Jordan Robles

2018 Championship Tournament Preview: Stompers

Roster: Paul Cooke, Tim Cooke, Jordan Robles, Chris Sarnowski, Nick Schaefer

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Playing Out Of: Baltimore, MD

2018 MAW Record: 20-5

Seed: 2

Signature Wins: vs. My Name is ERL 1-0 (4/14); vs. My Name is ERL TB’s (07/14); vs. Lemon Heads 1-0 (8/18)

Versus Championship Tournament Teams: 6-3

First Game: vs. 2-0 team (#3 seed) from double elim bracket

Why They Will Win It All:  On a per tournament basis, the Stompers have had the most success of any team in Mid Atlantic this season with three tournament titles and one runner up finish. The team has done so in large part because of an MVP caliber season from Chris Sarnowski. Chris is a legit two-way threat, equally capable of changing the game with his bat as he is with his arm. Sarno is one of only four players to toss 20 or more innings in a single Mid Atlantic tournament this year. Should the Stompers find themselves locked in extra inning battles and/or long series, his ability to go long will come in handy. At the plate, Sarno is a big time power threat and has accounted for his team's only runs with a homer a handful of times this summer.

Furthermore, if the team so chooses, they can ride Sarno for multiple games and 15 or more innings in the semi-finals with the comfort of knowing that they have Jordan Robles waiting in the wings. Jordan was his typically impressive self at the plate and on the carpet this season. Nobody loves the drama and intensity of a championship game more than Robles who almost always rises to the occasion when the lights are the brightest. Robles is one of the best the sport has to offer and probably the last hitter or pitcher any team will want to see on the 8th with a game on the line.

The 1-2 combo of Sarno and Robles is hard to beat, but the Stompers will also have veteran Nick Schaefer to go to if needed. In this format, Schaefer might act as a safety net of sorts for his squad. In the unfortunate event of an injury or underperformance, Schaefer – with years of big game experience – can take the ball as a spot starter or a late inning reliever. Schaefer could also take the ball in less pressure-packed situations and take some of the burden off Robles and Sarno. The Stompers undoubtedly have the pitching depth needed to win the tournament.

Offensively, the Stompers ran hot and cold this year but have gotten the big hits when needed from virtually everyone on their roster. They are the only Championship Tournament team with four players bringing a .200+ batting average into the Championship Tournament. Robles and Sarno are liable to go on a tear at a moment’s notice while Schaefer and Tim Cooke are veteran hitters who showed they still have a few big hits left in their bats. As a team, the Stompers get on base enough that they are usually able to find a way to push a run or two across against top tier pitchers.

Why They Won’t:  If the Stompers’ bats do run cold, all the pitching in the world might not be enough to save them. In 25 games played during the regular season, the Stompers scored one run or less 13 times. They won their fair share of those games thanks to the pitching but living on the edge in that fashion can come back to bite them. In terms of potential Championship Tournament opponents, the Stompers are 2-2 against the Lemon Heads and have yet to really solve Ray Lutick. Their 2-1 record versus ERL looks solid but the third game was a veritable coin flip and one run decided the other two games. Which is all to say that the Stompers will likely have very little margin for error on the 8th. A lengthy stretch of offensive futility or a single down day from one player could easily spell the end of their quest to repeat as Mid Atlantic champions.

Highlights:

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

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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

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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.

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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

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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]

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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 ]

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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

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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]

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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]

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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

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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]

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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

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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]

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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!

Stomping the Competition

By Nick Shirey

Let's flashback to the beginning of the 21st Century.

The Stompers, from Gaithersburg, Maryland, were one of the youngest and best wiffleball teams in the entire country.  Their enthusiasm, will, and talent made up for a lot of their youthful inexperience and the cream eventually rose to the top. At least it almost did. The Stompers finished third at the 2003 Fast Plastic National Championship, perhaps just a missed sacrifice fly conversion away from the title!  Arm troubles, professional careers, and other obligations abruptly turned this young, talented powerhouse dormant with many of the longtime USPPBA and Fast Plastic veterans  wondering where the talented youngsters went.  Those that knew them well knew they didn’t head down the path of Dwight Gooden or Daryl Strawberry, but the questions lingered.

