Mid-Year in Review: Twenty Prominent Players from the First Half of 2018

By: Paul Cooke

At the midway mark of the 2018 Wiffle Ball calendar, The Drop takes a look at the players that caught our attention over the first half of the season. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the best players in the game but rather a collection of players and stories that stood out over the past six months. This article covers players that have played in an unrestricted pitch speed environment in 2018.

Iron Man


Jimmy Cole entered 2018 with an ambitious goal in mind – play in 175 games over the course of the calendar year. So how is it going? By my own unofficial count, Cole has made it north of 50 games but a little short of the 87 games representing the halfway mark of his ambitious goal. Cole has been all over place the first six months of the year, competing in three winter indoor tournaments, playing regularly in at least two leagues in upstate New York, competing in the Skibee Wiffleball League in St. Louis, traveling to a pair of tournaments in Pennsylvania, and suiting up for two of games in the Palisades. Whether or not he reaches his stated goal, Jimmy is well on his way to being Wiffle Ball’s 2018 Iron Man. [HIGHLIGHT: Cole's Grandslam at the MAW Winter Classic]

Tough Outs


For an eight-day stretch in April, Cole’s Palisades Cardinals teammate and fellow New Yorker, Kris Morse, was an unstoppable force at the plate. It started on April 22nd at AWAA’s Opening Day tournament when Morse pounded out an insane thirteen homeruns for the tournament champion River Monsters. One week later in Palisades, Morse had a game for the ages. Playing for the Cardinals, Kris went six for eight with three homeruns, three walks and a whopping sixteen RBI in a route of the White Sox. Morse has since cooled off a bit – how could he not? – but the eight days in April when he suddenly became the wiffle equivalent of 2001 Barry Bonds is one of the more fascinating statistical feats so far in 2018.

The one-pitch rule in the Washington based JAL league was the subject of some debate earlier this year. What seems undeniable is that making good on one pitch isn’t easy even if you are getting nothing but fastballs straight over the plate (which – to be clear – is not the case in JAL). That is what makes Matthew Morton’s JAL XVII output so impressive. Morton saw 95 pitches during the winter/spring season. He let 30 go by for walks and picked up hits on 23 of them for an impressive .558 on base percentage. Even more impressive was that 13 of his 23 hits (57%) went for extra bases. To make extra base contact on 14% of the pitches you see over the course of a long season is impressive in any fast pitch environment. Due to his relentless offensive output, Morton was named MVP of the JAL XVII season.

Dan Potter YAKS concept.png

Way back in February at Mid Atlantic’s Winter Classic, Dan Potter deposited the first pitch he saw in 2018 over the left-center wall for a solo home run. That proved to be a harbinger of his season – in more ways then one. The leadoff home run was the first of three game opening shots Potter has hit this season, with the other two coming on April 14th against Ben Stant and June 16th against Tom LoCascio. Since the start of the calendar year, Potter has done nothing but rake against quality competition. The longtime York Yak leads MAW in almost every major offensive category through three tournaments. One of the best athletes in the sport for the better part of two decades, the “Wiffle Ninja” – as he is known – is finally get his due. [HIGHLIGHT: Potter goes deep twice off of Cole]

Veteran Presence

DSC_0106 (1).JPG

Saturday May 5th was supposed to be a fun day of bonding between a veteran competitive wiffler and his two kids. And it was, but for Dave Capobianco, Mid Atlantic’s Torneo de Wiffs ended up being so much more. The longtime Wiffle Up player and former Fast Plastic NCT participant – serving as his team’s only pitcher and on a bad leg to boot – held down quality hitters like Dan Potter and Connor Young as he guided his New School Risers team to a 2-2 round robin record. Capobainco hit a walk off homerun in a play-in game to put his team into the semi-finals against heavily favorited My Name is ERL. That’s when Dave saw his two teenage children – who were growing more comfortable with each at bat – mount a rally on a walk and a triple which gave them the momentarily lead. In extra-innings, Dave took care of the rest by hitting his second game winning homerun in as many opportunities. Although the Risers came up short in the finals, their unlikely run to the championship game is one of the best stories of the half-year. [HIGHLIGHT: Dave Capobianco May 5th tournament Pitching Reel]

Tom Locascio ITB player concept.png

Tom LoCascio – a first ballot Wiffle Ball Hall of Famer if there ever was one – received a heck of a Father’s Day gift this year. The captain of In the Box spent the day before Father’s Day back on the Wiffle Ball field flanked by his 15-year old son, Gianni. For one afternoon at least, the 51-year old turned back the clock and even better, got a chance to introduce his son to a sport he had previously only heard about. As everyone expected, Tom played well and left everything he had on the field while pitching all three games for his team. Among Tom’s highlights were a 1-0 victory in their second game of the day and seeing Gianni pick up the nuances of wiffle ball hitting, culminating in several well struck balls against a couple of high quality pitchers. More than a few fellow players remarked that Tom could still make a major contribution on a lot of teams, should he choose to play more than once a season. [HIGHLIGHT: Tom LoCascio June 16th MAW tournament Pitching Reel ]


