (17 innings) with forty punch-outs. Bull is MAW’s best-kept secret and is more-than-ready to test himself against some of the game’s better hitters.

Bull brings a calm, business-like demeanor to the pitching rubber. His straightforward and smooth delivery belies the explosiveness of his pitches. His best and most consistent offering is a screwball that breaks down and in on right-handed batters. The pitch has enough movement – and is mixed in with his other offerings well enough – that he has been able to get away with throwing it down the heart of the plate. The Yaks’ ace also utilizes a hard slider and will drop down with sidearm action on occasion for a riser or drop. The side arm delivery is a particularly great weapon against right-handers and his ability to throw multiple pitches from the arm angle keeps batters guessing. The Yaks were judicious in their use of Bull last season, limiting him to 38 innings in MAW competition and another dozen innings outside of the organization. Their plan paid dividends as Bull stayed strong throughout the entire year and spearheaded a midsummer charge for his team that moved them from near the bottom of the standings to the top.

Similar to his pitching style, Bull uses a simplified approach at the plate. His no-stride swing is helpful in allowing him to stay back on high-movement pitches. Given his size, his lack of power last season in MAW – just one double, triple, and home run each – was somewhat surprising and might be related to the no-stride hitting approach. He still managed a respectable batting average and sprinkled in a few timely hits. Defensively, Bull fields his position very well, a by-product of finishing his motion in a solid fielding position.

Scout #9: Tommy Loftus

Loftus.jpg

Tommy Loftus’ ascent to highly touted Wiffle Ball pitcher was swift. In 2016, the Ridley Park Wiffle Ball player threw just 4 2/3’s innings in league play and his numbers were far from impressive. Something clicked for him in 2017 or perhaps he was simply given a chance to show off his true talents. Last season in the Ridley Park league, Loftus broke out in a big way striking out 57 batters over 32 1/3 innings during the regular season. He followed that up by pitching his team into the NWLA tournament where he turned a lot of heads by striking out 44 batters over 15 innings of work. In February at the MAW Winter Classic, Loftus continued to shine and rack up the strikeouts against experienced hitters.

He has achieved all of this by almost exclusively throwing a clean ball. Loftus is another pitcher that proves that ball preparation is simply a matter of preference. He has a variety of offerings, the majority of which break away from right-handed batters. At the Winter Classic, he showed off a hard riser, a hard slider, a big bending slider/curve ball, and a more traditional drop pitch. A hitch in his delivery just before he releases the ball makes his already plus velocity play-up even more. Besides for the hitch, his delivery is smooth with a high leg lift and solid follow through. Although he receives the most accolades for his work on the rubber, Loftus has shown in himself to be a solid - if not a little underrated - hitter both in RPWL league play and at the Winter Classic where he picked up a couple of timely hits.

Unfortunately, Loftus’ quick ascent may have been too much, too fast for his arm. Ridley Park announced earlier this offseason that Loftus will not pitch in their league in 2018 as he recovers from what was described as a UCL injury. A UCL injury is never a good thing for a pitcher and raises concerns it may only be fixable via surgery (Tommy John). Loftus appears ready to rehab the injury for now. Hopefully he takes the necessary steps and precautions to get his elbow back to where it needs to be, even if that means a slower-than-ideal recovery process. It would be too bad for a pitcher with his talent and promise to succumb to injury just when his Wiffle playing career was taking off.

The Scout #8: Dan Haverty

Haverty_cropped.jpg

Before he even entered high school, Dan Haverty was schooling hitters in Golden Stick Yard League. Now – still not even 20 years old – the Woburn, Massachusetts native has the tools and makeup necessary to be one of the game’s premiere pitchers.

In fast pitch competition, Haverty leans on a two-pitch combo of an overhand slider/riser and a sidearm drop. The former gets on hitters in a hurry. Due to its velocity, the pitch doesn’t move a lot but it also doesn’t need to in order to be effective. At the 2017 Fast Plastic Texas Open this past October, the pitch did lose some of its effectiveness as Haverty began to tire in the quarterfinals. The former standout high school wrestler brings that same bulldog wrestler mentality to the pitching rubber. Even as he tired in October, he found a way to gut through it and pitch Remember the Rookies into the semi-finals. His sidearm drop pitch serves as a great complimentary pitch and differs from his other main offering in arm angle, speed, and movement. Haverty has demonstrated a willingness to use both pitches in any count. The only downside to the combination is that the significantly different arm angles makes it easier for a hitter to pick up which pitch is coming. However, between the movement of the sidearm drop and the velocity of the riser/slider, Haverty is hard to hit even when the batter knows what’s coming. He handled the bulk of the pitching duties for the Rookies during round robin at the Texas Open and has the stamina to make it deep into tournaments. Although he has played and pitched for a while, concerns about an arm injury remain relatively low as most of his innings have come in a medium pitch environment and he is well-conditioned.

Haverty is built like a wrestler which has translated into rather prodigious power in GSWL Yard League. His swing was a tad long through the zone at times during the Texas Open but his power should make him a valuable hitter even if his batting average remains middle of the pack. After years of leading his team, the High Rollers, Haverty joined Josh Pagano on the Founders beginning in July of last season and later accepted an invite to play with Pagano and the Rookies in Texas. With GSWL looking like a full-time Yard operation these days, it would be great to see Haverty make a trek to a fast pitch tournament or two this year. He certainly has the tools and experience to succeed in such an environment.

The Scout #7: Chris Owen

DSC_0122.JPG

When Alexandria, Virginia’s Barrel Bruisers first arrived in MAW last spring, most of the attention was on the team’s flame throwing ace Ryan Doeppel. This left the Bruisers’ second pitcher – Chris Owen – firmly in the shadows to the point of not even pitching in the first tournament. As the season progressed and Doeppel eventually left the Bruisers, Owen took on a more prominent role in the Bruisers’ rotation. Heading into 2018, he is poised to make the leap to dependable, multi-game tournament pitcher.

The tall right hander relies heavily on a big bending slider. The pitch improved steadily throughout the course of the 2017 MAW season and Owen continued to sharpen it during the CFOT Winter League. When commanded correctly, the pitch starts well behind the back of a right-handed hitter and sweeps all the way to the middle or even far-half of the target strike zone. Veteran Bill Owens – who has seen as many pitchers and pitches as anyone – commented last fall that it had been a long time since he had seen a big bending slider quite like Chris’. The movement and command of the pitch appear to improve when thrown at a moderate speed, but the athletic Owen has some velocity in reserve should he choose to call on it. In the CFOT winter league with a slightly shorter pitching distance, his velocity overwhelmed hitters on many occasions. Because of his size, he has a tendency to miss up with the pitch. If Owen can command the slider on a regular basis and move the pitch around the strike zone horizontally, he will be in line for a strong 2018. If he can find a consistent secondary offering, he has upper tier starter potential.

As a hitter, Owen feasted on lower level pitching last season but struggled at times against the mid-level and top-level pitchers in the region. Even when hits were hard to come by, Owen showed above average plate discipline and a willingness to take a free pass. His 49 walks last summer were third most in MAW behind his Bruiser teammate Jerry Hill (55) and the Stompers’ Paul Cooke (58). Although he only hit two homeruns in 2017, Owen has obvious power potential. Both of his homeruns last season came off Stompers’ left-hander Dan Isenberg. It will be interesting to see if that success translates to other southpaws as well.

2018 Rule Book & Championship Tournament Format

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 1.19.45 PM.png

RULEBOOK

On March 2nd, Mid Atlantic Wiffle released its revised Rulebook for the 2018 regular season. The game rules remain largely unchanged from the 2017 season. Please take note of the following adjustments:

  • Due to lack of use of the non-scuffed pitching mound, Rule I-4 has been modified to allow for a single pitching distance in 2018.
  • Rule II-4, which addressed accepted methods of preparing a game ball, has been broadened slightly to allow for balls to be cut as long as the ball still meets the other requirements specified within the rulebook.
  • Rule III-1 limits the number of players per team to six (down from seven). In addition, Appendix C ("Playoff Eligibility") now requires a player to play in at least two regular season tournaments for his playoff eligible team to be allowed to participate in the Championship Tournament (a team that wins the auto qualifier or otherwise qualifies for the Championship Tournament by playing in only one regular season tournament is exempt).
  • Rule VII-2 modifies the base running movement for a double. For 2018, a double clears the bases only when there are two outs. With fewer than two outs, each base runner advances two bases. This is to better align the movement of the runners with typical baseball situations.

