Cloud9

Wiffle Wars (June 16, 2018) Tournament Recap

Cloud9 defeated My Name is ERL in 10 innings to win MAW Wiffle Wars. (June 16, 2018)

Cloud9 defeated My Name is ERL in 10 innings to win MAW Wiffle Wars. (June 16, 2018)

June 16, 2018 (York, PA) – 2017 Fast Plastic Texas Open champions Cloud9 arrived at MAW Wiffle Wars with a different roster than last October, but the result was exactly the same. For the second time in as many tournaments, the boys in blue and white took home a title in a highly competitive, double digit team, fast pitch tournament.

For Cloud9, the road to a second straight tournament title was not without its challenges. The tournament champions were tested all day long, but overcame the rest of the field thanks in no small part to the excellent pitching and clutch hitting of tournament MVP, Sean Steffy.

Cloud9 arrived in York looking different then the last time we saw them and it wasn’t just the new tank top uniforms. Instead of Ty Wegerzn and Kevin Norris, Steffy and Ed Packer were joined by Tim McElrath and Devin Torres. The two longtime Palisades WBL players not only provided Cloud9 with additional offense, they gave the team an additional pair of arms to throw in pool play games. While Torres and McElrath differ from Norris and Wegerzn stylistically, it would be a stretch to argue that there was any substantial drop off in production.

Cloud9’s day began with a near upset. Facing the Ridley Park Longballs Red team and their ace pitcher, Sean Bingnear, Cloud9 failed to score through their first four trips to the plate. Bingnear – who turned heads with a great playoff run in the Ridley Park Wiffle Ball League last season and continued to do so with a stellar MAW debut back in May – kept the Cloud9 offense off balance all game. Through the first four innings, only McElrath (double and fly out) was able to put the ball in play against the impressive young righty. Packer kept the game scoreless, working out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the fourth. With Longballs Red ahead on total bases and two outs already in the inning, Bingnear needed only to avoid an extra base hit from Steffy to end the game. Instead, he left a screwball up in the zone, which Sean pounced on for a solo blast. Just like that, Cloud9 had the lead. Packer held on to it  with a 1-2-3 bottom half to complete the escape act.

Sean Bingnear (Ridley Park Longballs) goes into his windup. Bingnear continues to impress everywhere he pitches, holding both Cloud9 and In the Box to two runs over nine innings.

Sean Bingnear (Ridley Park Longballs) goes into his windup. Bingnear continues to impress everywhere he pitches, holding both Cloud9 and In the Box to two runs over nine innings.

After making easy work of the InHumans with Tim McElrath on the mound, Cloud9 handed the ball to Devin Torres to face the Stompers. The Stompers came into the game with an identical 2-0 record, thanks to Nick Schaefer and Chris Sarno who picked wins against Longballs Blue and In the Box, respectively. Like their opponents, the 2017 MAW champions chose to hold back their ace (Jordan Robles) for the elimination round and gave the ball to Sarno who was working his second straight game. Cloud9’s Torres worked around a bases loaded threat from the Stompers in the middle innings and the game headed to extras scoreless and tied on total bases. A walk to Sarno in the bottom of the 5th broke the deadlock, however, giving the Stompers the victory on total bases.

For Sarno, the total bases victory was another accolade in an impressive resume he is putting together this season in MAW. Sarno has positioned himself alongside the Yaks’ Dan Potter and ERL’s Connor Young as the early top contenders for regular season MVP.

As it was in Texas when they worked their way through a total base win and a pool play loss on their way to the title, Cloud9’s goal at Wiffle Wars was simply to make it to the elimination round so that they could hand the ball over to Steffy. With the ball in the hand of arguably the best pitcher in the country, none of the hitting struggles and close calls from earlier in the day seemed to matter much.

In an immediate re-match with the Stompers, Steffy went head to head with Robles in a heavyweight pitching matchup. With a spot in the finals on the line, Steffy overpowered the Stompers offense the entire game and did not allow a single hit over five innings of work. Robles was up to the challenge early, but a series of cracked balls wrecked havoc with his rhythm. Usually unflappable on the mound, Robles never seemed completely comfortable, allowing a couple of hits and a walk during the first four innings. In the 5th, he uncharacteristically walked two batters before allowing a backbreaking two run hit to Steffy. The Stompers went quietly in the bottom of the inning and Cloud9 punched its ticket to the title game.

