Giants

Wiffle Bash (July 14, 2018) Tournament Recap

By: Paul Cooke

A Giant Statement

The Giants (Ryan & Tim McElrath) went a perfect 6-0 at  Wiffle Bash  to win the tournament title.

The Giants (Ryan & Tim McElrath) went a perfect 6-0 at Wiffle Bash to win the tournament title.

At 3:00 AM early Saturday morning – a time and day when most are either fast asleep or still going strong from the night before – Tim and Ryan McElrath woke up and hit the road on a 250-mile trek from their home in Kingston, New York to York, Pennsylvania. Their destination? Shi Wiffleball Park, the site of Mid Atlantic Wiffle’s Wiffle Bash tournament.

For the brothers, the cost of enduring a long car ride at such an ungodly hour was worth it for the opportunity that lay ahead. Competing almost exclusively in Palisades WBL for much of this decade, Tim and Ryan have established themselves as two of the premiere players in what is currently the country’s premiere league. Despite their significant accomplishments in Palisades, the McElraths have felt overlooked in discussions of the game’s best teams and players. Competing at Wiffle Bash provided an opportunity to prove themselves against high calibre competition in a tournament setting outside of their home base.

We kinda had to make a statement,” Tim wrote on Sunday, addressing his team’s motivation after the fact.

Statement made. Emphatically.

Saddled with one of the more difficult pool play schedules in the field, the Giants went a perfect 4-0 during that portion of the schedule. It was far from a cake walk, however. The Giants were tested early and often throughout pool play. In what is becoming somewhat of a trend in MAW tournaments, the first game of the day – when players on both sides are completely fresh – nearly became a trap game for one of the tournament favorites. In this situation it was the upstart Jersey Lemon Heads who threatened to throw a wrench into the Giants’ tournaments plans. The Lemon Heads picked up a couple of early opposite field hits against Tim McElrath while the Lemon Heads’ ace, Ray Lutick, kept the Giants’ bats in check. The game made it through five innings with no score and a total base deadlock. In the 6th, the Giants broke the total base stalemate to squeak by with a narrow but important early tournament win.

The Giants were still trying to find their groove – or perhaps were still feeling the effects of their early wake up call – when they met G€M on Buffalo field for their second game of the day. Ben Stant sawed through his former Palisades teammates in the early going, striking out nine of the first ten batters he faced with a one out walk to Tim in the third blemishing an otherwise perfect record. In the bottom half of the third Stant hit a solo home run off Tim, who was already on his ninth inning of work before 11:00 AM. Having failed to score a single run all morning and now with a one run deficit to make up, things looked grim for the McElrath brothers. Like many great teams, however, the Giants do some their best work with their backs against the wall. Ryan led off the top of the fourth inning with a single and Tim immediately cashed in with a two-run bomb to left field. Following back-to-back strikeouts that got Stant within one out of escaping with limited damage, the McElrath’s went on one of their patented hitting tears. The brothers used four straight singles and one walk to get across two huge insurance runs. In the bottom of the fourth, G€M threatened when John Magee and Stant reached to start the inning. This forced the Giants to summon Ryan into the game to close things out. The 2017 Palisades MVP and Cy Young award winner quickly shut the door to end the game and propel his team to a 2-0 start.

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The fourth inning of the G€M game seemed to jumpstart the Giants for the remainder of pool play. They made quick work of Nick Shirey’s Wyld Stallyns team and then jumped over Jarod Bull early and often on their way to a 6-0 victory over the Yaks. The way the Giants made relatively easy work of the Yaks sent a clear message that they were going to be difficult to stop. As the Stompers’ Nick Schaefer mentioned on commentary for the Facebook Live stream of the game, Bull pitched a far better game then his lopsided line would indicate. The McElrath’s bats, however, were just too much to handle. It wouldn’t be the last time in the tournament that the brothers blindsided a top tier pitcher with their relentless offensive attack.