In addition, the 2018 Rulebook has been streamlined for readability. Several appendixes have been added to provide further detail as necessary. Please pay special attention to Appendix A, which details the movement of the baserunners in every possible on base scenario. While the general baserunner movements remain the same from 2017, this section is intended to add clarity so that all baserunner situations are more clearly defined. The intent is for the base running movements to correspond with baseball. Appendix A will be available at each field during every regular season tournament and can be referenced by teams during a game as needed.

CHAMPIONSHIP TOURNAMENT QUALIFYING

The Championship Tournament qualification criteria can be found here.

For 2018, the field expands to six teams and there are two new ways (Auto Qualifier and Auto Births) which teams can use to reach the playoffs in addition to accumulating Playoff Points. This system will allow for a greater number of teams to compete for a playoff spot. The point system has been slightly modified for this season so that points awarded to teams in the top four remains consistent regardless of the number of teams entered because a six team tournament can be as or more competitive than an eight or ten team tournament.

The Scout #6: Blake Hoffman

Hoffman.jpg

Blake Hoffman might only have a couple of tournaments under his belt, but he is no newbie with the Wiffle Ball. The teenage southpaw spent years honing his craft by studying videos of the game’s best pitchers and applying what he learned to his backyard throwing sessions. That practice paid off as Hoffman more than held his own against some of the game’s better players at the MAW Winter Classic this February. The scary thing is he is likely only going to get better as he gains more tournament experience.

My Name is ERL’s lanky left-hander has a simple motion that he’s able to repeat with relative ease. He hides the ball well and he starts from the same general arm slot for most every pitch, making it difficult for batters to read what is coming. With left-handed pitchers being such a rare commodity in this game, Hoffman holds an inherent advantage over opposing batters. He adds to that advantage with a quality screwball/drop that comes right at a right-handed hitter before darting down and away. That pitch from a left-hander is not something hitters have to deal with often, which makes Hoffman extra tough to hit. At the Winter Classic, he mixed in an equally challenging low riser that drew a lot of looking strikes. By his own admission, Hoffman does not throw that pitch often but had it working in Medford so he leaned on it more heavily than he otherwise would. That is a clear sign of his pitching acumen.

This is no crafty lefty, either – Hoffman brings plus velocity and thus far has been able to maintain it deep into tournaments. The most popular upload on Hoffman's YouTube channel is not one of his pitching sessions, but rather a highlight video of Aroldis Chapman's 2012 season. Like Chapman, Blake combines plus movement with plus velocity for what amounts to a deadly combination. He has good control of his pitches but still has room to improve his command within the strike zone. His pitch selection is another area where he has room for improvement, which will likely come with more experience against quality hitters.

At the plate, Hoffman is more of a work in process. He has a smooth swing but at times it appears to be a little long through the zone which hurts his ability to make contact against higher velocity pitchers. His pitch selection can also be improved on, which again, is something that should improve with additional experience. The plan is for Hoffman to play in several Mid Atlantic tournaments this summer alongside his My Name is ERL teammates (the long commute from Ohio might limit the total number of dates he is able to make) and if all goes well, he’s going to get a lot of Rookie of the Year votes come September.

2018 Winter Classic Recap

Morse Longiaru.jpg

The high temperature in Medford, New Jersey this past Saturday was a chilly 30-degrees but inside the Big League Dreams Wiffle Ball complex, it sure looked a lot like summer.

A full eight-team field competed on Big League Dream’s custom indoor Wiffle Ball stadiums for the right to be crowned the first ever Mid Atlantic Wiffle Winter Classic champion. The tournament provided many of the competitors with their first live look at two of the game’s brightest young pitching prospects. Two local squads made their major northeast tournament debuts. One player attempted to return to the mound after an injury while a few others left Big League Dreams with newly acquired injury concerns. There were several classic pitching duels and a game where the teams combined for a whopping 44 runs. At the end of all of that action, it was the pre-tournament favorites that were left standing.

The tournament format was the standard eight-team fare with two pools of four teams for round robin play. The top two teams in each bracket advanced to a four-team single elimination round. The tournament field was slightly imbalanced in favor of quality veteran teams which left one pool – Pool A – with a decidedly tougher draw. Among the teams in Pool A were the experienced Golden Stick trio of Chris Sarnowski, Ben Stant, and Rob Longiaru playing under the team name, Fingerballzzzz. That team was expected to be even more potent, but Kevin Norris and Ty Wegerzn dropped out earlier week and replacement Phil Fresiello will apparently be in the market for a new alarm clock. Joining Fingerballzzzz in Pool A was an AWAA all-star team (Backdoor Sliders) of Jimmy Cole, Anthony LaValley, Michael VanNostrand, and Kris Morse with special guest TJ Loftus of Ridley Park Wiffleball and the veteran Re-Union team comprised of Dan Potter, Adam Milsted, and veterans Mike Soltesz, Lou Worthington, and Lou's nephew, Noah. With any one of those clubs serving as potential favorites, Pool A’s fourth team – El Flamas Blanca – had their work cut out for them.

Re-Union struck first in this high competitive pool taking down Fingerballzzzz 1-0 behind the superb pitching of Adam Milsted. Normally the captain of New Jersey mainstays Way Too Beautiful, Milsted provided much needed pitching depth to this veteran team. He kept the Sliders’ bats in check all game. Potter provided Milsted with all the runs he would need courtesy of a first inning leadoff homerun. Shortly after Potter’s blast, things went from bad to worse for the Sliders when Cole pulled himself from the game after suffering an apparent shoulder injury. The unfortunate injury did have one silver lining – it gave the spectators, which included several Ridley Park players, an earlier-than-expected look at TJ Loftus. The 19-year old made waves on the mound at the NWLA Pennsylvania regionals and the NWLA tournament last summer to the point that some folks already peg him as the second best pitcher in that circuit behind Michigan’s Stephen Farkas. Loftus made good on his reputation by retiring every single Re-Union player he faced via strikeout. His emergency relief heroics were not enough, however, as Milsted and company held on for the 1-0 shutout win.

  TJ Loftus (Backdoor Sliders) is one of the game's rising pitching stars. Loftus struck out every Re-Union hitter he faced after being summoned for emergency relief duties.

TJ Loftus (Backdoor Sliders) is one of the game's rising pitching stars. Loftus struck out every Re-Union hitter he faced after being summoned for emergency relief duties.

El Flamas Blanca flashed definite signs of potential – one of their pitchers in particular has promise and their hitters never looked overmatched at the plate despite facing high caliber competition – but were ultimately overmatched on the day. Flamas Blanca finished the tournament without a win but with a little more pitching experience they will be just fine.

After a disappointing start, the Sliders bounced back against Fingerballzzzz thanks to an excellent outing from Kris Morse. Morse – a member of the Palisades Expos alongside Cole – held Stant, Longiaru, and Sarno in check all game long. The Backdoor Sliders took the lead early and added to it in the fourth courtesy of a Jimmy Cole grand slam. The win put the upstate New York squad right back into contention.

As many predicted, Pool A came down to the 1:30 PM showdown between Re-Union and Fingerballzzzz. With the Sliders already sitting pretty at 2-1, a Re-Union win would eliminate Fingerballzzzz. On the opposite side of the coin, a Fingerballzzzz win of ten runs or more would catapult them from the brink of elimination to the top seed in the bracket. The Ballzzzz handed the ball to Stant, who kept Re-Union in check all game long. Meanwhile, Adam Milsted was tasked with pitching a second important round robin game after both Potter and Worthington looked shaky in warms up. While not quite as good as he was against the Sliders to start the tournament, Milsted still carried solid stuffy but was let down by the play of his defensive. The Fingerballzzzz jumped out to a commanding lead and never looked back. The trio grabbed the ten-run win they needed and suddenly found themselves atop Pool A with the best run differential (the head-to-head tiebreaker was itself a tie). In the play-in game for the Block’s second spot, the Sliders put down a battered Re-Union team to move onto the semi-finals.

  Evan Rosenthal (Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies) goes into his wind up on BLD's Fenway Park replica.

Evan Rosenthal (Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies) goes into his wind up on BLD's Fenway Park replica.

Over in Pool B, things were not quite as dramatic. Sophomore team The Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies showed noticeable improvement from their MAW debut last September. Evan Rosenthal flashed a previously unseen slider while his brother, Cory, once again showed off a strong arm that with some refinement could turn him into a solid pitcher. Offensively, the Duckies flashed their muscles against Sauce Squad by putting up 18 runs in a loss. With a little more experience and confidence facing top tier pitching, they will start to put up some runs against veteran teams as well. For their part, Sauce Squad packed a punch up and down their lineup to go along a couple of pitchers that showed off potentially solid sliders. Sauce Squad has extensive experience, but only on a shorter (33 feet) mound. We hope to see both Sauce Squad and the Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies back on the field this summer.