Awaiting Cloud9 was My Name is ERL. ERL came to Wiffle Wars with a streamlined three-man lineup of Connor Young, Dan Whitener, and Gerard Fitzgerald. While both Young and Whitener are perfectly capable of taking the ball at the end of the tournament, the decision to pitch Connor in round robin and Dan in the finals was an obvious one. Few pitchers are as durable as Young and few pitchers in the game have as electric stuff as Whitener. Young more than held up his end of the bargain, winning three pool play games and the semi-final games against the Yaks. In a post-tournament interview on Wifflecast, Whitener remarked that it was the best he has seen his teammate throw.

My Name is ERL (June 16, 2018)

My Name is ERL (June 16, 2018)

One might expect given the pitching matchup that the championship game was a low offense, high strikeout affair but that is not entirely true. While both Whitener and Steffy racked up their fair share of K’s, there were several game-changing defensive plays and run-scoring opportunities for both sides. In the second inning, Fitzgerald pulled a grounder towards McElrath on the left side of the infield. The ball ate up the usually shore-handed defender, bouncing off his hands and into the air. Torres – who never stopped running towards the ball from his starting point on the right side of the infield – caught the ball in the air about three feet behind the singles line, pivoted, and through a perfect riser into the backstop to record the out (HIGHLIGHT). Later in the game, a hard grounder off the bat of Whitener seemed destined for centerfield when the ball bounded off the pitching rubber and high into the air. The ball held up just long enough for Torres to field it and record the out.

The latter play proved particularly important as it was followed by a Connor Young triple. Young’s hit – which off the bat appeared to have a shot at clearing the short left-field perch – would have scored the go-ahead run had Whitener’s grounder not been corralled. ERL had runners on base and runners in scoring position several times throughout the game, but ultimately failed to convert on any of those opportunities.

The game reached the 10th inning without a score and Whitener in control. The hard throwing right-hander scattered several walks throughout the long game, but otherwise had remained in control and kept Cloud9’s offensive opportunities to a minimum. Just as they did in the tournament opener, Cloud9 changed the narrative in an instant. A seemingly innocent one-out walk brought Ed Packer to the plate. Packer did not hit much all tournament but put a big swing on a Whitener pitch that caught a lot of the plate. Nobody – not even the batter himself – was sure the ball had enough carry to clear the left field fence but it kept on going, eventually landing comfortably several feet behind the fence. (HIGHLIGHT)

Sean Seffy (Cloud9) readies to deliver a pitch in the Wiffle Wars title game. Sean threw 15, no run innings and had two game winning hits en route to being named tournament MVP (July 16, 2018)

Sean Seffy (Cloud9) readies to deliver a pitch in the Wiffle Wars title game. Sean threw 15, no run innings and had two game winning hits en route to being named tournament MVP (July 16, 2018)

The homerun held up as Steffy put ERL down in order in the bottom of the 10th to seal the victory for his team. It was a tough loss for ERL who played a great tournament and – as some of the dozens of championship game onlookers noted – outplayed their title game foes in several facets of the game. The tournament marked ERL’s first appearance in a regular season tournament championship game since a loss to the Yaks last August. ERL has not won a MAW tournament since their Mid Atlantic debut last June.

Cloud9 pitchers did not allow a single run all tournament long. Sean Steffy – who certainly looked a lot like one of the best players in the country on both sides of the ball – was named the tournament MVP.

No Relief

Tom LoCascio (In the Box) returned to the mound at Wiffle Wars, winning one game and allowing only two runs over 12+ innings of work. (June 16, 2018)

Tom LoCascio (In the Box) returned to the mound at Wiffle Wars, winning one game and allowing only two runs over 12+ innings of work. (June 16, 2018)

While teams like the Stompers and Cloud9 had plenty of pitching options at their disposal, the same could not be said for two other teams in the tournament field.

The day before Wiffle Wars, the Barrel Bruisers’ Jerry Hill took to Instagram to show off four newly cut Wiffle Balls and to provide an honest assessment – in #hashtag form – of his team’s chances on Saturday.

#betterhit,” Jerry typed,” #causeimpitching”.