At 4-0, the Giants locked up the top seed in the four-team single elimination round. The Giants were joined by – in order – the Lemon Heads, Stompers, and My Name is ERL, making the fourth seeded ERL their first-round opponent.

In a stark contrast from what we are used to seeing from ERL, Connor Young made it through pool play with an [almost] fresh arm. ERL – one of the few regular teams out there that can boast having two left-handed pitchers – got two games apiece out of their southpaws on Saturday. Joe Schlindwein picked up his first MAW win while Blake Hoffman carried the heavier load against the Yaks and Stompers, winning one and taking a hard luck loss in the other. With his arm rested and ready to go for the semi’s, Young rolled the dice with a two-man, Giants-inspired lineup consisting of Joe and himself. The potential benefit to that configuration – which the McElraths enjoyed all tournament long – is getting to see the pitcher more often and quickly learn his tendencies. The downside was the loss of extra fielders on defense, but Soup felt confident that he could limit the number of balls the Giants put into play to mitigate the absence of a third defender.

For the first few innings, Young’s plan looked genius. Coming up to the plate for the third time in just 1 1/3 innings, Soup deposited a ball over the 105-foot mark in straight away center on Sheff. The solo shot gave ERL an early advantage that looked as if it was going to stand up. Young kept the first ten batters he faced off the bases while recording eight of his first ten outs on strikeouts. Of course, nothing is ever over with the Giants, who are always just one plate appearance away from flipping any game on its head. In the semi-finals that moment came with one out in the 4th inning. Ryan McElrath – seeing Connor for the sixth time in about twenty minutes – returned the favor from earlier with a solo shot of his own. To his credit, Soup did not allow the Giants to go on an immediate charge right after the big hit. Young escaped of the inning with two straight K’s to limit the damage.

Sitting in on commentary for the finals later in the day, Connor spoke to feeling that he  only delayed the inevitable by working out of the fourth inning. It was a feeling that only grew stronger when Joe booted a ground ball with one out in the 5th. Sure enough, that error opened the floodgates and the McElraths belted out four straight singles to end the game and ERL’s tournament.

Awaiting the Giants in the finals were the familiar faces of the Stompers. For the third time in four tournaments, the Stompers found themselves in the tournament title game. They handed the ball to Jordan Robles, who was coming off an all strike out perfect game against the Lemon Heads in the semi-finals. Robles entered the tournament with a rare several-week break from fast pitch competition and the benefit of his rested arm had been evident all tournament long. His stuff was sharp and he maintained his effectiveness late into the day despite being forced into action earlier in the tournament than anticipated. The on-field familiarity between Robles and the McElraths only added to the intrigue of the day’s final game.

The game was scoreless through the first 1 ½ innings, but it was evident that would not last long. The Stompers picked up one double in each of the first two frames courtesy of Sarno and Robles, respectively. For their part, the Giants took strong cuts against Jordan in the first. Based on the early quality at bats from players on both sides, it was only a matter of time before someone broke through. That breakthrough came in the second inning, in a major way.

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All day long it seemed that once the Giants picked up one hit, a half dozen more followed. When Ryan opened the second inning with a single and Tim followed up with one of his own, you could already sense that Robles and the Stompers were in trouble. Like clockwork, Ryan homered in his next at bat – a prodigious shot that landed well into the trees overlooking Sheff field – putting the Giants ahead 3-0. The McElraths were not done yet – not by a long shot. Tim got his team started all over again with a single, Ryan added a double, and then Tim clobbered a pitch for the Giants’ second 3-run blast of the inning. In total, the Giants pounded out six straight hits – including a pair of home runs – before a single out was recorded in the second inning. The offensive fireworks seemed to stun all the players still in attendance, who are not used to seeing Robles hit around in such a manner.