Stompers at MAW's Opening Day: Tim Cooke, Chris Sarno, Jordan Robles, Paul Cooke, Nick Schaefer

Stompers at MAW's Opening Day: Tim Cooke, Chris Sarno, Jordan Robles, Paul Cooke, Nick Schaefer

Welp, wonder no more – they’re back!  They’re retooled!  They’re dominating the competition and they are currently THE BEST TEAM IN FAST PITCH WIFFLEBALL!  That is a statement that I stand by and will backup with explanation as you read on, but first, who exactly are the 2018 Stompers?

The 2018 version of the Stompers is quite different than its 2003 counterpart, but yet many of the features that made this team such a pain in the ass in the early 2000’s prevail in 2018.  The Stompers always knew how to grind out games, grind out wins and throw strikes

Stomper captain Tim Cooke

Stomper captain Tim Cooke

Not much has changed on that front.  They are still led by their heart and soul, Tim “The General”, Cooke.  Cooke is as intense as they come on the wiffleball field – have you ever even seen the kid crack a smile while playing? – and his team follows suit.  I don’t want to give Tim a bad rap. Off the field he moonlights as the MAW Director and is as nice of a guy as you could meet but its a different story on the field.  He calls the shots for this veteran squad and knows how to keep his team rolling and winning.  Cooke’s attitude and want can be seen with his supporting cast.  He is one of the best managers in the history of wiffleball, now he’s on a mission for the hardware to prove he belongs with names like LoCascio, Ledge, Palinczar, Tariela, Ventresca, Derek Anderson, Chad Anderson, and Lavoie.  Tim’s not only the emotional leader of the Stompers he also brings a valuable balanced hitting attack.  His bat ranks in the upper tier for both average and on-base percentage through one-and-a-half MAW Seasons and he has shown capable power, hitting five homers along with some key knocks off top tier pitching.

Tim isn’t the only Cooke on the Stompers.  His brother Paul is also integral part of the squad.  While Tim and Paul are not similar in looks, behavior, or approach, they are both quite good at winning.  Paul Cooke is not known for his bat yet is still one of the most feared hitters in MAW.But why?  How about an on-base percentage of 0.462, just slightly down from his .520 OBP in 2017.   Paul is one of the toughest outs in MAW because he demands the pitcher to throw strikes, a key part of winning especially in wiffleball!  While Paul typically sets the platter for the “big boys” in the Stompers lineup, don’t sleep on his bat either as he will make you pay.

The other longest tenured Stomper is Dan “Doc” Isenberg.  Isenberg, who at the turn of the century offered a dynamic lefty-righty 1-2 combo on the flat-hill with Schaefer, is now relied on for his power bat and occasional mop-up duty on the mound.  Age and injuries have caught up to the one time shutdown lefty, who in 2002 was one of the best left handed pitchers in the country. He is still able to win games for his Stompers squad when called upon, keeping their “aces” fresh.  Doc brings a powerful lefty bat to the Stompers’ lineup and not much has changed in 15 plus years.  Extreme power and a ”swing-away approach”.  You never know when Doc will strike, making for him and Paul Cooke an extremely tough back-to-back pitching matchup.

Then there is “Hollywood” Nick Schaefer.  I’m not sure how he did it and how he is still doing it.  Schaefer is one of the very best – if not the best – true pitchers in the history of competitive fast pitch wiffle ball.    Schaefer truly pitches.  Think Greg Maddux - that’s Schaefer but commanding with a freakin’ plastic ball with holes in it. Schaefer doesn’t dazzle you with speed but rather hits corners and has anywhere from 6-26 pitches.  That’s a slight exaggeration but he always seems  to manage to throw something new at you in the last inning.  Schaefer’s a great competitor and person.  If you ever want to watch someone pitch – this is the guy.  He is crafty and fun to watch.  Schaefer, who at one time was the Stompers ace, is probably now #3 on their depth chart, making them quite scary to deal with.  It’s equally scary as he’s likely to only have to pitch one  game these days.  Schaefer’s never really been known for his bat but since his re-emergence in MAW he has hit 8 homers in just 17 games, a couple which were game winners!

Dan Isenberg and Nick Schaefer chat in between games at a recent tournament.

Dan Isenberg and Nick Schaefer chat in between games at a recent tournament.

While the above players listed were good enough to win the 2017 Inaugural MAW #1 tournament, the talent doesn’t stop there.  They retooled for 2018, adding Jordan Robles, on the short list for the best player in the country and now the Stompers ace.  The Stompers brought in Robles at the end of 2017 and he takes the ball late in tournaments.  Robles is a strike throwing machine with plus-plus velocity.  He has dominated the competition on the flat hill and was the 2017 MAW Playoff MVP!  Robles also has a big time stick with serious power. He swings for the fences and offers huge pop to the Stompers’ already balanced attack.