Being underestimated and proving his doubters wrong is nothing new to the Stompers’ Nick Schaefer. By way of example, in 2001 as a member of In the Box, Nick was benched during a pivotal USPPBA East regional finals game against the Lakeside Kings because of the misconception that Nick is a weak hitter. Eight months later, Nick hit a walk-off 3-run home run against that same Kings’ squad to capture a tournament title for his new team, the Stompers. Thirteen years later – after being written off as a player on more than one occasion –Schaefer is still competing at a high level both on the mound and on the plate. His velocity is down a notch or two and his barely scuffed balls look like an ancient artifact to some younger players, but Nick continues to produce at high level. Although his pitching workload has been limited in 2018 – the days of 25+ inning tournaments are in the rearview for Nick– he is nonetheless highly effective both on the hill and at the plate. Nick is 2-0 on the carpet this season in MAW against quality competition and he has hit the game winning homerun in both of those outings. Showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, Nick has been one of the game’s best full-time veteran players this season. [HIGHLIGHT: Nick Schaefer helps himself with a Grand Slam]

Two Way Stars

Connor Young ERL concept art.png

At 21-years old, Connor Young is what you might call a “young veteran”. Connor first played in competitive tournaments when he was just twelve years old and has been a mainstay in the sport ever since. 2018 might just be his finest season to date. The man they call Soup has a good shot of winning back-to-back MVP awards in Mid Atlantic and he steadied a Palisades Brewers team that was going nowhere fast before his arrival. After pitching nearly every single inning for My Name is ERL in 2017, Young relieved some of the pressure with several clever additions to round out the roster. That has allowed Soup to be at the top of his pitching game more often than not, even though he still racking up the innings. Young logged 70 innings between MAW and Palisades in the first half of the year, allowing a meager 16 runs in the process. The extra assistance from his teammates has also positively impacted Connor’s offense. Young is a true two-way threat now, just as capable of taking a top ranked pitcher deep as he is to strike out a big time power hitter. [HIGHLIGHT: Young Takes Matters into His Own Hands]


In 2017, Ryan McElrath put together one of the most impressive individual seasons in Palisades WBL history. Ryan took home the MVP and Cy Young honors to go along with a league championship, becoming only the second player in that league’s history to earn both MVP and Cy Young honors in the same season. So far in 2018, Ryan has picked up right where he left off. His hitting line through twelve games (.250/.407/.597) is nearly identical to last season but with a little more power. On the mound he has already racked up 36 innings for the Giants. While opposing batters have gotten to him more frequently in 2018 than 2017, a 1.25 ERA (per 5 IP) still ranks high up the leaderboard, particularly for pitchers who have thrown thirty or more innings. Ryan’s ability to pick up big hits and shoulder the bulk of the pitching load for his team make him one of the most valuable players anywhere. An impressive eight-inning victory in the finals of the Mid Atlantic Winter Classic this February only adds to his already impressive Palisades resume. [HIGHLIGHT: Ryan McElrath Winter Classic Pitching Reel]


You know that a player is truly special is when he is among the top all around players on the year and nobody makes a fuss over it simply because it is expected of him. Such is the case for Jordan Robles. Robles is having one of his typically great seasons but because we have seen this level of performance and winning from him time and time again, it may not register to the same way it has with players in the midst of breakout or career years. Jordan started 2018 in impressive fashion by winning three unrestricted pitch speed tournaments in a row – the MAW Winter Classic, MAW Opening Day, and AWAA Opening Day. He is on pace to record anywhere from his second to fourth best pitching season in his illustrious Palisades career. It is easy to take Robles’ talent for granted, which itself is a testament to his immense skill. [HIGHLIGHT: Robles April 14 MAW tournament championship game pitching reel]

Chris Sarnowski was bred to be a championship level wiffler. The son and namesake of the former State of Mind and Hitsom great, Sarno has been around the game almost his entire life and has played competitively for much of this past decade. 2018, however, has been a revelation. While it was abundantly clear from his past successes in GSWL Yard and elsewhere that Sarno had a bigtime bat, he’s shown this year that he has the arm to go along with it. Through three MAW regular season tournaments, Sarno has allowed just four runs in 43 innings of work. His resume includes wins over top-flight teams like My Name is ERL and Cloud9. Sarno is a hard thrower with a typical mix of pitches and has seemingly put his control issues behind him. [HIGHLIGHT: Sarno May 5th MAW Tournament pitching reel]