Jordan – in a testament to his own abilities and makeup – found a way to keep the Giants off the scoreboard the rest of the tournament, largely by serving the McElraths a healthy dose of change ups. Unfortunately for the Stompers, the damage had already been done. Jordan – who had as much success as anyone against Ryan on the day (3 walks, triple, home run) – broke up the shutout with a one out home run in the fifth. The Stompers picked up another run later in the inning thanks to a Sarno double and a Nick Schaefer RBI single, but Ryan snuffed out the attempted comeback by striking out the next batter to end the game.

The Giants grew stronger and stronger as the day went on and finished with a perfect 6-0 record. For their efforts, they took home the $540 first place cash prize. Even more importantly, the brothers left York having made the statement they set out to make. There is no doubt – not as if there should have been before – that the McElraths are two of the best players in the entire game and a force to be reckon with whenever and wherever they step on the field.

No Shame About Ray

Ray Lutick (Lemon Heads) worked every inning for his and allowed just two runs at  Wiffle Bash .

Ray Lutick (Lemon Heads) worked every inning for his and allowed just two runs at Wiffle Bash.

It would have been nearly impossible for any player to outdo the individual performances of Ryan and Tim McElrath at Wiffle Bash, but the Jersey Lemon Heads’ Ray Lutick came awfully close. The power right-hander mowed down opposing hitters all-tournament long, starting with six scoreless innings against the Giants in his team’s first game. Lutick allowed just two runs the entire day – solo shots to the Stompers’ Sarno and the Barrel Bruisers’ Tony Manelli – while pitching every inning for this team.

Ray showed plus velocity and was able to maintain it throughout the tournament. His already strong velocity played up a little bit more thanks to a compact overhand delivery. He relied heavily on a hard overhand drop pitch that resembled a power baseball sinker more than a traditional Wiffle Ball dropper. Only occasionally did Lutick break out the side arm riser that he used liberally in his first MAW tournament last summer. If he can find a complimentary pitch and keep his arm in one piece, Lutick has the chance to be a special pitcher.

Behind Ray, the other Lemon Heads fielded well and had strong at bats throughout the tournament. The Lemon Heads’ offense should improve rapidly with additional tournament experience. On the carpet, they already have a bona fide ace in Lutick but the addition of another pitcher might become a necessity at some point. A 3-2 record against the calibre of competition the Lemon Heads faced at Wiffle Bash is incredibly impressive. Perhaps even more indicative of this team’s bright future is that they were in no way satisfied with their fourth-place finish. These guys are hungry for success and have the talent necessary to get where they ultimately want to be.

Pool Play Classic

Jordan Robles (Stompers) entered in relief against My Name is ERL in the 7th inning and finally closed out the marathon game in the 8th.

Jordan Robles (Stompers) entered in relief against My Name is ERL in the 7th inning and finally closed out the marathon game in the 8th.

Mid Atlantic has not lacked for memorable championship games during its limited existence. From Nick Schaefer outdueling Ryan Doeppel in the very first MAW tournament last April to the 10-inning classic between ERL and Cloud9 this June, the final game of the tournament is often also the best of the tournament. At Wiffle Bash, however, the tournament’s best game occurred much earlier in the day.

For the third time this season and the sixth time overall, the Stompers and My Name is ERL met in an MAW tournament. The Stompers entered the day leading the all time series 3-2, but both clubs have undergone drastic changes since their three 2017 meetings. A better gauge of the current rivalry would be the games ERL and the Stompers played in April and May of this year. The former saw the Stompers eek out a 1-0 victory behind their newest addition, Chris Sarno, while the latter game was taken 1-0 by ERL thanks to a dominant pitching effort from the debuting Dan Whitener. The talent gap between the teams is razor thin which almost guarantees a nail-bitter every time out.