Little did Jerry know just how much he would pitch. The Bruisers were already down to a two-man squad thanks to prior commitments and back spasms robbing the team of Chris Owen and Tony Manelli, respectively. With Colin Dimitris a late scratch the morning of the tournament, Jerry was forced to handle the entirety of the pitching duties for his two-man team.  Hill rose to the occasion, picking up one win and suffering a narrow 2-1 defeat to the WILL Waves, in a game that was decided on a couple of close calls. Jerry continues to improve on the rubber every tournament and gave his best pitching performance on Saturday with his back up against the wall.

In his late 90’s heyday, Tom LoCascio of In the Box was known for a left arm that was so durable, it appeared bionic. Playing a tournament nearly every weekend – and often accompanied only by his brother Frank – Tom logged as many miles on his arm as any pitcher in the history of unrestricted pitch speed wiffleball. In May of 1999, Tom became the only known player to finish in the top four of a 16+ team, non-Wiffle Up tournament field by himself.

Now 51-years old and in semi-retirement for the better part of a decade, Tom took to the field on Saturday with only his son Gianni behind him. As mentioned in the tournament preview, anyone that knew Tom knew he was coming to compete and win, which is exactly what he did. Relying on a slider, screwball, and the occasional riser – a drop pitch no longer an option from all the wear and tear put on his arm over the years – LoCascio held the Yaks to two runs and then shutout both Ridley Park Red and the Stompers. Tom pitched 12+ innings for In the Box before letting Gianni get a taste of Wiffle pitching in the 5th inning of the game versus the Stompers. Gianni flipped up an effortless slider to the Stomper batters and with some coaching from his Hall of Fame dad, a new generation of In the Box may not be far away.

Here and There

Ridley Park's Colin Pollag looks in towards the strike zone during an early pool play game. (June 16, 2018)

Ridley Park's Colin Pollag looks in towards the strike zone during an early pool play game. (June 16, 2018)

With a second inning strikeout on Jesse (Barrel Bruisers), Connor Young became the first player in Mid Atlantic history to reach the 100 innings pitched mark . . . Opening Day set a high bar for competitiveness with 13 out of 15 games decided by three runs or less. Wiffle Wars was not far behind. Nine out of ten teams picked up at least one win, no team went undefeated, and the eventual champions were pushed to extra innings in three of their five games . . . With no disrespect to Sean Steffy, the player that the other players in the tournament were most impressed with was Tom LoCascio. The consensus after the tournament is that after getting a few more reps at the plate, the leader of In the Box could still be a well above average hitter capable of giving a team one excellent game on the rubber per tournament . . . Tom became the second player enshrined on Sheff Field’s “Wall of Wifflers” to play on the field, joining fellow wiffle icon Billy Owens . . . While several teams chose to hold their ace back until late in the day, the Yaks took a decidedly different approach to the tournament. Jarod Bull – who was held out of the May tournament with a shoulder ailment – started the first two games for his team (both wins) as the Yaks sought to reach the elimination round. Bull eventually ran out of steam in the semi-final, but his early-tournament success on the rubber propelled the Yaks to 10 important Championship Tournament points . . . Kudos to Jesse (formerly of Bachus is My Bro) for teaming up with Jerry Hill on the Barrel Bruisers at the last minute. Jesse had a solid tournament, picking up a few hits and making a couple of fine defensive plays . . . Both Ridley Park and the Wiff is Life League are competing in the NWLA Tournament in Michigan on July 14th. Both teams certainly have what it takes to make a deep run in that event . . . Always a true ambassador of the game, Tom LoCascio supplied all ten teams at the tournament with a FREE Loco Bat. Thanks Tom!

Standings Update

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We are officially halfway through the 2018 regular season tournament schedule and the Championship Tournament race is heating up!

The Stompers and My Name is ERL continue to hold onto the top two spots in the table, although the gap between them narrowed significantly with ERL’s second place finish. The Yaks’ third place finish at Wiffle Wars places the veteran squad solidly in third place. The Barrel Bruisers moved into the top six and will look to build on that with the return of Chris Owen in July.

The top six is still somewhat jumbled, thanks to the presence of three teams – New School Risers, Naturals, and Cloud9 – who finished second, second, and first, respectively, in their lone 2018 MAW tournaments. Similarly, the Ben Stant captained G€M is well within striking distance after one tournament played. A respectable finish by any of these teams in an upcoming tournament would position them well for a playoff spot. 

* Standings reflect all teams with more than 10 points towards the Championship Tournament through the June 16, 2018 tournament.