Another name that might fit that taken-for-granted mold is Tim Trenary of the Palisades Dodgers. Since 2012, Trenary has been one of the best and most consistent players in the Palisades, particularly on the mound where he has averaged 13 strikeouts per games over his eight Palisades’ seasons. This year he is putting up his typical strong pitching numbers with a 0.71 ERA and a tick over 12 strikeouts per game over 27 1/3 innings. While Tim’s offensive output is usually safely above average, he has really taken it to another level this season. In 51 at bats through the end of June, he has slugged nine extra base hits including six homeruns, which is good enough for a .725 slugging percentage. Combined with his solid .410 OBP, Trenary currently has a 1.135 OPS which if he can maintain would be the best of his career.

As a first-time player in Palisades WBL last year, Ty Wegerzn ran away with the league’s Rookie of the Year award. This year, his brother Dave is attempting to make it back-to-back ROTY awards for the Wegerzn clan. Dave Wegerzn – like Ty was in 2017 when he won Rookie of the Year honors – is by no means a newbie to fast pitch Wiffle Ball and that prior experience has allowed him to hit the ground running. Midway through the year, Dave is dominating the action on both sides of the ball with a 1.213 OPS and 0.67 ERA. If Dave can finish the season the way he has started it, he seems poised be the second Wegerzn in a row to finish as a season as Palisades’ top “rookie” player.

Flame Throwers

Dan Whitener ERL concept.png

48 IP, 4 R, 134 K’s. That is Dan Whitener’s combined Mid Atlantic and Palisades pitching line through the first three months of the spring/summer season. Whitener – who also pitches at Chowan University in North Carolina – poses one of the most electric arms in our sport. He’s put his abilities to fine use this year, retiring quality hitters at a rate unmatched by any of his peers. Whitener has gone through a murder’s row in those two organizations and handled them with relative ease. If Whitener has a shortcoming it is that he is prone to the occasional lapse of command but his stuff and velocity is so good that he is often able to work around any walks. With his pedigree and stuff, the sky is the limit. [HIGHLIGHT: Whitener May 5th MAW tournament pitching reel]


It is rare to strike out 27 batters over one 10-innning game and lose, as Whitener did back on June 16th in Mid Atlantic. A lot of things need to occur for that to happen, chief among them an opposing pitcher that is up to the challenge. In this particular game that was Cloud9’s Sean Steffy, who kept ERL off the scoreboard by scattering five hits, walking one, and striking out twenty over those same ten innings. Sean’s first tournament appearance of 2018 was a doozy, as he showed off the overpowering stuff that helped propel his team to victory in the 2017 Texas Open. Sean is 5-0 in his last five starts dating back to last October. The matchup with Whitener and ERL in June was easily his biggest test in those handful of games – ERL collectively picked up five hits and made ten outs on balls in play – but as big game pitchers do, Sean found a way to work out of and around jams to get the job done. [HIGHLIGHT: Sean Steffy MAW June tournament pitching highlights]

Two-Sport Stars


Texas Wiffleball League head honcho and talented pitcher, Will Marshall, is spending a plastic free summer while playing for the Utica Unicorns of the United Professional Shore Baseball League. The UPSBL – an independent league in the Detroit metro area – began its season in mid-May and runs through early September. Working in relief, Marshall has held opponents scoreless in 7 of 12 outings and has a 4.12 ERA through games on June 23rd. Will has been on his game more often-than-not, with seven of his nine earned runs coming in just two outings. Will poses one of competitive Wiffle Ball’s most electric arms and this summer he is proving he can still get it done on the diamond as well. [HIGHLIGHT: Will Marshall FP Texas Open pitching clips]

Georgia's Village Idiots won an eight team tournament in Tennessee in 2017 but have yet to play in 2018. There’s a good reason for their absence, however. One of the Idiot’s key players – Justin Jones – is currently playing professional baseball in the Los Angeles Angels organization. Jones – a four year starting shortstop at Georgia state – signed with the Angels as an undrafted free agent this summer and is currently assigned to their rookie-level team Arizona. 