The final Stomper on the list is a newcomer for 2018, Chris “Red” Sarnowski (or Red Sarno for short).  Red seems to be the final piece of the puzzle for this already dangerous team as he rounds out their staff and puts their lineup over-the-top.  Red is the son of wiffleball legend Chris Sarnowski, aka Sarno, who is best known for his years with wiffleball powerhouses State of Mind and HITSOM.  Much like his dad, the younger Sarno is a two-way star.  He has plus velocity and variety of pitches to keep hitters off balance.  He also boasts a rubber arm (throwing every inning in 2018 MAW #2 in route to the tournament title and tournament MVP award), which takes a lot of pressure off of Robles, Schaeffer, and Isenberg.  However, what may be more impressive than his pitching is his stick!  Red is a complete hitter, he has serious power but also great contact skills and discipline.  This allows him to fill up the stat sheet and consistently be on base, which as you know leads to runs and leads to victories!

So why is this group of wifflers the best team in fast pitch competitive wiffleball today?  The answer is simple – winning, winning, and more winning.

Since Tim “The General” Cooke pulled the strings and brought Robles onto the team, they have not lost a tournament.  Granted, there aren’t many fast pitch tournaments around to judge teams anymore but this group is doing it against what is without a doubt the best fast pitch tournament competition available today.  The Palisades Wiffleball League is exceptional and boasts some of the best, if not the best, collective group of talent but their league play and franchise structure does not allow for open market teams to form, so they cannot be considered part of this discussion.  Robles plays on the Palisades Padres and is one of the favorites to win that league.  Golden Stick fast pitch has died off much like that of Wiffle Up! before it. However, current Stompers Robles and Sarno have fared quite well in the GSWL medium pitch format with Robles finishing as the runner up at last year’s nationals and Sarno winning the first 2018 GSWL Medium Pitch NY Super Qualifier.  Then there is National Wiffle, which isn’t national at all and only seems to hold one tournament a year.  The NWLA may have some beef but they use all-star teams from local league and also only play one (two for some teams) semi-open market tournament a year.  A fair amount of NWLA teams have made their way to MAW but they have been unable to defeat the Stompers.  So that leaves the Fast Plastic Texas Open, which is a standalone annual tournament. Winning a tournament can make you the best that particular day but not necessarily THE BEST.  To be the best you must compete against the best, consistently, and come out on top.  The Stompers are doing just that.

The newest Stompers, Chris Sarno and Jordan Robles, at MAW's Opening Day tournament in April.

The newest Stompers, Chris Sarno and Jordan Robles, at MAW's Opening Day tournament in April.

To close out the 2017 season the Stompers went 9-0. They won the September MAW tournament and swept the 2017 MAW Playoffs to become the first Mid Atlantic Wiffle Champions.  From that point on, all they have continued to do is win.  In 2018 so far, they went 5-0 at MAW tournament #1 in April and won another championship.  At MAW tournament #2 in May, they were short-handed with only the Cooke Brothers and Sarno left to do the pitching. They won that tournament as well going 5-1.  The Stompers’ record since the addition of Robles is 19-1 and the scariest part is that they have yet to be at full strength for a tournament.

Say what you want but until they get knocked off they are the best in the game right now.  If you don’t think so, then come prove it. These guys play in tournaments all year long and support the game and growth of wiffleball. For them it is all about playing the game and winning. Money says they’ll beat you too!

Now get out there, practice, and as the Stomper’s Robles would say “Lace ‘Em Up!” Time to take the Stompers out!

2018 Opening Day Tournament Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jordan Robles was nearly untouchable in the tournament finals.

Jordan Robles was nearly untouchable in the tournament finals.

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

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

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

Veteran Teams Struggle

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

Soup delivers a pitch in round robin versus the Naturals.

Soup delivers a pitch in round robin versus the Naturals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Timers Thrive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talent Influx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blake Hoffman waits on a pitch.

Blake Hoffman waits on a pitch.

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

Here and There

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

Quotable

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

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

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

The Naturals' Jason Lombardozzi digs in against Ben Stant.

The Naturals' Jason Lombardozzi digs in against Ben Stant.

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

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

Up Next

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

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

2018 Winter Classic Recap

Morse Longiaru.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Standings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Injury Report

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

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

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

Here and There

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

Up Next

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

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

2018 Winter Classic Preview

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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.