Pool B came down a 10:30 AM match up between My Name is ERL and the Giants. The Giants were the pre-emptive favorites to win the tournament but had to get through ERL in pool play first. ERL captain Connor Young handed the ball to debuting southpaw Blake Hoffman. The Ohio native gained a following over the years thanks to his backyard bullpen sessions and signed with ERL during the offseason. In only his second tournament ever and facing top tier competition in the form of the McElrath brothers and Jordan Robles, Hoffman showed that that the hype surrounding him is justified. The lefty used a wide assortment of pitches, including a rarely used riser that he had working on Saturday. The riser started so low that more than a few veteran hitters gave up on it, only for it to rise at the last second and nick the bottom part of the target strike zone. Ultimately, the Giants worked the young pitcher for three runs and ERL dropped the game, but with additional tournament experience Hoffman will blossom into a top tier pitcher.

  Young southpaw Blake Hoffman (ERL) gets ready to deliver a pitch as teammate Joe Schlindwein looks on from the outfield.

Young southpaw Blake Hoffman (ERL) gets ready to deliver a pitch as teammate Joe Schlindwein looks on from the outfield.

ERL bounced back from the loss to post a 2-1 record in round robin and second place in their block. The 3-0 Giants took the first seed and chose to play their semi-final opponents – the Backdoor Sliders – on Fenway while ERL battled Finkerballzzzz on the Philly field.

Connor Young took the mound for ERL, relatively fresh after allowing Hoffman to handle much of the round robin pitching duties. It was far from Young’s best outing and ERL fell into an early hole. ERL crawled back to tie the game at 3-apiece when Young followed a Gerard Fitzgerald single with a two-run blast over the left center field wall. The game did not stay tied for very long. The next inning Young – struggling with the command of his riser – allowed back-to-back home runs to Sarno and Longiaru to once again give Fingerballzzzz the lead. Shortly thereafter, Young pulled himself from the game citing shoulder pain and Hoffman finished out what would end up being a 7-3 Fingerballzzzz win.

On Fenway, the Giants made relatively easy work of the Sliders to set up a meeting with Fingerballzzzz in the championship game. Both teams managed to reach the finals with a fresh pitcher – Ryan McElrath for the Giants and Rob Longiaru for Fingerballzzzz. Both pitchers were well rested and it showed early on, as the game breezed through the first three frames with little in the way of offense. In the fourth, Longiaru got a hold of one of McElrath’s offerings and sent the ball rocketing towards the right-center field fence. Before the ball could reach the wall, however, it banged off one of the ceiling beams some 30+ feet in the air and fell into the infield where it was cleanly played for an out in accordance with the tournament ground rules. Turnabout is fair play and in the 5th inning, the ceiling robbed the Giants of what also looked like a surefire homerun but ended up being nothing more than a loud force out.

  Ryan McElrath (Giants) fires a pitch during the championship game as Jordan Robles gets set in the infield.

Ryan McElrath (Giants) fires a pitch during the championship game as Jordan Robles gets set in the infield.

The game entered the 7th inning still scoreless. As the innings ticked by, so did the clock. With a hard curfew of 6:30 PM, it was announced prior to the game that a new inning would not be allowed to start after 6:00 PM. The Giants took to the plate for the bottom of the bottom of the 7th around 5:40 PM, which meant that if the game stayed tied the eighth inning would likely also be the final one.

Fortunately, Jordan Robles made sure the curfew would not be a factor.

After one quick out to start the 7th, Robles stepped into the batter’s box and immediately fell behind. He refused to offer at the second pitch – a pitch that did not miss inside by much – signaling to Longiaru that he was going to have to bring the ball over the plate. Rob did just that – perhaps too much – and Robles deposited the hanger over the “Green Monster” in left field for the walk off home run.

The Giants were impressive all tournament long, taking down a trio of tough teams (My Name is ERL, Backdoor Sliders, and Fingerballzzzz) on the way to the title. Ryan McElrath showed the grit and skills that made him the 2017 Palisades WBL MVP while Robles – who in addition to his home run heroics, pitched 3 of the first 4 games for his team – demonstrated again why he is one of the best players around. For their effort, the Giants took home the $450 first place cash prize and the title of the first ever MAW Winter Classic champions.

  The 2018 MAW Winter Classic Champions (R:L Ryan McElrath, Tim McElrath. Jordan Robles)

The 2018 MAW Winter Classic Champions (R:L Ryan McElrath, Tim McElrath. Jordan Robles)

Final Standings

1.     Giants (NY)                                         5-0
Ryan McElrath, Tim McElrath, Jordan Robles

2.     Fingerballzzzz (NY/PA/DE)                4-1
Rob Longiaru, Chris Sarnowski, Ben Stant

3.     Backdoor Sliders (NY)                                    3-2
Jimmy Cole, Anthony LaValley, TJ Loftus, Kris Morse, Michael VanNostrand

4.     My Name is ERL (NJ/OH)                  2-2
Blake Hoffman, Gerard Fitzgerald, Jim Linhart, Joe Schlindwein, Connor Young

5.     Re-Union (PA/NJ)                               2-2
Adam Milsted, Dan Potter, Mike Soltesz, Lou Worthington, Noah

6.     Sauce Squad (PA)                               1-2
Kyle Brocket, Bryan Goldman, Blank Fink, Jason Fink, Christian Kulczytzky

7.     El Flamas Blanca (NJ)                                    0-3
Neil Demarco, Paul Duffy, Kyle Fenwick, Rob Hanstien, Nate Potts

8.     Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies (NJ)  0-3
Connor Benus, Danny Devine, Cory Rosenthal, Evan Rosenthal, Steve Rosenthal

Injury Report

Jimmy Cole (shoulder) was removed from his team’s first round game with shoulder soreness and did not pitch again in the tournament. Cole did continue to bat and play the field, which is a positive sign . . . Dan Potter (shoulder) left his team’s third round robin game after colliding with the wall while making a spectacular catch on a ball that ricocheted off the ceiling. Potter sat out the remainder of the tournament due to a shoulder injury . . . Connor Young (shoulder) pulled himself from ERL’s semi-final game due to shoulder soreness as well and was listed as day-to-day after the tournament . . . Tim McElrath – who went down early last season in Palisades with an arm injury – pitched one game for the Giants but was noticeably still less than 100% . . . Jenkins (knee) of the Sauce Squad tore up the skin on his right knee diving for a ball on the Philly field but played through it.

  Ben Stant had a strong tournament on the mound and at the plate.

Ben Stant had a strong tournament on the mound and at the plate.

Here and There

While Big League Dreams is unparalleled in its ability to provide a high-level Wiffle Ball experience indoors, the facility is not without its quirks. The short fences on the Philly field (60 feet down the lines) led to some relatively “cheap” home runs while the ceilings (30+ feet high) took several no doubters away. In the end, however, it largely seemed to even out . . . Mike “Salt” Soltesz was an important member of the only three-time national champions, Team Trenton, and joined the legendary Lakeside Kings in the early 2000’s. Making his return to the mound in Medford, Salt battled his command at times but still showed off an excellent drop pitch that made one of the game’s best. Salt picked up a win in his only game on the mound on Saturday . . . In lieu of a coin, the phone of ERL’s Jim Linhart was tossed before several games to decide home and away . . . In accordance with standard MAW rules, any ball that rolled to the wall was a double. The smaller dimensions – particularly on the Philly field – and the fast-moving turf contributed to most untouched ground balls finding their way to the wall. When MAW returns to BLD in the future this rule is expected to be altered in some fashion . . . The Backdoor Sliders were accompanied to the tournament by some of TJ Loftus’ fellow Ridley Park Wiffleball players. We hope to see these guys out in York this spring & summer . . . Just prior to injuring his shoulder diving into the outfield wall, Dan Potter (Re-Union) pointed out that what both teams initially thought was an inning-ending put out was in fact a hit. Potter is not only one of the game's best defensive players, he is a class act to boot!

Up Next

2018 Season Banner.png

The 2018 Mid Atlantic Wiffle regular season kicks off on April 14th in York, PA with “Opening Day”. Two teams are already registered for the event, which will be capped at 10 teams. Don’t hesitate to register today! And if April 14th doesn’t work, MAW returns to York just three weeks later on Cinco de Mayo for the second tournament of the 2018 regular season. Registration for all six 2018 tournaments is open now at the MAW pro shop.

We want to once again thank the staff at Big League Dreams for being helpful and accommodating on Saturday. MAW officials are already discussing possible return dates to BLD for the fall of 2018 and winter of 2019. Look for more information later this year as it becomes available!