Next Generation

What do you get when you take the overwhelming arsenal and velocity of Sean Steffy and put it on a nineteen-year old southpaw? You get My Name is ERL’s Blake Hoffman. It is unfair to burden Blake with such high expectations so early in his career, but there is no denying he has the stuff and ability to eventually justify that comparison. Blake has shown off his considerable talent over three MAW tournaments in 2018 but also struggled on occasion, as can be expected of any young pitcher. A longtime student of the game – Hoffman spent the prior five years uploading his backyard bullpen sessions to YouTube before making his pro debut in ’18 – he has the drive needed to become a top tier pitcher. Blake travels from his home in Marion, Ohio to York, Pennsylvania – a one-way trip of about 6 ½ hours – to compete in MAW tournaments. There’s no question the want-to is there and with his stuff, it is only a matter of time before he puts it all together. [HIGHLIGHT: Hoffman versus Way Too Beautiful]

Sean Bingnear concept.png

Last summer, it was Tommy Loftus who broke out of the pack in the Ridley Park Wiffleball League and established himself as one of the game’s bright young pitchers. This year, it looks like its Sean Bingnear’s turn to do the same. Bingnear followed up on his sparkling 2017 RPWL playoff run (15 innings, 0 runs, 24 K’s) with an excellent start to the 2018 RPWL season (16 innings, 0 runs, 28 K’s) before a nightmarish outing on June 20th where he seemingly couldn’t locate the strike zone. Outside of the Ridley Park league, Bingnear is opening eyes with his work in Mid Atlantic. In two tournaments, Bingenear has tossed 16+ above average innings and was one pitch away from defeating Cloud9 by total bases on June 16th. Relying on a heavy screwball and smooth delivery, Bingnear has shown he can get top tier hitters out and should only get better as he gains more experience. The NWLA recently spotlighted the Longballs’ pitcher as one of their players to watch at this year’s NWLA tournament. Sean will likely do the hefty lifting for the Longballs at that tournament, with Loftus still on the shelf as he rehabs an arm injury. [HIGHLIGHT: Bingnear MAW June tournament pitching reel]

Another young pitcher with a near upset over Cloud9 on his resume is Cooper Ruckel of the Texas Wiffle Ball League’s Cosby Show. Last October, the hard throwing sixteen year old kept the eventual Texas Open champions scoreless in a pool play game, but came up short on total bases. In sixteen innings spanning four games this season in the Texas Wiffle Ball League, Ruckel has struck out 46 batters and allowed only two hits. With an electric arm and a deceivingly simple delivery, Ruckel can throw the ball past opposing hitters in a way very few others can. [HIGHLIGHT: Ruckel strikes out Ed Packer]

The Drop National Player of the Year

Wiffle Ball is ostensibly a team sport but in its current state, the game belongs to the individual player. While I hope that one-day soon we will again have the full-time teams and system necessary to accurately rank and compare squads, that time is not now. It is a player's sport right now and there is no shortage of talented players to be found throughout the United States and beyond.

The Drop wishes to recognize the outstanding achievements of the games best, most consistent, and game tested WINNING players. To that end, The Drop will name a 2018 National Player of the Year this fall. In addition to the award, the winning player will receive a cash prize of $500. This is an editor’s choice award, meaning there will not be an open or closed door voting process. The winner will be selected by the The Drop based on the following criteria:

  • Based on a player’s performance in unrestricted pitch speed games* between January 1st and October 15th, 2018.

  • The award will take into account a player’s pitching, hitting, and defensive accomplishments between (and including) January 1, 2018 and October 15, 2018.

  • Among other considerations, the level of competition the player competed against, the player’s statistics, the number of games played at a high level, individual and team accolades earned by the player (i.e. championships), and the variety of competition will be taken into account when selecting the finalists and the award winner.

  • A player’s FULL body of work will be considered for the award. One good tournament is not necessarily enough to make up for a lack of play or performance the rest of the award period nor can will one "poor" tournament performance overshadow an otherwise superb season.

  • The selection will be made based on the hours upon hours of in-person and digital Wiffle Ball watching undertaken on a regular basis here at The Drop, conversations with players and organizers, and 2018 statistics.

* Organizations that meet this criteria include, but are not limited to: Palisades WBL; Mid Atlantic Wiffle; NWLA affiliated leagues that provide an unrestricted speed option (AWAA, Ridley Park Wiffle Ball League, WSEM, etc.); the NWLA national and qualifying tournaments;  the Fast Plastic tournament; JAL; and the Texas Wiffle Ball League.

The finalists will be announced on Monday, October 22nd. The award winner will be announced Friday, November 2nd. The award will be presented to the winner at a yet to be determined date and location.

So keep on playing and GOOD LUCK!

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



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

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

A Good Year for Veteran Teams

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

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

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

WSEM Dads Add a 3rd NWLA Trophy

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

Impressive Individual Performances

Among the best individual accomplishments of 2017:

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

Golden Age for Leagues

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

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

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

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

Team work

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

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

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

JAL: Washington's Wiffle Ball Trailblazers

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

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

    By: Paul Cooke

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

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


What are you doing December 23rd?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The Scout #4: Jeter Larson

Jeter Larson (RHP)


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

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

VIDEO: Jeter Larson Promo Video (JAL XVII)

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