Up Next

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MAW is back in action on July 14th in York for Wiffle Bash!

From 1998 – 2000, the Maryland Wiffleball Association hosted their annual summer, Wiffle Bash, in the DC suburbs. Those tournaments saw 49 teams compete over that three-year period with the Georgia Longshotz winning the inaugural event. Baltimore’s Chilly Willy Blasters went back-to-back in 1999 and 2000, beating the Fluffheads and the dynamic duo of Lou Worthington & Mark DeMasi to win their titles. Now Wiffle Bash is back for the first time as a MAW event! Which team will add their name to the list of former champions?

July 14th is a busy day for different forms of Wiffle Ball, with the World Whiffleball Championship (slow pitch) in Illinois and the NWLA tournament (baserunning) in Michigan both taking place on that day. There is only place on the east coast to find no pitch speed, high quality Wiffle Ball that weekend and that’s MAW!

After July, MAW returns to York on August 4th for Backyard Brawl. This is the last final chance for teams to play at Shi Wiffleball Park during the 2018 regular season! Lastly, MAW debuts in Canonsburg, PA on August 18th with the Canonsburg Classic. This will be the last chance for teams to qualify for the Championship Tournament in September.

Spaces are filling up for all three tournaments, so register your team today at www.midatlanticwiffle.com!

Wiffle Wars (June 16, 2018) Tournament Preview

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Worlds will collide on June 16th as Mid Atlantic Wiffle hosts Wiffle Wars at the Shi Wiffleball Park in York, PA!

The eclectic ten-team field includes multiple championship caliber teams and highly talented players from all over the northeast, each with their own unique styles of play and experiences. While every team ultimately has their eyes set on a first-place finish and points towards the MAW season standings, there are several other factors at play that make this tournament a can’t-miss event!

Aces Abound

If you are a fan of top tier Wiffle Ball pitching, then this is the tournament for you! There will be no shortage of quality and intriguing arms in York this weekend.

Connor Young and Dan Whitener provide My Name is ERL with an excellent 1-2 punch on the mound. Young has pitched well in multiple places this season – including MAW – and appears to be taking the final steps to becoming the well-rounded, smart, ace level pitcher everyone knows he can be. Few pitchers in the game have as electric stuff as Whitener, who threw a perfect, perfect game against the Stompers in May, striking out all 12 batters he faced.

2017 Fast Plastic Texas Open champions Cloud9 will make their MAW debut on Saturday with Ty Wegerzn and Sean Steffy leading the way on the flat hill. Last October, Cloud9 rode that duo to a tournament victory and will be looking to do the same in York. The Stompers will be at full strength once again, which means the 5-time MAW tournament champions will go three deep on the mound with Chris Sarno, Jordan Robles, and Nick Schaefer all available. The debuting WILL Waves boast at least a pair of high upside arms in Jordan Castelli and Mike Graziani.

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If they were playing as one team, no group would have as much pitching depth as the boys from the Ridley Park Wiffleball League. After making their MAW debut in May, the Longballs are back for a second go around but this time split into two full teams (Longballs Blue and Longballs Red). That Ridley Park can enter two teams that have a very good chance of making it to the single elimination round is a testament to the young talent in that league. There are a handful of quality pitchers spread across the two Longballs squads, but keep a close eye on right-handed pitcher Sean Bingnear. Bingnear was impressive in May, allowing just one run – a walk off solo shot to Dave Capobianco in a play-in game – over 7 1/3 innings of work. He is off to a strong start in the RPWL this year as well and has all the makings of a top-flight pitcher.

The fact that we have gotten this far without mentioning 2017 MAW Rookie of the Year recipient Jarod Bull speaks volumes about the level of pitching expected on Saturday. Bull did not pitch in May and while his status is still up in the air, it is believed he will likely see game action on Saturday. Bull was his usual solid self in April, allowing two runs in his six innings of work. Also, don’t overlook his fellow Yak, Jared Laird, who is quietly putting together a solid season. Laird has eaten up 10 2/3’s innings for the Yaks while pitching to a solid 4.50 ERA.

What to Make of ERL

It has been a strange 2018 thus far for My Name is ERL.