2018 Winter Classic Preview

Copy of WINTERCLASSIC (2).png

Mid Atlantic Wiffle kicks off its 2018 schedule on Saturday February 3rd at Big League Dreams in Medford, New Jersey with the 2018 Winter Classic. The 8-team standalone tournament will take place on BLD’s two unique indoor Wiffle Ball fields. With a diverse field of teams, a one-of-a-kind setting, and numerous storylines to follow, Saturday promises to be an exciting start to the 2018 Mid Atlantic calendar.

Players to Watch

TJ Loftus (Backdoor Sliders) turned some heads this past summer playing as a member of the Ridley Park Wiffleball League at the NWLA tournament. The young right-hander struck out 44 batters over 15 innings of work while allowing only a single run. Loftus’ performance was impressive enough that some already rate him as the second best pitcher in the NWLA. Saturday will be another test for Loftus as he goes up against accomplished hitters like Jordan Robles, Dan Potter, Ben Stant and Chris Sarnowski.

2017 was a bittersweet year for Tim McElrath (Giants). His Palisades WBL team, the Giants, captured the league championship giving them a claim to – if not outright ownership of – the title of ‘best team in the nation’. Tim, however, injured his right arm early in the season and was relegated to the role of fielder and designated hitter for the rest of the year. Unable to pitch, the usually powerful right-hander struggled at the plate as well registering just a .126 ISO in Palisades games. Tim could be back on the mound in Medford and how he looks after a long layoff will be one of the stories of the day.

  New My Name is ERL pitcher Blake Hoffman with a trio of K's.

New My Name is ERL pitcher Blake Hoffman with a trio of K's.

As much as we want to see Loftus and McElrath in action, the player that might draw the most attention in Medford is rookie southpaw Blake Hoffman (ERL). A native of Ohio, Hoffman has dazzled Wiffle Ball players for years with YouTube videos of his backyard pitching sessions. Hoffman dipped his toes into the tournament waters last year and now is ready to make his northeast tournament debut after agreeing to play with My Name is ERL for the 2018 MAW season. Those that have seen Hoffman pitch – including Cloud9’s Sean Steffy – rave about his overall stuff and vast potential. We will get first look at just how good Hoffman can be on Saturday.

Deep Depth

                               Jimmy Cole fires 3 strikes at the Fast Plastic Texas Open.

From a pure stuff standpoint, no team might have a better pitching combo than My Name is ERL and with the addition of Gerard Fitzgerald, they may have the bats to match. Likewise, it seems foolish to bet against a team  like the Giants that includes both McElrath brothers and Jordan Robles. If pressed to pick a pre-tournament favorite, however, we would have go with the Backdoor Sliders. Playing out upstate New York and led by veritable Wiffle Ball iron man Jimmy Cole, the Sliders go four quality pitchers deep. That depth could allow the quintet to make it to the elimination round – if not the finals – with a completely fresh top tier pitcher waiting in the wings. In addition to Cole and Loftus, the Sliders' roster is expected to include Kris Morse, Anthony LaValley, and Michael VanNostrand. This team clearly has both the talent and experience to win the whole thing, while their pitching depth could be a true difference maker.

unknown quantities

Saturday’s tournament will also include a pair of teams – Sauce Squad (Newton, PA) and El Flamas Blanca (Bordentown, NJ) – that are unknown to the rest of the field. As always, that presents a challenge for the opposition. Not only is there no scouting report to go off of but the temptation to assume an unknown team is also inexperienced can lead to an otherwise avoidable upset. In other words, do not overlook either of these teams. Sauce Squad, in particular, does have prior Wiffle ball tournament experience although the nature and extent of it is . . . unknown.

the Benefits of Experience

Evan Rosenthal (Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies)  with a spectacular one-handed grab. 

Last September in the final MAW regular season tournament of 2017, New Jersey’s Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies made their competitive tournament debut. As it often is with debuts, the Duckies struggled at times but finished with a respectable 1-2 record while demonstrating notable improvement in each of their three games. The enthusiastic young team followed up their debut by playing in the Wiffle Fall Classic outside of Philly later that same month. Now with a couple of tournaments under their belts, the Duckies are no longer wide-eyed newcomers and will be looking to take another step forward on February 3rd.

  Lou Worthington firing a strike at a Maryland tournament in 2003.

Lou Worthington firing a strike at a Maryland tournament in 2003.

Speaking of experience, Re-Union has more than enough to spare. The team is led by one of the game’s more under-appreciated players in current York Yak and former Mr. Ault and State of Mind player, Dan Potter. The 2017 MAW Jerome “The Legend” Coyle Hitting Award winner will be joined by a pair of veterans who are among the best to have ever played. Mike “Salt” Soltesz made history from 1995 – 1997 as a member of the only back-to-back-to-back national fast pitch champions in Team Trenton. Salt went onto having many productive years with the legendary Lakeside Kings and was one of the more feared pitchers of his era. Rounding out the squad is “Sweet” Lou Worthington. The former Fluffhead and Lakeside King was known in his prime for his fluid and inimitable low sidearm delivery. Like Salt, Lou has plenty of big game experience including playing for the Kings in the 2001 National Championship at Lakeside Park.

late additions

                                 Rob Longiaru goes deep at Fast Plastic Texas Open

Team rosters submitted upon registration are often preliminary and rosters do not need to be finalized until prior to first pitch. As such, we expect some "late" roster additions that could significantly impact the tournament. The Fingerballzzzz original roster consisted of just two players, Ben Stant and Chris Sarnowski. The word going around is that the Fingerballzzzz might be adding a trio of impact players. The rumor is that an All-Star trio of Ty Wegerzn, Kevin Norris, and Rob Longiaru could be joining the Fingerballzz lineup which would catapult them to the head of the pack.

Likewise, Re-Union's roster is rumored to be in flux heading into the tournament. While the three players mentioned above are more or less set in stone, the club might add both a rookie and veteran player to their roster prior to Saturday. While the impact of the newcomer is somewhat unknown, both players would likely add a significant amount of skill and youth to the Re-Union roster.

Follow Along

You can follow along with the action as it happens via our social media accounts. Stay tuned to the MAW Twitter account (@midatlanticwiff) for game updates and Periscope (@midatlanticwiff) for live look ins at pool play games. In the mid afternoon (approximately 3:00 PM) we we will go live on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Midatlanticwiffle/) for a recap of the round robin action, followed by a LIVE broadcast of the semi-finals and championship game. In the days after the tournament, we will have comprehensive coverage including a full recap, videos, and more right here on www.midatlanticwiffle.com.

Offseason News & Notes #3

Winter Classic Sold Out!

Winter Classic Sold Out.png

The 2018 MAW Winter Classic at Big League Dreams in Medford, New Jersey is officially sold out! Many thanks to the eight teams and all of the players that made it happen. The tournament promises to be a good one and the first step in what should be an excellent 2018 in the Mid Atlantic.

The Drop will preview the tournament in full next week, but in the meantime we can reveal the field and rosters as they currently stand.

  • Backdoor Sliders – Albany, NY – Jimmy Cole, Michael VanNostrand, Kris Morse, Anthony LaValley, TJ Loftus
  • Filthy Cheaters – Medford, NJ – Anthony Sacco, Tony Sacco, Rocco Circillo, Van Wiley, Aldo Morales
  • Fingerballzzzz – Pittsburgh, PA/Wilmington, DE – Chris Sarnowoski, Ben Stant
  • Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies – Morganville, NJ – Evan Rosenthal, Cory Rosenthal, Conor Benas
  • Giants – Kingston, NY – Ryan McElrath, Tim McElrath, Jordan Robles
  • My Name is ERL – Medford, NJ – Connor Young, Joe Schlindwein, Blake Hoffman
  • Re-Union – York, PA – Nick Shirey, Dan Potter, Lou Worthington, Mike Soltesz
  • Sause Squad – Newtown, PA – Christian Kulczytzky, Blake Fink, Jason Fink, Kyle Brockett, Bryan Goldman

Although we cannot accept any new teams at this time, there might be spots available for individual players wishing to play. Please contract Tim Cooke at timcooke1982@gmail.com or 301-661-7980 if interested in playing.

Road Trip! MAW Debuts in Canonsburg in 2018

In partnership with our friends at the Wiff is Life League (“WILL”), MAW is hosting a regular season tournament this summer in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania! The single day tournament is scheduled for Saturday, August 18th and will be played under MAW rules. Canonsburg is approximately 30 minutes south of Pittsburgh, 2 ½ hours east of Columbus, 2 ½ hours south of Cleveland, and 2 ½ hours west of Altoona, making it a centrally located spot for players in eastern Ohio, west and central Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

We will have all the details on the tournament – including the ability to register a team – available in the very near future. In the meantime, MAW officials can confirm the following details. The Canonsburg tournament will be a normal 2018 MAW regular season tournament, meaning it will be contested under MAW rules and participating teams will have the ability to earn points towards the MAW Championship Tournament.  As always, a significant cash prize (dependent on the size of the field) will be awarded to the winning team.