The Scout #1: Jordan Robles

Throughout the 2017-2018 offseason, The Drop will be profiling and scouting the top players under 25 in the game.

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Jordan Robles - RHP
Robles is in the top 5 discussion for best all-around player in the country, so it's not surprising that he is on this list.  He can literally do it all.  

He's a great command pitcher who excels in 4-2, 4-3, and 5-3 pitch leagues.  A strike thrower, Robles locates his pitches to all four quadrants of the strike zone, which balances out his lack of a third pitch.  He had a 0.83 BB/5 innings in the Palisades WBL this season, the lowest among the top 25 pitchers with at least 23 innings thrown last season.  His motion is clean and easily repeatable. Rumor has it that he is working on improving his non-scuffed slider for the 2018 season.

At the plate, Robles checks all the prerequisite boxes of an exceptional hitter.  His ability to get on base (.227/.399/.487) adds value to his already above average power – 8 home runs in 2017 PWL season to go with an additional 5 in his first MAW stint with the Stompers – which I expect will continue to increase as he gets into his prime.  He has a short, compact swing and is not afraid to go the other way with the pitch even if it means choking up and shortening his already compact swing down even further.  

In the field, he is a plus defender with excellent instincts.  His first step on fly balls is the best in the game today and he would most likely light up StatCast when someone is able to develop it for Wiffle.  He has above average reaction skills along with his great arm, makes him extremely adaptable.  He can easily cover shortstop, second base, or the outfield depending on the teams need.  

Next Sunday: RHP Connor Young

FP Texas Open: Top 5 Plays

5. Great Stop, Better Throw (LV Wifflers vs. Wiff Inc.)

This play had a little bit of everything - range, good hands, and an incredibly athletic accurate throw. This hit off of the bat of Jordan Robles look destined to be a single to left field and would have given Wiff Inc. runners on first and second with less than two outs. Instead, it nearly ended in a double play. Getting to the ball was great enough; making that accurate of a throw while falling backwards put it over the top. Unfortunately for the guys from Las Vegas, they were unable to convert on the second half of the double play but the first half was spectacular enough to check in at #5.

4. Stant & Jim's Pub Turn 2 (Jim's Pub vs. Wiff Inc.)

Although Jim's Pub eventually fell short in their bid to beat Wiff Inc. during the first round of games in Frisco, Ben Stant did his part to keep the game in reach with this excellent double play. Stant dove to his left to come up with the ball, steadied himself, and made a perfect feed to Jimmy Flynn at second. Flynn completed the twin killing with a spot-on relay throw to Johnny.

3. Cross' Basket Catch (GSW vs. West Coast Wiffle Report)

Mike Cross has long been one of the more athletic and quality defenders in the game. Even after a long layoff from high level competition, Cross still knows how to make the highlight reel. Brock Drazen's bid for a double was snatched away courtesy of this Willy Mays-style basket catch.

2. Robles Turns Two The Hard Way (Wiff Inc. vs. Moonshots)

There were so many things going on here, I don't know where to begin. In the quarterfinals against the moonshots, David Wood put his defense to work and they held up their end of the deal by making several quality plays. None of which were bigger and better than this catch and throw by Jordan Robles. With the wind swirling, Robles went straight back on a dead sprint to catch the ball. The Moonshots called for the tag with Robles' back still turned towards the infield. In a fluid motion, Robles turned around and fired a bullet that hit Johnny square in the glove to complete the double play. That big time athletic play put the momentum squarely on Wiff Inc.'s side and helped punch their ticket to the final four.

1. Matty Griffin Goes Over the Fence . . . Again (Remember the Rookies vs. Cloud9, Championship Game)

In the semi-finals against GSW, Remember the Rookies' Matty Griffin leaped over the center field fence to rob Billy Owens of a home run. Unfortunately, the high point of the play - the actual catch - was not caught on the one stationary camera filming the game. Griffin took care of that by simply repeating the feat in the very next game. In the tournament championship, Matt made almost the exact same play in the exact same spot, this time robbing Cloud9's Ed Packer of a definitive home run.