The game – as expected – was a scoreless pitching duel through the first three frames. Blake Hoffman – facing the Stompers for the first time – pitched a perfect top half of the fourth while Sarno stumbled some in the bottom half for the Stompers. The Stompers’ hard throwing right-hander walked Young to open the inning and allowed an unlucky one out single on a playable groundball to Tim Cooke. Although Sarno got out of the inning without allowing either runner to score, the base runners were significant because they put ERL ahead on total bases by a count of four to three. The Stompers needed a base runner to stay alive, which they got right off the bat thanks to a Robles’ walk. Cooke then redeemed himself with a double off Jim Linhart’s hands to give his team a two base advantage.

Thus began a four inning stretch where the Stompers got at least one runner on base every single inning only for ERL to answer right back in innings five, six, and seven. After Paul Cooke walked in the 7th to put the Stompers up by one base, Jordan Robles asked for – or perhaps more accurately, took – the ball from Sarno to try to close out the game. He almost did just that, until Young – one of the more clutch hitters in all of Wiffle Ball – delivered with a two out single right back up the middle. In the 8th, Sarno delivered a double off of Hoffman to put the Stompers ahead by two bases. The second time was the charm for Robles, who worked around a two out walk in the bottom of the 8th inning to put the Stompers in the win column.

It is not often that a 0-0 game could be described as exciting or epic, but this one might just fit the bill. The total base lead changed hands six times and was tied four different times. There was no room for error on either side – which first became apparent in the third inning – and that lent even more importance to every hit, ground ball, and taken pitch. Look for a full, edited version of the game to hit the Video on Demand section of the MAW website in the near future.

Here and There

Bent Stant (G€M) delivers a pitch as teammate Marcus Lee looks on.

Bent Stant (G€M) delivers a pitch as teammate Marcus Lee looks on.

The Stompers championship game loss to the Giants was their first loss of the season on Sheff Field. The team’s prior three defeats this year all occurred on Buffalo . . . Where’s the run support? ERL’s Blake Hoffman threw 13 innings over two games, struck out 32 batters, allowed no runs, and served up just three hits but came away with only one total base win to go with one total base loss . . . Last summer, Connor Young became the first MAW pitcher to strikeout 200 batters in a season (including the Championship Tournament) when he set the single season record at 213. After Saturday, Chris Sarno is sitting on 142 strikeouts for the season. Red is not expected to be in action on August 4th, which may hurt his pursuit of both the 200 K mark and Soup’s record . . . The closer role has not taken hold in competitive Wiffle Ball the same way it has in baseball. At Wiffle Bash, however, there were two instances of teams turning to their ace to finish off games. Both the Stompers (Robles against ERL) and the Giants (Ryan McElrath against G€M) switched pitchers late in games to close the door on a victory . . . When asked if he ever remembers throwing that many change ups in a game as he did against the Giants, Robles shook his head 'no'. "I had to try something to get them out," the 2017 MAW post-season MVP conceded . . . Has a new player entered the Mid Atlantic MVP conversation? Bent Stant has played in just two of the four tournaments so far this season but is nonetheless among the leaders in most hitting and pitching categories. Will the voters overlook his relatively minimal playing time to reward him for what have been clear MVP-level performances when he's been on the field? . . . 500 miles away from Wiffle Bash, a pair of leagues with MAW ties fared well at the NWLA Tournament. Ridley Park stumbled going 0-2 in the elimination round but rebounded to win the weekend’s consolation tournament while also representing well in Friday night’s All-Star game and home run derby. Wiff is Life League started the weekend strong with Jordan Castelli winning All-Star game MVP honors and finished even stronger, outlasting the 16-team field on their way to capturing the tournament championship. Congratulations to both leagues on their achievements and we look forward to seeing both groups very soon . . . The Jersey Lemon Heads hope to continue the “trend” of MAW affiliated teams faring well in outside tournaments when they travel to Tennessee to play in an eight-team tournament this weekend. Based on what we saw at Wiffle Bash, it would not surprise anyone to see the Lemon Heads make a deep run . . . MAW officials continued the slow process of integrating an interview area and process into the York tournament experience. Look for some of the pre-tournament interviews recorded at Wiffle Bash on the website . . . Adding to the great tournament experience this past Saturday was the Barrel Bruisers kind generosity in supplying and grilling hot dogs and hamburgers for every player. Thanks Jerry, Chris and Tony!

