New Jersey Wiffle

Offseason News & Notes #3

Winter Classic Sold Out!

Winter Classic Sold Out.png

The 2018 MAW Winter Classic at Big League Dreams in Medford, New Jersey is officially sold out! Many thanks to the eight teams and all of the players that made it happen. The tournament promises to be a good one and the first step in what should be an excellent 2018 in the Mid Atlantic.

The Drop will preview the tournament in full next week, but in the meantime we can reveal the field and rosters as they currently stand.

  • Backdoor Sliders – Albany, NY – Jimmy Cole, Michael VanNostrand, Kris Morse, Anthony LaValley, TJ Loftus
  • Filthy Cheaters – Medford, NJ – Anthony Sacco, Tony Sacco, Rocco Circillo, Van Wiley, Aldo Morales
  • Fingerballzzzz – Pittsburgh, PA/Wilmington, DE – Chris Sarnowoski, Ben Stant
  • Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies – Morganville, NJ – Evan Rosenthal, Cory Rosenthal, Conor Benas
  • Giants – Kingston, NY – Ryan McElrath, Tim McElrath, Jordan Robles
  • My Name is ERL – Medford, NJ – Connor Young, Joe Schlindwein, Blake Hoffman
  • Re-Union – York, PA – Nick Shirey, Dan Potter, Lou Worthington, Mike Soltesz
  • Sause Squad – Newtown, PA – Christian Kulczytzky, Blake Fink, Jason Fink, Kyle Brockett, Bryan Goldman

Although we cannot accept any new teams at this time, there might be spots available for individual players wishing to play. Please contract Tim Cooke at timcooke1982@gmail.com or 301-661-7980 if interested in playing.

Road Trip! MAW Debuts in Canonsburg in 2018

In partnership with our friends at the Wiff is Life League (“WILL”), MAW is hosting a regular season tournament this summer in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania! The single day tournament is scheduled for Saturday, August 18th and will be played under MAW rules. Canonsburg is approximately 30 minutes south of Pittsburgh, 2 ½ hours east of Columbus, 2 ½ hours south of Cleveland, and 2 ½ hours west of Altoona, making it a centrally located spot for players in eastern Ohio, west and central Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

We will have all the details on the tournament – including the ability to register a team – available in the very near future. In the meantime, MAW officials can confirm the following details. The Canonsburg tournament will be a normal 2018 MAW regular season tournament, meaning it will be contested under MAW rules and participating teams will have the ability to earn points towards the MAW Championship Tournament.  As always, a significant cash prize (dependent on the size of the field) will be awarded to the winning team.

Not everything will be the same, however. We are pleased to announce that the Canonsburg tournament will be an auto-qualifier for the MAW Championship Tournament in September. That means the winning team will automatically qualify for the Championship Tournament. This is a great opportunity for teams further west to instantly qualify for the Championship Tournament and the Championship cash prize, which totaled $1,400 last season.

Stay tuned to www.midatlanticwiffle.com and Wiff is Life League for full details and registration as they become available.

CFOT Season 2 Kicks off Tonight

In other indoor wiffle news, Cross Fit OldTown kicks off its second league season this Friday with a full slate of games. Last winter, Jerry Hill had the inspired idea to host an evening wiffle league for members of his Cross Fit gym in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. The league spurred the formation of the Barrel Bruisers, who played in both the Potomac Wiffle® Ball League and Mid Atlantic Wiffle in 2017. The Bruisers contended all year in Mid Atlantic and spawned not one but three Rookie of the Year candidates in Hill, Chris Owen, and Ryan Doeppel.

No doubt Jerry will be looking to find the next Owen and Doeppel this winter as the Bruisers look to reload for 2018. The Bruisers reportedly have several roster spots open as only Jerry and Chris are relatively assured to return from the 2017 squad. It’s a solid base – Chris was among the most improved players in MAW last summer – and Hill is reportedly hoping to use the league to find another player or two to round out the Bruisers’ 2018 roster.

MAW’s The DROP will be in Alexandria for the league’s second week of play on January 19th. Look for a report on the site shortly thereafter.