 

 

FP Texas Open Wrap Up - Results & Notes

Daniel Haverty (Remember the Rookies) waits for a pitch.   (Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

Daniel Haverty (Remember the Rookies) waits for a pitch. (Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

FINAL RESULTS

1.     Cloud9 (6-1)  PA  (2-0 in total base games)
Sean Steffy (tournament MVP), Ed Packer, Kevin Norris, Ty Wegrzyn

2.     Remember the Rookies (6-1)  CT  (2-0 in total base games)
Josh Pagano, Matty Griffin, Dan Haverty, Evan Lazur

3.     Wiff Inc. (5-1)  NY
Jordan Robles, Anthony Didio, David "Road Toast" Wood, Kenny Rodgers

4.     GSW (4-3)  CA  (0-2 in total base games)
Mike Cross, Joel DeRoche, Ryan DeRoche, Billy Owens

5.     BWC (4-1)  NY (1-0 in total base games)
Rob Longiaru, Sean Handahl, Dave Wegrzyn

6.     Master Batters (3-2)  TX  (2-0 in total base games)
Jon King, Will Marshall, Paul Marshall, Craig Freeman

7.     LV Wifflers (2-3)  NV  (0-1 in total base games)
Matt Trzpis. Steve Trzpis, Adam Bohnet

8.     Moonshots (3-3)  AZ
Jim Balian, Randy Dalbey, Sylvie Serrano, Robert Colon

9.     Jager Bombers (2-3)  TX  (0-1 in total base games)
Hunter Berry, Seth Herridge, Tye Weber, Christian Falkenberg

10.  Freaky Franchise (2-3)  NY  (0-1 in total base games)
Justin Tomkins, Ryan Bush, Jim Cole, Tyler Flakne

11.  Jim's Pub (1-3)  NY  (0-1 in total base games)
Danny Lanigan, Ben Stant, Jimmy Flynn, Chris Sarnowski

12.  Cosby Show (1-3)  TX (0-1 in total base games)
Cooper Ruckel, Logan Swink, Nick Wanzer, Cade Zastoupil

13.  West Coast Wiffle Report (0-4)  AZ
Jim Dalbey, Brock Drazen, Andrew Balian

14.  Wiffle Jam (0-4)  TX
Cameron Carricker, Donovan Mousel, Andrew Damin

15.  Whose Your Daddy (0-4)  TX
Scott Herridge, Jeff Down, Kyle Herridge


NOTEBOOK

The DeRoches Still Got It

Joel DeRoche (GSW) fires a pitch during pool play. After nearly a decade long layoff, Joel and brother Ryan proved they still have plenty of quality years ahead of them. (Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

Joel DeRoche (GSW) fires a pitch during pool play. After nearly a decade long layoff, Joel and brother Ryan proved they still have plenty of quality years ahead of them. (Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

So maybe Joel DeRoche was not quite as dominant as he was from 2003 – 2009 on Saturday, but that’s a rather impossible standard to be judged on. The right-hander – as he is accustomed to doing – handled the bulk of the workload for his GSW team and for the most part kept the opposition in check. For a guy that hasn’t played in nearly a decade, that’s impressive. Joel’s brother Ryan also seemed right at home back on the playing field. As the brothers exited the Shawnee Trail complex after the tournament, they were already bouncing around ideas on how to best simulate high quality, live tournament pitching so they are better prepared at the plate next go around. Watch out for them next year.

Nobody runs a tournament like Tim Dean runs a tournament

There are few sights that make you think of a “Fast Plastic national tournament” quite like seeing Tim Dean leaning against a chain link fence while updating the master tournament bracket. Tim ran the old Fast Plastic National Championship Tournaments in Austin every year between 2003 and 2009. His ability to keep the tournament on schedule while simultaneously chatting with and making every player feel welcomed is as much of the FP national tournament experience as anything. Thanks to Tim, the tournament ran ahead of schedule the entire day. Whether in Austin, Frisco, or somewhere else, it would be hard to imagine a FP national tournament without him.

Freaky Franchise: A Throwback

Once upon a time, wifflers formed teams and then those teams traveled around to all sorts of different places to take in as many unique tournament experiences as possible. For the most part, Wiffle® Ball is a far more local experience now than in those days. However, there are some current teams – like Rochester’s Freaky Franchise – that take that approach to the game. This decade, Freaky Franchise has entered GSWL tournaments, participated in the NWLA leagues, participated (and twice won) the NWLA tournament, had players compete in Palisades, traveled to standalone tournaments elsewhere in the northeast, and now can add a Fast Plastic national tournament to their resume. Their willingness to travel and experience different styles of play sets them apart in the current scene. Only New Jersey’s Way Too Beautiful might be comparable in that regard. Although I am sure they were hoping for better results, the sport sure could use more teams just like them.