Not everything will be the same, however. We are pleased to announce that the Canonsburg tournament will be an auto-qualifier for the MAW Championship Tournament in September. That means the winning team will automatically qualify for the Championship Tournament. This is a great opportunity for teams further west to instantly qualify for the Championship Tournament and the Championship cash prize, which totaled $1,400 last season.

Stay tuned to www.midatlanticwiffle.com and Wiff is Life League for full details and registration as they become available.

CFOT Season 2 Kicks off Tonight

In other indoor wiffle news, Cross Fit OldTown kicks off its second league season this Friday with a full slate of games. Last winter, Jerry Hill had the inspired idea to host an evening wiffle league for members of his Cross Fit gym in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. The league spurred the formation of the Barrel Bruisers, who played in both the Potomac Wiffle® Ball League and Mid Atlantic Wiffle in 2017. The Bruisers contended all year in Mid Atlantic and spawned not one but three Rookie of the Year candidates in Hill, Chris Owen, and Ryan Doeppel.

No doubt Jerry will be looking to find the next Owen and Doeppel this winter as the Bruisers look to reload for 2018. The Bruisers reportedly have several roster spots open as only Jerry and Chris are relatively assured to return from the 2017 squad. It’s a solid base – Chris was among the most improved players in MAW last summer – and Hill is reportedly hoping to use the league to find another player or two to round out the Bruisers’ 2018 roster.

MAW’s The DROP will be in Alexandria for the league’s second week of play on January 19th. Look for a report on the site shortly thereafter.

The Scout #5: Ben Stant

Ben Stant (RHP)

  (Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

(Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

Last summer, more than one high profile player identified Ben Stant as the best medium speed pitcher in the game. That’s quite the accolade to bestow on any player, given the large number of medium speed/breaking ball heavy pitchers that GSWL Yard League has helped cultivate over the past decade. The compliment might mean even more when applied to Stant, who played all of at last season at just 17 years old.

Fellow players marvel at Stant’s knuckle ball that – on a good day – flutters up and down with horizontal movement that a riser or slider cannot replicate. He compliments the knuckler with a plethora of other offerings, including a harder riser. His side arm drop pitch is an effective weapon in keeping both right handed and left handed hitters off balance, even if it is his third or fourth best offering. Stant – who is based out of Delaware – utilizes a variety of arm angles as an additional tool to keep opposing hitters off balance. Changing arm slots so often is sometimes a recipe for wildness, but not for Stant. Even with the different looks, he commands and controls all of his pitches very well. If there is any concern with his pitching style is that the reliance on breaking pitches and different arm angles undoubtedly puts a lot of strain on his arm. There is some concern that his arm already has significant mileage on it and that could possibly catch up to him sooner rather than later.

At the plate, Stant has a smooth left-handed swing that generates easy power. The downside to his swing is that it can drag through the zone from time to time making him susceptible to premium velocity.  His offensive numbers in Yard League have progressed significantly over his four seasons and he is a legitimate power threat in that environment.

Ben is a true student of the game. While his Yard league abilities have earned him the compliments of his fellow players, by no means is he “just” a medium pitch speed player. When he deems it necessary, Stant has the ability to dial up the velocity on his risers without sacrificing much in the way of command. Although he has the talent necessary to succeed in multiple environments, he might be best served in limiting his focus next season. In 2017, Stant bounced around quite a bit. Some of that – such as being traded from the Royals to the Brewers to the Giants in Palisades – was out of his hands. However, Stant still moved around a lot outside of Palisades as he played with two different teams in GSWL Yard tournaments, two different teams in Mid Atlantic, and yet another team for the Fast Plastic Texas Open. Sticking to a couple of organizations and finding himself a solid team for all of next season might enable him to settle in and really make his mark.

2017 National Year in Review

2017 national year in review.jpg

The DROP takes a look back at some of the major happenings during the 2017 year in Wiffle® Ball. Coming later this January, a discussion on what is in store for 2018 and what we would like to see happen in the world of Wiffle this upcoming year.


Fast Plastic Rides Again

At the end of the 2016 season, Billy Owens dipped his toes in the water in testing out a Fast Plastic revival when Fast Plastic co-sponsored the Hall of Fame Classic in Massachusetts with the Golden Stick Wiffleball League. However, it was in 2017 that the one-time premier national Wiffle® Ball organization made a full-fledged return when it hosted the Texas Open in late October. The tournament drew 15 teams from several different parts of the country. Among the states with representation at the tournament were California, New York, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. The tournament field was an eclectic mix of veteran players and teams that hadn’t been heard from in recent years, several of the game’s current top players, and a handful of eager (and talented) Texas-based squads. The $5,000 cash prize awarded to the champions, Cloud9, was the biggest purse of the year in competitive Wiffle® Ball. Fast Plastic has plans to bring back the Texas tournament in 2018.

High Profile Players

There are several players who stood out in 2017, not only through quality play, but also by showing up to play in a variety of leagues and tournaments.

Jimmy Cole asserted himself well on both sides of the ball in 2017 between the AWAA, Palisades WBL, the NWLA tournament, and the Fast Plastic Texas Open. At the plate, Cole proved himself adept at reaching base posting a .466 OBP in AAWA, .594 OBP at the NWLA tournament (5th best), and .359 for the Palisades Cardinals (14th best in the league). On the mound, Cole has the innings and stats of a very good “round robin” pitcher. He got most of his work in AAWA where he pitched a 2.76 ERA over 32 2/3 innings, but also worked 18 innings between Palisades and the NWLA tournament while allowing ten total runs.

  (Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

(Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

Ty Wegerzn was named the Palisades WBL Rookie of the Year and with good reason. Ty finished atop most of the offensive categories including 2nd in batting average (.320), 3rd in OBP (.443), 2nd in slugging (.598), and 2nd in homeruns (10). He worked the fourth most number of innings (59) out of all Palisades pitchers with a solid 2:1 K/BB ratio and a 2.20 ERA. Outside of Palisades, Ty was solid in his one GSWL tournament of 2017 but made a huge impression at the Fast Plastic Texas Open for the champions, Cloud9. Ty was arguably as important to Cloud9’s run to the title as anyone on the team, including tournament MVP Sean Steffy. Ty started every single one of Cloud9’s four round robin games. He went 3-1 and more importantly, allowed Steffy to enter the elimination round completely fresh. Ty carried an upper 80’s riser during the tournament and added a backbreaking RBI hit against Wiff Inc. in the semi-finals.

Speaking of Wiff Inc., Jordan Robles was the iron man of 2017. Robles had a significant presence in Palisades, GSWL, Mid Atlantic, and the Fast Plastic Texas Open this past year. The proof of his individual impact can be found in the success his teams enjoyed. Jordan played for the New York GSWL champions (10 Run Rule), the runners up in GSWL Yard Open Tournament (Founders), the Mid Atlantic Wiffle champions (Stompers), the 3rd place regular season and post-season Palisades team (Padres), and the 3rd place team at the Fast Plastic Texas Open (Wiff Inc.). Jordan was truly a two-way star in 2017 combining above average power and patience at the plate with unrivaled command on the mound. His success in both the medium pitch GSWL Yard tournaments and unrestricted pitch tournaments/leagues is an additional feather in his cap.

Other players that succeeded at a high level in multiple environments in 2017 include (but are not limited to): Will Marshall (Texas Wiffleball League, Fast Plastic), Rob Longiaru (GSWL, Palisades WBL, Fast Plastic), Ben Stant (GSWL, Mid Atlantic, Palisades WBL), and Ryan Bush (OCWA, NWLA, Fast Plastic). 

GSWL Goes Yard

After several years of scaling back on fast pitch tournaments in favor their Yard League (“medium pitch”) format, GSWL did not hold a single fast pitch tournament in 2017. It appeared inevitable that GSWL would eventually end up in this position, particularly after hosting only a single fast pitch tournament in 2016. However, the switch over entirely to the Yard format was perhaps quicker than most anticipated. The New England based organization announced a fast pitch tournament for September on their original schedule, but cancelled the event over the summer. As such, 2017 marked the first time this decade that Golden Stick did not hold at least one fast pitch tournament. In a bit of good timing, Fast Plastic’s return to the tournament scene with October’s Texas Open helped fill that void.