One of a Kind: Pat Pone Park

Jerome "The Legend" Coyle awaits a pitch during the 1998 NJWA Summer Showdown championship game at Pat Pone Park in Trenton, while a crowd of spectators looks on.

Jerome "The Legend" Coyle awaits a pitch during the 1998 NJWA Summer Showdown championship game at Pat Pone Park in Trenton, while a crowd of spectators looks on.

Walking down Chestnut Avenue in Trenton, New Jersey, the last thing you might expect to find is a ball field of any kind. The sidewalks and streets are cracked and in need of a paving. Old brick houses line up side by side, barely leaving any room for a yard. Where there is grass, it is extremely overgrown. But right there on Chestnut Avenue, just between Grand Street to the north and Elm Street to the south, lies Pat Pone Park – at one time one of the great parks in the game and the epicenter of the Wiffle® Ball world.

*******

Growing up on Chestnut, Mike Palinczar’s family home was one of the few in the neighborhood with a yard big enough to actually play ball in.

A young Wiffleczar takes a hack across the street from his childhood home. The brick wall in the background served as a de facto strike zone and backstop.

A young Wiffleczar takes a hack across the street from his childhood home. The brick wall in the background served as a de facto strike zone and backstop.

At maybe fifty or sixty feet in length and 15 feet wide, the yard was just large enough for a kids’ Wiffle® Ball game. When Palinczar and his friends outgrew the yard, they moved their games to the street. The width of Chestnut avenue between the Palinczar residence and a brick building across the way was just about 42 feet – a solid Wiffle® Ball pitching distance. The enterprising teenagers hung a thick metal sheet off of a knob in wall. The sound of plastic hitting metal – a loud and unmistakable “clang” – signaled a strike. Neither the yard or street setup was necessarily ideal, but it got Palinczar and his friends through many hot Trenton summers.

In 1990 at the age of 18, Palinczar got his first taste of competitive Wiffle® Ball when he and some neighborhood friends entered a tournament in south Jersey and then later that same year, competed in Rick Ferroli’s World Wiffle® Ball Association (“WWA”) national championship in the Boston suburbs. After the national tournament, Palinczar knew he wanted to bring what he saw in Boston to his hometown. Tough and determined even at a young age, the Trenton native was confident he could get a league off of the ground if only he could find a spot to host the games. The make-do solutions of his father’s yard and the adjacent street were inadequate for a real league. The local baseball fields required permits and would have to be shared with youth baseball leagues. That was not practical for a league that planned on running games every day during the summer. Palinczar needed something else.

It was Mike’s father, Vic, who offered up the solution. Pat Pone Park was a largely abandoned park and playground area just a stone’s throw away from the Palinczar residence. The Park did not get much use, at least not for its intended purposes. Neighborhood kids with nothing better to do spray painted graffiti and broke bottles in the asphalt area. Other than that, the Park was largely left alone. Vic suggested to his son that should get the city’s permission to turn Pat Pone into a ballpark.

Former Trenton Major Douglas Palmer (1990 - 2010) personally mans a bulldozer as construction on the Pat Pone Wiffle®Ball park gets under way in early 1991.

Former Trenton Major Douglas Palmer (1990 - 2010) personally mans a bulldozer as construction on the Pat Pone Wiffle®Ball park gets under way in early 1991.

The bottle littered blacktop area just so happened to be the right dimensions for a small ball field. Trees overlooked all four sides of the Park, which served a dual purpose of keeping the wind out and providing shade to players and spectators. The steps that lined both sides of the north entrance – where the first and third base lines would eventually be – could seat spectators. Streetlights that towered over the park could provide ample lightning for night games to be played – if only the city could be bothered to get the power turned on. The Park needed a lot of work to be game ready but in those ways it was already almost the ideal – if not rather unlikely – spot for a professional level Wiffle® park.

Palinczar and his friends got the go-ahead from the city and in March of 1991 set out to create a Wiffle® Ball paradise. They worked tirelessly over the next several months cleaning up the graffiti, repaving the asphalt, and lining the field for play. The city even eventually got around to flipping on the power for the streetlights so that games could be played at night. Pat Pone hosted league games and the New Jersey state tournament in 1991. For the next decade, Pat Pone Park was among the most prolific parks in the fast pitch game.