Fewer Innings, Better Results?

Since FP last ran regularly in 2009 and utilized six-inning regulation games, there has been a trend towards shorter games. Very few organizations using FP-style rules had a regulation game length of more than five innings in 2017. Quietly, FP adopted a 4-inning regulation game (round robin) and 5-inning regulation game (elimination round) format for the tournament, similar to that used by MAW. The results were overall positive. With fewer innings to play, the games moved faster and arms remained fresher longer. For the most part, Fast Plastic stuck to its traditional rules for this tournament but the choice to adapt in this situation appears to have been a smart one.

The Wind Factor

The wind was gusting all day long, sitting anywhere between 12 and 20 MPH. Naturally, the conditions impacted the play on the field. There were several wind blow home runs during the tournament plus a few moonshots that were no doubt aided by the elements. Remember the Rookies’ Evan Lazur hit a monster shot that cleared the center field fence and landed on top of a pavilion about twenty feet away on Field #4. The wind also impacted the pitchers. Both the Master Batters’ Will Marshall and Wiff Inc.’s David Wood noted to us that they had to pocket their drop pitches while playing on Field #3 because the horizontal wind kept knocking the pitch down. Nobody used the wind as an excuse and the elements impacted every team in some form or fashion.

Injury Report

While there were undoubtedly plenty of sore arms and legs on Sunday (and Monday), we are happy to report that no serious injuries were reported during the tournament. The only player who may not have made it out of Texas unscathed was Remember the Rookies’ Josh Pagano. Between the semi-finals and finals of the tournament – during an interview with The Drop – The Rookies’ Lazur revealed that Pagano tweaked his leg while warming up to face GSW in a final four game, which necessitated that they reconfigure their line up. Pagano still pitched both the semi final and championship game, but there is clear video evidence that he did at time favour the injured ankle. The Rookies – as expected – never used the possible injury to explain away their title game loss nor did they even mention it beyond that one passing comment.

A Bright Future

The Texas Open served as a showcase for some of the more talented young players in the game.

The rosters of both Jim’s Pub and Wiff Inc. were heavy on players under 25. 17-year old Ben Stant from Delaware is what you might call a “young veteran”, having competed in GSWL Yard League since 2014. In some ways it was a disappointing tournament for Stant, who threw only twenty pitches on the day as Jim’s Pub finished with a disappointing 1-3 record. Despite that, the future is bright. Earlier this season, Jordan Robles told us that Stant is the best “Yard League pitcher” he has ever seen. He also proved he could get it done on the mound in an unrestricted pitch environment in the Mid Atlantic this year by going 6-2 with a 1.53 ERA as a member of both Way Too Beautiful and the Barrel Bruisers.

Jordan Robles (Wiff Inc.) fires a pitch during round robin. Robles is one of several players under 25 years old who impressed in Frisco. (Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

Jordan Robles (Wiff Inc.) fires a pitch during round robin. Robles is one of several players under 25 years old who impressed in Frisco. (Photo: Ryan M. Dute, Ryte Photography)

Stant’s teammate, Chris Sarnowski, fits into the same “young veteran” category. Competing in GSWL Yard since 2013, Sarno has proven himself to be one of the best Yard League hitters around. He has the pedigree to go with it, as his father is the former State of Mind star of the same name. El Hijo del Sarno sat out the 2017 season but will hopefully be a more consistent presence in 2018. The talent is there.

Wiff Inc. was home to arguably the nation's best player under the age of 24 in Jordan Robles. The multi-talented Robles – who turned 23 just days before the tournament – is a threat on the mound, at the plate, and in the field. While Jordan would likely concede that his hitting lagged behind the other two facets of his game in Frisco, he still had what any impartial observer would categorize as a strong tournament. Robles is the Freaky Franchise of players – a player willing to travel to tournaments of all different shapes and sizes in order to play. This was evident in the results. Jordan led his teams to semi-final appearances at the Texas Open and in the Palisades WBL, a finals appearance in the GSWL National Yard League Tournament, and a championship in Mid Atlantic.

Last but not least on the young players to watch list is the Rookies’ Daniel Haverty. Haverty handled most of round robin and the quarterfinals for his team and was arguably one of the best pitchers in the tournament. While he tired late, Haverty never gave in and successfully got the ball to Pagano for the semi-finals and finals. If Remember the Rookies return in some form in 2018, it wouldn’t be surprising if the highly athletic Haverty was given a more prolific role.