On the Yard League side, GSWL trucked right along on similar path to prior years which included a series of “qualifying” tournaments in Massachusetts and New York, separate Massachusetts and New York playoff tournaments, and an open style tournament to cap off the summer. The New York opener (18 teams) and National Open tournament (22 teams) were among the more heavily attended non-slow pitch tournaments of the year. Continuing another trend, GSWL tournaments – even the ones labeled as playoffs or championships – were essentially all standalone events without much in the way of continuity to tie them together. The attempt at bringing other tournaments and even backyard games into GSWL’s larger structure never really seemed to take hold. Going into 2018, GSWL is still arguably the most prolific organization in the game – their latest media attention coming in the form of a VICE Sports piece – even as they trend more and more towards being a medium pitch, standalone tournament organization only.

Kings of Slow Pitch

 www.whiffleball.org

www.whiffleball.org

On July 30th, the Cult West Warriors out of South Bend, Indiana outlasted a field of 80-teams to capture the Hometown Cup at Migley Field in New Carlisle, Illinois. It is the fourth time that the Warriors have held the Cup in the past five years, further cementing their status as the most prolific team in an event that dates back to 2005. Just two weeks prior to their most recent Hometown Cup championship, the Warriors finished first out of 48 teams in the 38th annual World Wiffle® Ball Championship in Skokie, Illinois. It marked the second year in a row that the Cult West Warriors won the world’s longest running national Wiffle® Ball tournament.

The Cult West Warrior’s success in these large slow pitch tournament fields certainly gives them a rightful claim to be considered the best slow pitch team in the country. To some players, that might not seem like much of an accolade. Slow pitch Wiffle® Ball is often brushed off as being an unskilled game because it essentially removes the competition between pitcher and hitter. Indeed, under the rules of each of the aforementioned tournaments the pitcher is required to throw the ball in a manner to allow the batter to hit it. The natural reaction to these rules is to declare that there is no skill involved. That is a largely a fallacy; there are skills involved just different ones than those found in a fast pitch environment (and perhaps, more easily attainable skills). If nothing else, the sustained success of a team like the Cult West Warriors supports the idea that there is skill involved in the slow pitch game. Teams cannot consistently win in fields that large if the game is all or mostly void of skill and all or mostly a function of luck.

A Good Year for Veteran Teams

On August 27th in Staten Island, New York State of Mind won a hotly contested nine-inning battle with the Founders to capture the 2017 GSWL Yard Open tournament. The victory was arguably the biggest in the almost twenty years that the franchise has been in existence. One the sport’s most enduring teams, State of Mind made deep runs in several years – a second place finish in the 2002 USPPBA season among them – but found that one big tournament title to be elusive. For Jay Ventresca – one of the game’s all-time great hitters and the only original SOM member remaining – it is another major accolade to a packed resume.

State of Mind’s old foes from the 2002 USPPBA season, the Stompers, also enjoyed success in 2017. Returning after a lengthy absence, the Baltimore based squad won two of the five regular seasons Mid Atlantic tournaments and then swept the playoffs to capture the inaugural MAW title. The Stompers received a big late season boost from Jordan Robles who led the team in the September regular season tournament and again in the playoffs. Nick Schaefer proved that, when healthy, he is still one of the best pitchers around by holding opponents to just four runs over 29 innings of work. The Stompers franchise celebrates its twenty-year anniversary in 2018.

At the Fast Plastic Texas Open, several veteran teams likewise proved that they can still go. 2007 Fast Plastic Champions, GSW, fought to a top 4-finish in the tournament behind another tremendous performance from one of the game’s all-time great pitchers, Joel DeRoche. The Rookies – the 2006 Fast Plastic Champions – also turned back the clock making it all the way to the championship game before being stopped by the eventual champions, Cloud9.

WSEM Dads Add a 3rd NWLA Trophy

The NWLA hosted its sixth national tournament in Morenci, Michigan, with familiar faces atop the table. For the second straight season, the SWBL Cardinals made it to the championship game via the loser’s bracket only to come up short once again in the finals. After a third place finish in 2016 coming off of back to back titles in 2014 and 2015, the WSEM Dads returned to their winning ways this year. The team from Michigan captured their third championship on the strength of another dominant pitching performance by Stephen Farkas. Conspicuous by their absence in the final four was the 2013 and 2016 tournament champions, Freaky Franchise. The OCWA group lost team captain Justin Tomkins to injury and never got on track, losing two games in pool play before being unceremoniously eliminated in the third game of the elimination round.

Impressive Individual Performances

Among the best individual accomplishments of 2017:

  • On June 10th in York, PA, Connor Young (My Name is ERL – Mid Atlantic Wiffle) pitched 25 innings while facing 102 batters and struck out 71 of them. ERL's ace allowed a measly three runs against quality competition. For good measure, Connor hit a pair of homeruns including a tournament winning solo shot off of Danny Lanigan in the tournament finals.
  • Ridley Park’s Tommy Loftus faced 68 batters over 3 games (15 innings) at the NWLA tournament in July. He struck out a remarkable 44 batters or 65 percent of the batters he faced. It was a star making performance for Loftus that put him on the map as one of the young pitchers to watch in 2018.
  • Also on the NWLA tournament front, Stephen Farkas furthered his claim as one of the game’s most accomplished pitchers allowing one run over 22 innings pitched and striking out 53 batters while leading the WSEM Dads to a third NWLA title.
  • Unfortunately no statistics are available, but Sean Steffy’s pitching performance during the elimination round of the Fast Plastic Texas Open is worthy of mention. Facing a murder’s row of great hitters including Craig Freeman, Kenny Rogers, Anthony Didio, Jordan Robles, Evan Lazur, and Josh Pagano, Steffy won three straight games to clinch the title for Cloud9.
  • In one of the more under-the-radar great pitching outings of the just concluded year, Jordan Castelli (Wiff is Life League) befuddled hitters at the 10th annual Wiffle® Ball Bonanza charity tournament in July. Playing on a combined Mid Atlantic Wiffle/Wiff is Life League team, Jordan used a non-scuffed drop pitch to dominate opposing hitters in the semi-finals. Jordan struck out all twelve batters he faced. He was so dominant he took home the award for best pitcher on the strength of that single performance. Although he had a slightly uneven performance at the NWLA tournament, the California University of Pennsylvania quarterback is a player to keep an eye on in ’18.
  • When the general public thinks of Wiffle® Ball, they often think of offensive stats so silly that they must be made up. There was nothing fabricated about the power display from Freaky Franchise’s Ryan Bush in in OCWA this past season. The left-handed power hitter managed a ridiculous 109 homeruns over 341 at bats. While OCWA is no doubt a hitter’s league, Bush’s 109 homers were almost forty more than the next best player in the league. Bush’s power is legit – he hit 8 homeruns in 28 at bats at the NWLA tournament this year, 6 in 44 at bats in Palisades in 2016, and added a few more at the Fast Plastic Texas Open in October of this year.

Golden Age for Leagues

The Wiffle world has been trending in this direction for several years and 2017 proved to be another year that was heavy on leagues and light on tournaments. The end result for 2017 – while not necessarily positive or negative – was a plethora of thriving local leagues but little interaction between the leagues and the players that inhabit them.

Once again, Palisades WBL separated itself from the pack as the best league in the country. While the league continues to draw heavily from New York, players from as far south as Delaware and Virginia and as far north as New England flocked to Palisades in 2017. The league ran a smooth 11 team, 20 game-schedule with many of the game’s best prime-aged Northeast players spotlighted. For the second straight year, Palisades hosted an 8-team minor league which gave players not quite ready for the majors – either due to skill level or time constraints – a venue to play in.

One of 2017’s more notable leagues came seemingly out of nowhere. The Washington state based JAL sprung into existence in May 2015, hosting a series of one and two day tournaments in 2015 and 2016. This past year, JAL held its first multi-week season, expanded to twelve teams, and used a strong social media presence to put itself on the map. An unrestricted pitch speed, no base running league at its core, JAL also utilizes several very unique rules that separates them from their peers. Among the most notable rules are a one-pitch-per-batter rule and a franchise system structure. [Read More about JAL]

It should noted that on the tournament front, the birth of Mid Atlantic Wiffle and the return of Fast Plastic provided several more opportunities for players seeking tournament action this past year. Hopefully it is a sign of things to come in 2018 as a wider variety of choices in terms of leagues and tournaments can only mean good things for the future of the game.

Team work

Think about the best teams you saw on the field this year. How many of those teams have been together – with a majority of the same players – for more than one season? How many of those teams played in more than one organization in 2017? How many of those teams played in more than one tournament? The answer to all of those questions is probably a far smaller number than you might have initially thought. While the team unit has diminished in importance for the better part of the past decade, it reached a nadir in 2017. Just look at the major 2017 tournaments. The NWLA tournament – as it has always been – featured league All-Star teams most of which played together just one or twice last year. The Fast Plastic Texas Open included – at best – two full time teams (Frisco’s Master Batters and Rochester’s Freaky Franchise) and even those teams added some outside help. The GSWL Yard League Open also contained its fair share of cobbled together squads. If nothing else, at a national level there is less of a focus on teams then there are on players or even organizations than there has historically ever been.