Championship tournament Update

The York Yaks - currently third in the standings -  have a spot in the Championship Tournament all but locked down (L:R Jared Laird, Adam Milsted).

The York Yaks - currently third in the standings -  have a spot in the Championship Tournament all but locked down (L:R Jared Laird, Adam Milsted).

With just two tournaments left to be played, the Championship Tournament race is heating up. The top three spots are set in stone, although ERL is well within striking distance of the Stompers for the top seed. G€M and the Barrel Bruisers have a strong grip on two of the final three sports, although there are several teams that could still overtake them. The auto qualifier spot for the Canonsburg Classic looms as a complete wild card at this point. There is no guarantee that a team outside the top six will win the tournament - or that the winners will be able to accept the bid - which means that six spots based on total points could still potentialy be up for grabs. For teams like the Lemon Heads or Longballs Red, a Championship Tournament spot could very well be in their sights with one more strong finish, regardless of the outcome in Canonsburg.

MAW officials have passed along the latest payout projections for the Championship Tournament. Based on current projections, the first place grand prize is estimated to be $2,000 with an anticipated purse of $500 to be split among the top three runners up.* If your team is on the bubble, now is the chance to make a move and ensure your chance to play for big money on September 8th!

  1. Stompers (MD)                   56 pts.
  2. My Name is ERL (NJ)        46 pts.
  3. York Yaks (PA)                    32 pts.
  4. G€M (DE)                             20 pts.
  5. Barrel Bruisers (VA)           18 pts.
  6. Giants (NY)                          16 pts.

Teams in Contention: Naturals (14), New School Risers (14), Jersey Lemon Heads (10), Cuban Raft Riders (10), Longballs Red (7), In the Box (7) **

* Assuming a six team Championship Tournament field.

** Cloud9 (16) and Ridley Park Longballs (8) are currently ineligible for the Championship Tournament as members of these played for points on different teams in subsequent tournaments (Giants and Longballs Red, respectively).

Up Next

It is hard to believe, but we are already on the home stretch of the 2018 summer season!

There are just TWO open entry tournaments left to go, beginning with Backyard Brawl on August 4th at Shi Wiffleball Park in York. This tournament is shaping up to be wide open with some MAW regulars either not expected to compete or expected to compete with short-handed rosters. There are a couple of spots still open and with Championship Tournament slots still up for grabs, this is an excellent opportunity for several teams to make a late run at the post-season.

Two weeks later, MAW rolls into Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, home of the NWLA Tournament champions Wiff is Life League! In partnership with WILL, the Canonsburg Classic will be an MAW style tournament complete with a first place cash prize. In addition, participating teams will receive points towards the Championship Tournament and the winning team will receive an automatic bid to the MAW Championship Tournament on September 8th. The Canonsburg Classic is expected to include a mix of MAW regulars, WILL regulars, newcomers, and more! Register today to take advantage of what promises to be a unique and exciting tournament.

Wiffle Bash (July 14, 2018) Tournament Preview

The Yaks' Adam Milsted (left) and Jarod Bull (right) will be on the field together for the first time this season at   Wiffle Bash  .

The Yaks' Adam Milsted (left) and Jarod Bull (right) will be on the field together for the first time this season at Wiffle Bash.