Gas Left in the Tank

One of the questions we posed in our tournament preview article was how well would the players with long layoffs perform in a high quality tournament? The answer is “generally, rather well”. As previously mentioned, the DeRoche brothers performed well and you do not have to squint very hard to see them doing even better next year with a little more practice (Joel and Ryan's practice time this go around is said to have been limited to one practice a week in the month leading up to the tournament). Their teammate Mike Cross had a strong defensive tournament and looked more and more comfortable at the plate as the tournament progressed. The Las Vegas Wifflers finished in the top eight and seemed to be a pitcher away from a higher finish. The veteran Rookies looked like they hadn’t missed a beat.

It was a mixed bag for the Moonshots – comprised of former Viper players Randy Dalbey and Jim Balian and veteran California players Sylvie Serrano and Robert Colon – who went 3-3 en route to an 8th place finish. The Moonshots were solid, but missing the extra spark that defined the Vipers during their back-to-back championships in 2002 and 2003. An 8th place finish is nothing to scoff at but given the talent on this team it feels somewhat lackluster.

Playing the Total Bases Game

While winning total base games it not exactly a function of luck, teams are definitely playing with fire when they leave the outcome up to such a flimsy metric. A couple of walks or an infield hit could and often does decide the difference between a win or loss. Seven games during round robin were decided this way. The eventual champions, Cloud9, started their run with back-to-back total base wins versus GSW and the upstart Cosby Show. Both games were scoreless and a couple of walks and hits in the other direction could have greatly altered the rest of the tournament. Cloud9 wasn't alone in using a couple of total base victories to jump start a deep run in the tournament. Their title game foes - Remember the Rookies - also won two games decided by total bases, as did the seventh place Master Batters. On the opposite end of the spectrum, GSW was the hard luck victim of a pair of total base defeats. With so many games decided by the most narrow of margins, its probably safe to say that if the tournament was played over 100 times the actual results might not be repeat even once.

On Cloud 9

2017 Fast Plastic Texas Open Champions Cloud9 (L-R: Sean Steffy, Ed Packer, Kevin Norris, Ty Wegrzyn) celebrate with their winnings. (Photo: Paul Cooke)

2017 Fast Plastic Texas Open Champions Cloud9 (L-R: Sean Steffy, Ed Packer, Kevin Norris, Ty Wegrzyn) celebrate with their winnings. (Photo: Paul Cooke)

The tournament champions, Cloud9, were in quite the celebratory mood following their big victory. How could they not be? With $5,000 in their hands, not to mention the tournament trophy, the champions gladly posed for photos on the field after being congratulated by many of the approximately 100 spectators that watched the tournament finale. After receiving their spoils, the Cloud9 foursome celebrated by breaking open four beers, only some of which found its way into their mouths. Why beer and not champagne? As tournament sponsor Jon King put it - like only he can - "I thought about getting champagne but this is Texas. We drink beer in Texas."

On the other hand, the tournament runners up - Remember the Rookies - weren't in quite as festive of a mood after coming so close to the title. The disappointment was palpable. When the Rookies received their second place plaque, one of Josh Pagano's children quickly grabbed it. "It's all yours, buddy," Pagno told him. "You can keep it," one of the Rookies added from the sideline. "None of us are going to hang it up."   

Fast Plastic Texas Open Preview

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I am not sure that I can remember a tournament – on paper, before it happens – quite like the Fast Plastic Texas Open. We are just days away from the event and I am still not quite sure what to expect.

Fast Plastic’s return to the tournament hosting business takes place this Saturday, October 21st, in Frisco, Texas just outside of Dallas. Fifteen teams are expected to compete with the winner going home with a cool $5,000 in cash. That is unless Freaky Franchise – the lone NWLA representative in the field – happens to win in which case they will return home to Rochester, New York $10,000 richer. The rules are essentially what we came to expect from Fast Plastic during its heyday a decade earlier which means no pitching restrictions, no base running, and a three-man defensive alignment, among other things.

The cash is certainly unusual. The amount of dough – especially when it is entirely sponsored driven and independent of entry fees – is virtually unprecedented. However, what really makes this tournament unlike any other tournament I can remember is the composition of the field.