As such, naming the teams of the year for 2017 is a tricky task because there were very, very few that played in multiple places, faced a high level of competition, and fared well in doing so. Most of the 2017 teams listed below did not meet one or two of those criteria but did enough relative to their peers to be worthy of recognition. We are looking at true teams here – not squads put together for a single tournament.

  • Unrestricted Pitch Speed, Base Running Team of the YearWSEM Dads (Michigan): The Dads captured their 3rd NWLA Tournament title in 2017. While technically an all-star team, the key players have been together for several years in the NWLA tournament and their track record speaks for themselves. The NWLA tournament is clearly the class of these set of rules and thus winning that tournament gives any team a leg up for this honor.
  • Unrestricted Pitch Speed, Non-base runningPalisades Giants (New York): While some might see this choice as controversial, the Giants stand out above the pack for winning as a cohesive team over the course of a full season. Led by the brothers McElrath, the Giants overcame a potentially crippling loss when Tim McElrath went down with an arm injury midway through the season. The Giants persevered, finishing the tough Palisades WBL regular season in second place before Ryan McElrath took over in the post-season pitching every single inning for his team while taking down such notable players like Rob “Wiffman” Piervinanzi, Jordan Robles, and the Torres brothers on their way to the championship.
  • Medium (Yard) PitchState of Mind (New York): The veteran franchise picked up the biggest tournament win in their near-twenty years in the sport by winning the 2017 GSWL Yard League Open over 21 other teams in Staten Island this Summer. Additionally, State of Mind came in runner up to 10 Run Rule in the GSWL Yard New York championship. Those two top finishes, combined with the team’s longevity, are more than enough to make them deserving of this particular title.
  • Slow Pitch Cult West Warriors (Indiana): Winners of both a 48-team and 80-team slow pitch tournament earn this South Bend, Indiana team the top spot among slow pitch teams. If that wasn’t impressive enough, this was the second straight year the Warriors won the World Wiffle® Ball Championships and was the fourth year they captured the New Carlisle, Illinois Hometown Cup.

JAL: Washington's Wiffle Ball Trailblazers

  Aaron Adams (Anaheim Storm) delivers a pitch during a recent JAL XVII pre-season game.

Aaron Adams (Anaheim Storm) delivers a pitch during a recent JAL XVII pre-season game.

    By: Paul Cooke

Sixteen years ago this past October, the A-Bros of Ventura, California – fresh off of an undefeated regular season – swept the Lakeside Kings at Lakeside Park in Granite City, Illinois to win the inaugural USPPBA National Championship. The A-Bros success that season opened many eyes to the fact that quality competitive fast pitch Wiffle® Ball exists everywhere, not just in the traditional hotbeds. That fact was further hammered home when the Arizona Vipers won the 2002 national title and then repeated in 2003 by defeating the Tracy Shockers in the first all West Coast National Championship game. The lesson from those three years was clear – quality Wiffle® Ball exists everywhere, whether we know about it or not.

A decade and a half later, the once vibrant fast pitch scene in California and Arizona that was cultivated by the USPPBA and Fast Plastic is unfortunately all but gone. A little further up the coast, however, exists a burgeoning Wiffle® Ball league that is once again reminding the rest of the country that great Wiffle® Ball – both leagues and players – exists all over, even under seemingly the least likely of circumstances.

*****

What are you doing December 23rd?

Last minute Christmas shopping? Traveling home for the holidays? Staying indoors to beat the cold?

How about beginning a twelve team, eight-game, five-month long outdoor Wiffle® Ball season? That is precisely what a group in southeast Washington State will be doing when JAL – the Pacific Northwest’s premiere Wiffle® Ball league – kicks of its 17th season with a full slate of games a mere two days before Christmas.

Unconventional? Sure, but that is par for the course for a league that has quickly – and somewhat quietly – blossomed into the country’s most ingenious Wiffle® organization. From its unique gameplay rules to its forward-thinking league and season formats to its expert utilization of social media, JAL is blazing its own trail in the Wiffle® Ball world.

  Connor Vermilyea (Cobras) at the plate during a JAL XVI game this past summer.

Connor Vermilyea (Cobras) at the plate during a JAL XVI game this past summer.

Cale Johnson – the twenty-two year old founder and Executive Commissioner of JAL – concedes that he never played much Wiffle® as a kid. He didn’t pay the iconic plastic ball much thought until one serendipitous spring afternoon three years ago in his hometown of Castle Rock, Washington. On that day Cale and his younger brothers, Brock and Ty, were in search of something to help pass the time when they found a couple of Wiffle® Balls laying around in the yard. The impromptu practice proved to be enough fun that Cale organized a two-man five-team tournament later that May.  Just like that, JAL – officially the Johnson Association of Lawnball – was born.

That first tournament led to a sequel one week later and a third a week after that. Cale and his brothers were hooked. As fun as those first three tournaments were, they envisioned something greater than a series of one-off events. Cale looked for a way to tie together what – to that point – were a series of unrelated single tournaments. Borrowing a page from the more ubiquitous national pro sports leagues Cale, dreamt up the JAL Franchise concept. He convinced family members – his grandmother, mother, father, and brother – to act as the “owners” of four teams and tasked them with filling out their respective rosters. The franchise system – complete with contracts, a “stock money” system designed to bring parity to the league, and a detailed Collective Bargaining Agreement – added much needed continuity to the organization. JAL held five more tournaments that August, followed by single tournaments in October, November, and December of 2015. By the time of the December tournament (JAL XI) – held two days after Christmas – the league had grown to six franchises and approximately 20 players strong.

Two and a half years after its modest beginnings, JAL is about to embark on its 17th season. The league has exploded in popularity and now boasts twelve franchises with three to five players per team. The single day events have been replaced by multi-week seasons. JAL XVII, for example, will run from December through the middle of of May. Franchise owners pursue free agents and offer nominal incentives – the highest paid player in the league will earn $150 over the length of his three year contract – as a means of enticing them.  There are several seasons played each calendar year, not including the Association’s innovative Smashout concept,which is described as “homerun derby meets the UFC”. JAL offers a full a full scale Wiffle® Ball league experience that few leagues anywhere in the country can match.

****

  A social media graphic hyping the start of the JAL XVII season.

A social media graphic hyping the start of the JAL XVII season.

Proof of the league’s tremendous growth is found in the evolution of its recruitment process. As would be expected from a startup family league, JAL rosters were initially made up friends and family members of Cale and his brothers. As the league gained traction, the player recruitment process was aided by positive word of mouth. Recently prospective players have begun to discover the league on their own. Players from as far north as Olympia and as far south as Vancouver learned about the league online and now make the hour drive to Castle Rock to play.

Due to the franchise structure of JAL, interested players must catch the eye of one of the franchise managers to join the league. This is often accomplished by submitting a scouting video to the league, which is then distributed to the franchise managers for review. If a manager likes what he or she sees, the player is signed to a contract.

"Probably half of the new players we get come from someone contacting the league and saying ‘this looks really cool, I want to play’,” Cale said in describing the new player recruitment process. “We will work with them . . . A lot of them will send in a clip of them pitching or batting. We then take that info and we send it around to the owners and General Managers in the league to see if any of them bite. That’s how a lot of guys get signed.”

These free agents are finding JAL in large part due to the Association’s professional and far-reaching social media strategy. In a sport that is often playing catch up to the rest of the world in terms of technology, JAL stands out for its relative mastery of digital marketing. JAL utilizes a multitude of social media tools to garner interest in the league. Whether Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, Instagram or a traditional website, JAL has all of its digital bases covered.

The JAL website – although unassuming at first glance – contains a treasure trove of information just below the surface, all of which is carefully interwoven. An outsider can stumble upon JAL’s website and in a matter of minutes find themselves digging down a rabbit hole of franchise histories, player bios, tournament results, and player contracts. The website accomplishes this by seamlessly integrating Google docs with traditional web pages.

On the social media front, JAL stays active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by posting info-graphics, promotional materials, pictures, and video clips on a daily basis. In particular, the graphics stand out due to their creativity. With the help of a green screen, JAL has an almost endless supply of player profile pictures and graphics at their disposal to use for any occasion. When star player Scott Coleman left the Longview Wrecking Crew to join the Missouri Express after JAL XVI, the organization wasted no time in posting a short clip to Facebook of Coleman modeling his new uniform while the background behind him slowly changed from the Wrecking Crew team logo to the Express’ emblem.