*******

The New Jersey Wiffle® Ball Association (“NJWA”) operated as a WWA feeder organization through 1992, went dark for two years, and re-emerged in 1996 with an annual summer tournament. When the Cincinnati based North American Championship dissolved after their 1997 event, the NJWA assumed the mantle as the top organization in the fast pitch game. The group’s summer tournament – the Summer Showdown – was the most competitive tournament in the country between 1998 and 2000 and the de facto National Championship. That placed Pat Pone Park at the center of the scene, with the championship-round games (in addition to select earlier round games) emanating from Chestnut Avenue.

If a team was to be considered one of the best during the 1990's,  they had to play and win at Pat Pone Park. This picture - taken at Pat Pone just before the final day of the 1998 Summer Showdown - includes such illustrious teams as In the Box, Georgia Longshotz, Brown Hornets, Fluffheads, PA Cards, and Lakeside Kings.

If a team was to be considered one of the best during the 1990's,  they had to play and win at Pat Pone Park. This picture - taken at Pat Pone just before the final day of the 1998 Summer Showdown - includes such illustrious teams as In the Box, Georgia Longshotz, Brown Hornets, Fluffheads, PA Cards, and Lakeside Kings.

The players that competed in the championship round games at Pat Pone form a veritable “whose who?” list of the late 90’s scene: Jerome “The Legend” Coyle, Darren “The Natural” Bone, Billy “The Kid” Owens, Bruce Chrystie, Tom LoCascio, Dan Cryan, Mike “Salt” Soltesz, “Sweet” Lou Worthington, Mark “The Big Bopper” DeMasi, Rich Ewald, and Fred “The Hammer” Bastedo, to name more than a few.

Many of the championship round games played at Pat Pone during those years have become the stuff of legend.

There was the controversial 1997 championship series between the Lakeside Kings (Coyle, Owens, Cryan, and Bone) and the hosts, Team Trenton (Palinczar, Bastedo & Saltesz), where the validity of the championship format is still disputed by the relevant parties to this day. In the end, it was Palinczar – pitching both games of the championship round – that brought home the trophy for Team Trenton. Despite the disappointment of 1997, Pat Pone was rather kind to the Kings, who put the finishing touches on championship runs on the blacktop field in both 1996 and 1998.

Pat Pone was also the backdrop for one of the all time great pitching performances in fast pitch tournament history. The Georgia Longshotz – Owens, Demasi, Ewald, and Ryan Daugherty – drew the short stick at the 1999 Summer Showdown with Lakeside, the upstart Carolina Whiz Kids, and a hungry Stompers/Busers combined team in their bracket. Things went from bad to worse for the Longshotz when they dropped their second round game to the Kings and had to battle their way through the loser’s bracket. Relying exclusively on Owens’ right arm, the Longshotz fought back and when all was said and done, they had beaten a murderer’s row of the Kings (twice), Whiz Kids (twice), Fluffheads, New England Iguanas, and Tri-State Terror to capture the title.

No other field – with the possible exceptions of Lakeside Park and the Fast Plastic National championship field in Cedar Park, Texas– has witnessed as many big games and big performances as Pat Pone.

******

Phil Levonchuck (Fluffheads) about to deliver a pitch at the 1998 Summer Showdown on Pat Pone field.

Phil Levonchuck (Fluffheads) about to deliver a pitch at the 1998 Summer Showdown on Pat Pone field.

Google “Wiffle® Ball fields” these days and you will be overloaded with creative and gorgeous fields all over the U.S. What you will find very little of – if you find one at all – is an urban park woven right into the fabric of a major city. In that regard, Pat Pone was – and still is – in a class all to itself.

Pat Pone Park was a city ballpark through-and-through, for better and for worse. There are stories of neighbors yelling at teams for making too much noise and of kids causing trouble around the way. However, the city location also meant frequent passers-by stopping to take a look and a continuous bustle of activity around the Park. Isolated fields with green grass and trees as far as the eye can see can be great of course, but its urban setting – the fact that the park and Trenton are inseparable – is what made Pat Pone so unique.