From the Winter Classic in February through the upcoming tournament this Saturday, the New Jersey based squad has been under a constant state of construction. To illustrate that point, Saturday will mark the fourth different roster in four 2018 tournaments ERL will have utilized. The team has played well at times but doesn't have more than a third-place victory to show for it. One pitch here and one hit there and ERL is looking at a totally different situation ending into the midway point of the season, but it just hasn’t come together for them yet. Connor Young is hoping that ERL’s fourth different lineup of the season – Young, Gerard Fitzgerald, and Dan Whitener – will be the charm. Whitener – described by Young as a “depth move” back in May – was virtually unhittable at Torneo de Wiffs and will no doubt be counted on in much more important situations on Saturday. Fitzgerald – known for his clutch bat – will be counted on to give his team the big hits they have been so sorely missing.

Despite the inconsistency, ERL currently sits in second place in the points standings and looks poised to make another deep post-season run. A big tournament on Saturday – one where everything finally clicks into place for them – would certainly be a much-needed confidence booster as we head into the back-end of the season.

Halfway Mark

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Wiffle Wars is the third tournament in the six tournament MAW regular season and the final MAW tournament before July, which puts us at the halfway mark of the 2018 spring/summer calendar. This tournament will no doubt set the stage for the second half of the Mid Atlantic season. 

While it is unlikely that ERL will pass the Stompers in the Championship Tournament standings on Saturday, they can certainly close the gap while also creating some distance between themselves and the rest of the field for the all-important #2 seed. The Yaks will look to keep ERL in their sights while breaking out of a three-way tie for third with the Naturals and New School Risers, both of whom will be inactive on Saturday. A first or second place finish for a debuting team like Cloud9 would place them right in the mix. The Barrel Bruisers – currently on the outside looking in for the Championship Tournament – will look to tread water without their top pitcher, Chris Owen, and pick up some points in the process.

For their part, the Stompers hope to continue their winnings ways that have them on a 19-1 run since last September. It is fair to say that if the Stompers – who have already proven themselves against quality competition during their run – come out on top again on Saturday, that it will place them in rather rarified air.

Return of a Hall of Famer

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You know that modified blue screwball bat with the replacement handle that you swing? He invented that. Remember the 2004 Fast Plastic regular season? His team went 31-1. How about the 1999 Fast Plastic Magazine Team of the Year award? His team won that. And oh yea, earlier that same season, he finished 3rd – by himself – in the stacked Shamokin, PA tournament outlasting 16 other teams in the 19 team field including the Fluffheads, No Johnnies, Stompers, and Shamokin Busers. In 2004, his team came one unfortunate injury away from capturing the Fast Plastic National Champion. Wiffle Up? He and his brother completely dominated that circuit in its early years.

Tom LoCascio – the heart and soul of the legendary In the Box squad– did it all during an illustrious Wiffle Ball career that ostensibly spanned a decade but was actually the culmination of lifelong practice and dedication. Tom is a true first ballot hall of famer and one of the great ambassadors of the game. On June 16th, he returns to the field for the first time in years, flanked by his youngest son, Gianni.

Lest you think that a former all-star caliber player cannot return after years of inactivity and win with only his offspring as his backup, need I remind you of what Dave Capobianco accomplished jut six weeks ago at MAW’s Torneo de Wiffs? Anyone that crossed paths with Tom during his heyday knows the kind of competitor he is. Simply put, Tom is not coming to lose.

It will be an honor to have Tom and In the Box in York on Saturday but don’t think this is just a legend doing a victory lap – Tom, Gianni, and In the Box are in it to win it.

Pool Play Games to Watch

The tournament format calls for each team to play three games in the pool play round with all 2-1 or 3-0 teams advancing to the single elimination round. The matrix style pool play format means that teams can largely control their own destinies – win two games and you are in. Every game matters under this format, but there are a few games in particular that have caught our eye as potential “make or break” contests.

York Yaks vs. Longballs Blue (8:00 AM scheduled start)*: These two squads should be evenly matched and whoever wins this early day game will put themselves in line to pick up two round robin wins. 

Longballs Red vs. WILL Waves (2:00 PM scheduled start): Two up-and-coming Pennsylvania NWLA affiliated all-star teams meet in this pivotal late day pool play matchup. It will be the third game of the day for both teams and with how the schedule plays out, there is a solid chance that the winner of this game will advance onto the elimination round with the loser left on the outside-looking-in. Both teams are young, enthusiastic, and full of upside which should make for an exciting game.