Make no mistake about it, the tournament field – especially when you dive below the surface of the often unfamiliar team names to get to the players – is loaded with big name talent. There are heroes of Fast Plastic past including the DeRoche brothers, Jim Balian, Josh Pagano, Billy Owens, Danny Lanigan, and Randy Dalbey, among others.  There are players who built impressive legacies in the post-FP environment in Golden Stick including Ed Packer, David “Road Toast” Woods and Rob Longiaru. Some of the current starts of Palisades – including Jordan Robles and Anthony Didio – will be on the field in Frisco. The future of the game will be further represented through the participation of up-and-comers such as Will Marshall and Ben Stant. There are several former National Champions among this group. It is not an exaggeration to state that 80% or more of the players involved come into the tournament with a major accolade tied to their name. In that regard, it is a very impressive field.

What makes the field a bit of a mystery is that many of these players formed their resumes years ago during the Fast Plastic years and/or in the immediate aftermath. That is to say, the tournament field is littered with players who for all intents and purposes are not active in the game. Joel DeRoche very well might be the best pitcher the game as ever produced but he has not been an active player for the better part of a decade. It is impossible to know what to expect from him or the upwards of two-dozen other players who fit that bill. I would never underestimate a Joel DeRoche or a Jim Balian after what we have all seen them do on the Wiffle® Ball field over the years. It would not totally shock me to see some of these players return to their old selves under the bright lights in Frisco. Time and age do not discriminate, however, not even for the legends of the sport. How well the legendary players perform after significant time away from high level competition will be one of the – if not the – most interesting storylines to follow this weekend.

Of the teams expected to participate, only three can definitively be considered active, full time teams – Freaky Franchise (NY), Master Batters (TX), and Jager Bombers (TX). The rest of the field are either teams from the past reuniting – GSW as one example – or teams specifically constructed for this event. The lack of participation by full-time, active teams at the Texas Open is impossible to miss. This is partially a side-effect of the current environment where the team unit simply isn’t as important as it once was. It is a players’ game now and the Texas Open field reflects that. Perhaps this is an inconsequential detail. Talent usually triumphs over everything else so perhaps team chemistry really does not matter all that much here. Certainly, if one of the active regular teams – like Freaky Franchise – were to win by defeating a field of veritable all-star teams and re-united squads, that would be a major feather in their cap. In some respects, full time teams have more to gain than any of the makeshift teams by winning the event.

There might not be many active teams at the Open, but there will be plenty of extremely talented active players to keep an eye on. That list starts with Jordan Robles. Robles has already had an impressive 2017 season, leading different teams to the semi-finals in Palisades, finals in GSWL Yard, and to a championship in the Mid Atlantic. Those accomplishments – along with undeniable talent on both sides of the ball – make Robles one of the best players currently in the game. Robles’ teammate for the Texas Open, Anthony Didio, is also in that discussion. Didio has unreal power as evidenced by his .340 ISO this year in Palisades league play. Will Marshall of Frisco’s own Master Battershas top level stuff which he will get to show on a national stage for the first time on Saturday. While much attention is being paid to the big names of yesteryear returning for this event, it would not be at all surprising if the Texas Open is owned by one of the immensely talented young guns that will be in attendance.

Those natural conflicts – youth versus experience, active players versus non-active players, full time teams versus all-star teams – simultaneously make the Texas Open both fascinating and nearly impossible to put a finger on. Like everyone, I have my suspicions on how the tournament will play out but would not dare go public with them. Not in this instance. On paper the Texas Open is unlike any other tournament I can remember and very tough to predict. What that means for the actual tournament itself remains to be see, but it will no doubt be exciting to watch it all unfold!

Not attending the Texas Open? Follow along courtesy of “The Drop” from Mid Atlantic Wiffle. The Drop – the news and commentary branch of MAW – is the official home for live and post-tournament coverage of the Fast Plastic Texas Open. Make sure to check The Drop throughout the day on Saturday for live game recaps and commentary. Also stayed tuned to Twitter (@midatlanticwiffle and @fastplasticwiff) for additional live tournament updates. After the tournament, check back to The Drop for exclusive written, video, and audio coverage.

2017 Mid Atlantic Championships Recap

The results may not reflect it – three series sweeps and only a single game decided by less than 5 runs – but there was plenty of drama and intrigue to be found just below the surface at the 1st Annual Mid Atlantic Championships.

2017 Tournament #5 Recap - "It Ain't Over Till It's Over!"

YORK, PA (September 9, 2017) – The inaugural Mid Atlantic season ended on September 9th the same way it began on April 29th – with the veteran Stompers as the last team standing. Although, this was a much different Stompers’ squad from the one we are used to seeing.