When the York Yaks added veteran Adam Milsted to their roster over the winter, they envisioned a one-two punch of Milsted and Jarod Bull pitching them deep into the day tournament after tournament. And perhaps that is exactly what would have happened, if only the Yaks could get their top two starters out on the field at the same time. In April at Opening Day, Milsted played with his non-MAW team – Way Too Beautiful – while Bull was available to the Yaks for only 1 ½ games due to prior commitments. In May, Milsted made his long awaited Yaks’ debut while Bull sat out to nurse a sore shoulder. Bull was back on the mound for the June tournament but this time it was Milsted who was absent thanks to an outside commitment. Now at long last, both Milsted and Bull are expected to toe the rubber for the Yaks in the same tournament at MAW Wiffle Bash.

Just how significant is it for the Yaks to have their top two pitchers available in the same tournament? MIlsted and Bull have combined for a 1.66 ERA in 29 innings pitched for the Yaks this year while all other Yaks pitchers have pitched to a 9.77 ERA in 17 2/3 IP. If that duo puts up similar numbers on the 14th, the Yaks have an inside track to the final four.

Another team thrilled to be back at (near) full strength is the Barrel Bruisers. Jerry Hill was left to go at it (almost) alone back in June and performed admirably, winning one game and dropping a close one to the WILL Waves by a score of 2-1. Jerry won’t have to shoulder nearly as much of the workload this Saturday as the Bruisers will have team ace Chris Owen back in the fold. Last time we saw Chris, he turned in his best single tournament in Mid Atlantic by holding the Yaks and My Name is ERL to two runs over eight innings at Torneo de Wiffs in May. The Bruisers are on a mission for playoff points as they look to solidify a spot in September’s Championship Tournament.  A .500 pool play record will be a big step in the right direction. To get there, the Bruisers must find a way to pick up a one win in one of their three non-InHumans games.

Like Owen, ERL’s Blake Hoffman is making his return to action after missing Wiffle Wars in June. Blake is itching to get back on the carpet and continue his rookie campaign after taking a month off. The question is, how much will we see of him on the rubber this weekend? For a variety of reasons, the left-hander has been used sparingly thus far. In April, Blake worked one round robin game after ERL had already been eliminated from contention and in May his only start was a loss in the semi-finals. For those two tournaments, ERL captain Connor Young chose to hold his rookie pitcher back for the games later in the day. Soup might not have the same luxury this time around, not with Dan Whitener reportedly done for the rest of the summer due to collegiate baseball commitments. Is this the tournament where we finally see what one of the game’s most promising young hurlers can do over multiple appearances? After using a stripped down three-man lineup in June, ERL will be carrying five on Saturday. Young and Gerard Fitzgerald form a potent combination in the middle of ERL’s lineup.

While Owen and Hoffman are making their returns after a one-tournament layoff, it has been even longer since we last saw Ben Stant and the boys from G€M. On Opening Day back in April, Stant guided his inexperienced but talented squad to a final four appearance. G€M ended their impressive debut tournament with a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to The Naturals in the semi’s. The team was led by their talented captain – Stant - who picked up wins against the Yaks and Cuban Raft Riders in pool play while also hitting three home runs. G€M has drawn arguably the toughest pool play schedule in the field with games versus the Giants, Yaks, Stompers, and Barrel Bruisers. To compound matters, Ben is scheduled to pitch in GSWL Yard League the very next day and may want to control his innings on Saturday. Look for G€M to try and steal a win early in the day against the Giants or Yaks, turn to another pitcher to try to get past the Bruisers (as they did with John Magee back in April) and see if they can’t work themselves into the elimination round without overtaxing their captain’s talented right arm.

G€M’s early day meeting with The Giants promises to be one of the highlights of the morning from a pure competition standpoint. The matchup also comes with a little bit of history. Stant was briefly part of the 2017 Giants squad that won the Palisades WBL championship. In one weekend worth of action for the Giants, Stant fared well. He reached base in 4 out of 11 plate appearances and struck out 14 batters during a 5-inning 1-0 loss. Stant suited up for the Giants again, but did not see any additional game time for the eventual Palisades champs. This winter, the Giants unloaded him in a trade with the Expos. While there are not necessarily any hard feelings, Ben will nonetheless have an opportunity this Saturday to show the Giants what they missed out on.