Stompers vs. Cloud9 (2:00 PM scheduled start)*: On paper, the meeting between the red hot 2017 MAW Champions and the 2017 Fast Plastic Texas Open tournament champions is the most anticipated of the pool portion of the schedule. Both teams are as well-rounded as they come with top tier pitching and offenses that can hurt you from any part of the lineup. With several of the games' top players involved, this is one game you won’t want to miss!

York Yaks vs. My Name is ERL (3:00 PM scheduled start time): This game is both a re-match of one of the two 2017 Championship Tournament semi-final series as well as an encore of May’s 3rd place game. ERL came out on top in both and in fact, have won their last two games versus the Yaks 1-0 thanks to a pair of solo shots off the bat of Connor Young. This game is almost certain to have elimination round implications. A first-place seed, a spot in the elimination round, or both could very well be up for grabs.

follow along

Follow along with the action on Saturday with several streaming games throughout the day. In addition to the two asterisked games listed above, the 10:00 AM game between My Name is ERL and the WILL Waves, plus one semi-final game and the tournament finals will be streamed live on Mid Atlantic Wiffle’s Facebook page*. In addition, follow along on our other social media accounts for periodic updates throughout the day.

Twitter: @midatlanticwiff
Facebook: facebook.com/midatlanticwiffle
Periscope: @midatlanticwiff
Instagram: midatlanticwiffle

* @midatlanticwiff on Periscope will air these games in the event there is any issue with Facebook.

Sean Steffy: A Glimpse of What Should Be

Already one of the game's most prolific pitchers, Sean Steffy secured a place in the record books by going 3-0 to lead Cloud9 to the 2017 Fast Plastic Texas Open title. In addition, Steffy took him tournament MVP honors. (Photo: Sean Steffy)

Already one of the game's most prolific pitchers, Sean Steffy secured a place in the record books by going 3-0 to lead Cloud9 to the 2017 Fast Plastic Texas Open title. In addition, Steffy took him tournament MVP honors. (Photo: Sean Steffy)

For years describing Sean Steffy’s place in the world of competitive Wiffle® Ball has been complicated.

Everyone that has ever seen him throw the ball – whether in person or via one of his many highly viewed YouTube videos – sees the immense talent he posses. Few in the history of the game can do with a plastic baseball what Steffy can. His combination of velocity and stuff is nearly unprecedented. His knowledge on how different pitches are thrown – the grips, the arm angles, the arm action – is extraordinary. Ask him how to throw even the most obscure pitches and he responds with a clear and concise explanation. His mechanics are smooth and easy which allow him – on a good day– to pound the strike zone with relative ease. Due to his talent and knack for self-promotion, Steffy is arguably the most widely known Wiffle® Ball player of all-time.

That sure sounds like a player worthy of “the best pitcher in the game” title. When it comes to Sean Steffy, however, things have never been that straightforward.

While few would deny that Steffy is among the most talented to ever throw the ball, it takes more than sheer talent to be considered the best pitcher in the sport. To be considered for that accolade, a player needs to compete regularly in tournaments and/or leagues, win games, and rack up some championships along the way. It is one thing to dazzle YouTube viewers with backyard bullpen sessions. It is another thing to strike out live, experienced hitters in a pressure packed tournament or league setting. Steffy has been heavy on the former, light on the later during a career that – for all intents and purposes – began in 2009 during the final year of Fast Plastic. During his career, Steffy has been plagued by an inability to win a major high quality fast pitch tournament. He experienced the greatest amount of on-field success during the 2014-2015 GSWL Yard League (medium pitch) seasons as a member of the Minutemen. Steffy saw little time on the rubber in each of those seasons, however. In recent years, his tournament playing time has been sporadic at best. He is best known for his videos and backyard exploits, rather than his participation in major tournaments.

Steffy’s stuff has never been in question. The lack of tangible results has been. There are many plausible reasons why the results have never matched the talent. Injuries, lack of opportunities, and inability to handle pressure have all been brandied about over the years. The reasons ultimately do not matter. All that mattered was that this incredibly talented pitcher rarely – if ever – displayed those talents in a major fast pitch tournament setting.

It is too early to state definitively that Sean Steffy’s championship winning, MVP performance at the 2017 Fast Plastic Texas Open completely altered the narrative of his career. It was, at the very least however, a giant leap in the right direction.