Players in and out of JAL’s home market can easily follow the league online thanks to streaming video. Every single game during the JAL XVII season this winter and spring will be streamed live on either Facebook or Periscope.

*****

Watching a JAL live stream is made even easier by the fact that games rarely last much more than 15 minutes. While four to six inning games in other organizations typically run anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes, five-inning JAL games breeze by in a fraction of that time. How do they do it? The brief run time of JAL games is all thanks to the league’s unique method of game play, known simply as Lawnball.

At first glance, Lawnball rules are not dramatically different from the rules competitive Wiffle® Ball players in other parts of the country are accustomed to. The pitching distance (45 feet from the strike zone) and the strike zone dimensions (24 inches by 30 inches, 21 inches off of the ground) are within the usual parameters. There are no speed restrictions on pitchers and lines designate hits. While a Wiffle® Ball used in a game must be unaltered, several non-Wiffle® Ball brand bats are legal (Franklin MLB Powerhouse, Easton Pro Stix, Louisville Slugger Replica). The imaginary base runners advance in concert with the batter.

While 95% of the rules are instantly familiar to most competitive players, there is one rule that separates Lawnball from all other variations of the game. In Lawnball, every at bat lasts only one pitch. For both batter and pitcher, its one-and-done.

The rule eliminates the ball-strike count for all practical purposes. If the pitcher misses the strike zone and the batter does not offer at the pitch, the at-bat results in a walk. A batter that swings and misses or takes a single pitch that hits the target strike zone is called out on strikes. Likewise, a foul ball results in a hard luck out. The “one-and-done” pitch rule allows JAL games to move along at a brisk pace while also reducing the amount of strain on a pitcher’s arm.

For those who desire a brand of competitive Wiffle® Ball that remains true to baseball, the Lawnball rules can be disorienting.  Hitters lose the ability to work the count and pitchers lose the luxury of nibbling on the corners. It is a different game for sure, but not necessarily a lesser skilled game than any of the alternatives. With less room for error, both hitters and pitchers are forced to make the most of each opportunity. As difficult as it is to recognize when a pitch is a strike and then put a quality swing on that strike when given three opportunities to do so, it is even more difficult when a batter is given just one shot at it. Lawnball may require a different set of skills than other versions of Wiffle® Ball, but it is a highly skilled game nonetheless.

As one might imagine, with fewer opportunities and less margin for error every pitch in JAL takes on an added level of significance. The final two innings of JAL XVI championship – held this past August 9th – exemplifies the drama that the one-and-done rule brings to the game.

In that championship game, the Castle Rock Rapids took an early lead on a solo homerun and padded their lead in the fifth via an RBI double. The Rapids pitcher – Jeter Larson, one of the league’s best – cruised through the game to that point and shut down the Missouri Express offense. With a chance to close out the game in the fifth inning, Larson began to overthrow and walked three straight Express hitters. While under other rules a hitter might take a pitch or two after three consecutive walks, Lawnball rules eliminate that possibility. Knowing that Larson is usually able to command his hard slider, the next batter for the Express went up swinging and singled in a run. The next hitter took a ball, tying the game with nobody out and the bases still juiced. Just when the game looked like it was getting away from him, Larson threw three straight strikes to escape the jam and force extra-innings. Over the course of eight pitches – no more than one minute in actual time – the Express went from probable victory to near certain defeat to gaining a new lease on life. In Lawnball, the momentum swings come fast and often. For that reason, JAL games tend to be far more spectator friendly than the average competitive Wiffle® Ball game.

(If you are curious how that game turned out, the teams made it through six-innings tied at two before the Rapids’ Ty Johnson hit a two-run homer in the top half of the seventh. Larson fared much better in his second attempt at preserving a two-run lead, putting the Express down on three pitches in the bottom of the seventh to secure the title. Displaying a bit of showmanship, Larson planted a kiss on the ball before going into this wind up and blowing a fastball by the final Express batter to seal the deal.

  The Castle Rock Rapids (L:R Jeter Larson, Troy Flanagan, Ty Johnson) celebrate their JAL XVI championship.

The Castle Rock Rapids (L:R Jeter Larson, Troy Flanagan, Ty Johnson) celebrate their JAL XVI championship.

While the pace of the games and added pressure are obvious benefits of the one-pitch rule, just as obvious is the potential downside to the rule leading to a pitching dominated environment. While Johnson concedes that the general perception among players is that JAL is a pitching friendly league, he doesn’t believe it is that simple.

"I think it shifts . . . I would say that right now the batting is pretty good but it has definitely fluctuated. There have been times and eras within the league when it has been super pitching dominated.”

During those times, Johnson has not shied away from implementing rule changes in pursuit of the right balance between offense and defense. For JAL’s first three seasons, for example, teammates pitched to each other using a “three pitches per batter” rule. When that led to too much offense, the league adopted the one-pitch rule while still having teammates pitch to one another. That rule lasted up until JAL IX when the organization moved to its current opposing pitcher and one-and-done formats. The implementation of competitive pitching led to a decrease in offense, so the league responded by opening up its bat selection to include the Franklin MLB Powerhouse, Easton Pro Stix, and Louisville Slugger Replica models in addition to the Yellow Wiffle® Ball bat. The mound distance was also moved back a few inches around the same time. Johnson believes that the next shift between offense and defense will come without the need for rule changes, as the JAL XVII rookie class is said to be heavy on quality hitters.

On the great ball altering debate, JAL sides with the NWLA and other organizations that do not allow the Wiffle® Ball to be tampered with. When Coleman – who had prior experience in non-JAL Wiffle® tournaments – showed up in Castle Rock for the first time, he brought with him several scuffed balls which he used during games. Not knowing that scuffing was illegal in JAL, Coleman proceeded to mow down hitters until opposing players finally caught onto what was happening. The miscommunication was explained and Coleman switched over to the unaltered Wiffle® Balls, which did little to hamper his results. Coleman’s low sidearm delivery and riser would not look out of place in any fast pitch tournament in the country.

****

  Jeter Larson (Rapids) led his team to a championship in JAL XVI and is currently ranked as the league's top player.

Jeter Larson (Rapids) led his team to a championship in JAL XVI and is currently ranked as the league's top player.

Quality Wiffle® Ball does not discriminate; not by the month of the year, geographic location or even by rules. The eyes of the Wiffle® Ball world have rarely – if ever – been fixated upon the Pacific Northwest. This winter, however, they should be. Not just because for the next few months JAL will be the only outdoor, fast pitch league in operation but because this inimitable league and many of its talented players are worthy of the attention. The league's unique structure and rules provide interesting insights into the different ways the game can be presented. And you never know, the next great West Coast Wiffle® Ball star – the next Chad Anderson, Jim Balian or Joel DeRoche – might just be playing in Washington State this winter.

Fore more information on JAL, visit their website at www.jalwiffleball.com or follow them on social media @JAL_wiffleball and https://www.facebook.com/jalwiffleball.

The Scout #4: Jeter Larson

Jeter Larson (RHP)

DSC_0054.JPG

At just 17 years old, Jeter Larson is already considered by some to be the best all around player in JAL, Washington States top Wiffle® Ball League. The Lacey, Washington native made his pro debut as a late-season signing with the Castle Rock Rapids during JAL XV. Jeter signed too late in the season to turn around the fortunes of the cellar dwelling Rapids but proved his value by leading the Rapids to a title in JAL XVI this past summer. Jeter’s twin brother, Ryley, plays for the Kansas Lawman and together they are northernmost players currently signed with a JAL Franchise (Lacey is approximately one hour outside of JAL’s home base in Castle Rock).

Larson makes his living with a hard non-scuffed riser and pinpoint command. He works both sides of the zone horizontally while largely working up in the strike zone. His ability to hit the edge of the zone make Jeter particularly tough to hit, especially with JAL’s “one pitch per batter” rule. He appears to get more looking strikeouts than many of his JAL peers which is a testament to his ability to locate his pitches where he wants them. When he does miss over the heart of the plate, his slider has enough zip behind it that he can get away with the occasional mistake. Jeter employs a simple one step motion that is easily repeatable. While he would no doubt need a second and even third pitch to compete at a high level in a 4-2, 4-3, or 5-3 count organization, Jeter’s hard slider is clearly a plus pitch and a great base to build off of.

VIDEO: Jeter Larson Promo Video (JAL XVII)

At the dish, Larson’s swing has a slight uppercut action to it but that doesn’t necessarily hamper his bat speed. He has above average power, as demonstrated by his no-doubt solo homerun in the championship game of JAL XVI. Larson’s best tool at the plate might be his strike zone knowledge. Even in a one-pitch environment, Larson doesn’t swing at too many bad pitches. That discipline works for him in JAL and likewise would serve him well in a more traditional ball-strike count environment.