For their part, Tim and Ryan McElrath are coming to York to further prove what many already know to be true – that the Giants are one of the best teams in the sport and that Ryan is among the best players in the game. Ryan had arguably one of the top regular and post-seasons in Palisades league history last year, the Giants won the MAW Winter Classic back in February (albeit, with Jordan Robles as their third) and we all saw first hand how good of a hitter Tim can be last month when he played with Cloud9 at MAW Wiffle Wars. Despite all of that, the McElraths feel they don’t always garner the level of respect that they certainly deserve. With that ever-present chip on their shoulder, the brothers are looking to make a statement this Saturday at Wiffle Bash. It won’t be easy, as rumor as it they might have to go at it without a third player. The key will be how many innings they can squeeze out of Tim’s banged up right arm in pool play. If the answer is “eight” – and at least four of those come in a win – the Giants are almost certain to be factor late into the day

Left to Right: Ryan and Tim McElrath after winning the 2018 MAW Winter Classic in February.

Left to Right: Ryan and Tim McElrath after winning the 2018 MAW Winter Classic in February.

Among teams looking to play spoiler are a pair of local squads– the Wyld Stallyns and those loveable underdogs, the InHumans. The InHumans are still in search of that allusive first win. Their best chance to do so on Saturday would appear to be against the Stallyns in a late pool play meeting, although even that won’t be easy. The Stallyns are captained by Nick Shirey who – as he is want to do – will temporarily split from the Yaks for a chance to pitch. Shirey will be joined by J.R. from Bacchus and a third player making his MAW debut.

While the realistic best-case scenario for the InHumans and Stallyns is to play the role of spoiler on Saturday, this next team is staring at a higher ceiling. Last August, an unknown team from the Jackson Wiffleball League arrived in York for the fourth tournament of the season. In their first game the newcomers upset an undermanned Stompers squad and then dropped a pair of close games to My Name is ERL on the way to a top four finish. Sporting a new team name – Jersey Lemon Heads – the guys are back and looking to build off of their sold debut of a year ago. These Jersey boys have a manageable schedule and a real chance to be alive late in the day. If you want a player from Lemon Heads to watch, keep an eye on Ray Lutick. The pitcher impressed fellow players last August with a side arm riser that – when he keeps it out of the middle of the plate – rates as an above average offering.

Finally, there's the Stompers. The team’s impressive streak of tournament titles – four straight – came to an end in June at Wiffle Wars. While a semi-final loss to one of the game’s best pitchers hardly qualifies as disappointing, there is a sense that the club is eager to “bounce back” after missing out on the finals in June. The Stompers will have all three of their pitchers – Jordan Robles, Chris Sarno, and Nick Schaefer – available once again, although it will likely be the last time that happens this (regular) season. As usual, that wealth of pitching depth gives team captain Tim Cooke much to ponder. The Stompers’ pool play matchup with My Name is ERL will be another chapter in a classic MAW on-field rivalry. The Stompers lead the all-time series three games to two.

The Mid Atlantic Wiffle Facebook page (www.facebook.com/midatlanticwiffle) will once again stream several games throughout the tournament. All game times are subject to change, so we suggest checking in twenty minutes or so early to make sure you don’t miss any of the action. Live commentary from a rotating cast of players will be provided when possible.

  • 10:00 AM – Giants vs. G€M
  • 2:00 PM – Giants vs. York Yaks
  • 4:00 PM – My Name is ERL vs. York Yaks OR Barrel Bruisers vs. Lemon Heads
  • 5:30 PM – Finals (TBD)

As always, follow MAW on Twitter (@midatlanticwiff) and on Instagram (midatlanticwiffle) for updates throughout the tournament. Check back next week after the tournament for full coverage including the tournament recap, video highlights, and much more.

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

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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.

2018 Winter Classic Preview

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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.

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.