Steffy was at his most allusive in 2016 and 2017, playing in just a few sporadic tournaments. That time away seemingly did him well. By his own admission, his arm never felt better than it did going into the Texas Open. He was backed at the Open by a veritable all-star team comprised of his long-time teammate Ed Packer, top flight pitcher Ty Wegzryn, and slugger Kevin Norris. Wegzryn – with a two inning assist from Norris – got Cloud9 through pool play without Steffy needing to do as much as lift a ball. The stars appeared to be aligned for Steffy’s long-awaited coming out party at a major fast pitch tournament. Healthy and fresh, he was handed the ball for the elimination round. It was an excellent opportunity to show he could carry his big game stuff into actual big games.

The tall right-hander started Cloud9’s stretch run to the championship by taking the ball in a quarterfinal matchup with the upstart Master Batters. The Master Batters were jittery at the plate and in the field, allowing Cloud9 to jump out to an early lead on several defensive miscues. Steffy didn’t have his sharpest stuff that round (relatively speaking) but was able to work through it and fine tune in what turned out to be a relatively stress-free victory.

What came next was anything but. Cloud9’s date with 5-0 Wiff Inc. in the semi-finals was a game that several observers stated could have passed for the championship. Wiff Inc.’s lineup was the most potent in the tournament and more than a formidable challenge for any opposing pitcher. Kenny Rodgers sat out most of the 2017 season but is considered by some – including Palisades WBL commissioner Brett Bevelacqua – to be the best hitter in the game. Anthony Didio’s power complemented Jordan Robles’ professional and patient approach at the plate. With David “Road Toast” Wood rounding out the lineup, it is fair to state that the Wiff Inc. lineup was among the best Steffy has ever been tested with.

He passed with flying colors. He threw strikes and was around the plate with nearly every pitch, forcing the Wiff Inc. hitters – among the most selective throughout the tournament – into swing mode. Steffy held his opponents to a single hit (error) and a few walks. His teammates spotted him a run in the first and that was all that he needed. Wiff Inc. got only a single runner to second base and were never able to mount much of a rally.

Sean Steffy (Cloud9) is interviewed before the championship game at the Fast Plastic Texas Open. Steffy pitched every inning for Cloud9 during the elimination, going 3-0 en route to being named tournament MVP.

It was fitting that Steffy’s title game foe would be none other than Josh Pagano. Pagano won a national title in his second year at an Fast Plastic NCT and would add a second three seasons later. Pagano’s career has been marked by big wins and championships – quite the contrast from the man he faced in the championship game in Frisco.

The defining moment of the tournament for Cloud9’s ace came in the third inning of the championship. With Cloud9 already up by a couple of runs and a pair of quality innings behind him, Steffy appeared to have everything under control. Then – just like that – he lost his command. Ten straight pitches missed the target. Even more disconcerting was the pitches lacked the zip they had just an inning earlier. He suddenly found himself with the bases loaded and unable to buy a strike. A run would have given the Rookies a major burst of momentum. If you watched this stretch and thought “here is where the wheels are going to come off”, you weren’t alone.

Instead, he bared down and worked his way out of the inning in impressive fashion, striking out the final two batters to escape the jam. It was only the bottom of the third but his escape act that inning all but sealed the outcome. Six outs later, it became official.

To nobody’s surprise, Steffy was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. In addition to the award, trophy, and his share of the $5,000 cash prize, Steffy came away with an accolade befitting of a pitcher with his incredible stuff. From this point on, he is not “just” the guy that makes the Wiffle® Ball YouTube videos; he is also a Fast Plastic national tournament champion and MVP.

The sport could use far more performances from Sean Steffy like the one we saw in Frisco and could use them on a regular basis. There were several players on different teams who spoke excitedly of about getting to step in the box against him and test their mettle. Some never got a chance. Those that did are almost certainly itching for another shot. We know after Saturday how dominant of a pitcher Sean Steffy can be over a 15 inning stretch. How great would it be to see those battles – against the Kenny Rodgers, Josh Paganos, and Jordan Robles of the world – over an entire summer?

Saturday was a heck of a day for the game’s most prolific pitcher. Here’s hoping that it wasn’t a one and done, but rather a sign of things to come. We saw how dominant Steffy can be over three pressure packed games, now its time to see it over the course of a full season next summer.