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!
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.
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.
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.