So did, for that matter, the complete lack of grass or dirt on the playing surface. Asphalt fields are extremely rare in this sport. Rather than view that as a detriment, Palinczar spun it into a positive. The NJWA boasted the fact that they had – to their knowledge – the first and only professional blacktop field. Players yearned to play at Pat Pone because of its rich history, but also because it meant an opportunity to play on a field and playing surface that was wholly unique.

The city vibe and unique playing surface – which went hand-and-hand – helped Pat Pone gain a reputation as a bucket list ballpark. Pat Pone was a destination spot for wifflers because it provided a playing experience that could not be replicated anywhere else.

A view of Pat Pone from just behind the pitcher's mound with neighborhood houses in the background. The field's location in the middle of a Trenton neighborhood was one of its defining features.

A view of Pat Pone from just behind the pitcher's mound with neighborhood houses in the background. The field's location in the middle of a Trenton neighborhood was one of its defining features.

*******

This August on an unseasonably pleasant afternoon in Trenton, I walked down Chestnut Avenue with Palinczar and his son towards Pat Pone Park. The Park stopped hosting Wiffle® Ball games around 2002 but continues to exist as a normal neighborhood park and playground area.  I hadn’t been to Pat Pone since 2000 when my team was lucky enough to play all of our NJWA summer tournament games there. Two months prior while in southern Illinois, I stopped by the former site of another legendary park, Lakeside Park in Granite City. There was not much to see – three holes representing where home, the pitcher’s rubber, and second base used to be – and little else that would indicate a great stadium ever sat there. After seeing what was left of Lakeside, I tempered my expectations and assumed the 2017 version of Pat Pone would offer more of the same.

VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Mike Palinczar gives The Drop a tour of Pat Pone Park in August 2017.

The difference between a ballpark like Lakeside and one like Pat Pone – both brilliant in their own ways – is one could have been built on any good sized piece of land and one was a product of its environment, inseparable from the structures around it. For that reason, even having not been used in tournament play in a decade and a half, Pat Pone still retains much of its charm.

When we arrived at the iconic park, it was like we were all transported back in time. Palinczar stepped onto the field to show us around – using a fungo bat to point to the Park’s features that were still there as well as some that no longer were – and the excitement and affection he felt for his field was palpable. Always with a knack for details, the “Czar” excitedly showed us where railings were missing on the outfield wall, how the trees used to be flush to the playing field, and how the field drained when it rained. His excitement was contagious and had someone offered, I would have gladly played a pick up game right there in my sandals and shorts.

As we prepared to leave, someone in the group mentioned that, relatively speaking, it wouldn’t take much to get the field into playing condition. Palinczar tilted his head sideways; not necessarily agreeing but not dismissing the possibility either. Another member of the Palinczar clan – Mike’s twelve-year old son – seemed more confident.

“We can fix it up. A few of my friends can come over and we will clean it up,” he remarked, pretty much describing how his dad got the field built a quarter of a century earlier.  Clearly tenacity is a Palinczar family trait.

The Czar has tentative plans to revive the NJWA in 2018 for a tournament or two. There is no guarantee that Pat Pone will be part of that revival. Regardless, if the NJWA does return next summer, make it a point to go. And when you do go, do yourself a favor and take a drive down Chestnut Avenue to Pat Pone. It is worth the trip. In a sport that is short on tangible history, Pat Pone Park stands as of the sport's most treasured historical landmarks.

Mike Palinczar never stopped upgrading the field at Pat Pone. This picture, taken in the early 2000's, shows a green wall in right and center field, along with a fresh coat of paint on the blacktop, and a new target strike zone & backstop to replace the old "hole" strike zone design.

Mike Palinczar never stopped upgrading the field at Pat Pone. This picture, taken in the early 2000's, shows a green wall in right and center field, along with a fresh coat of paint on the blacktop, and a new target strike zone & backstop to replace the old "hole" strike zone design.

Offseason News & Notes #1

ERL Makes an Early Move

ERL Yellow transparent.png

The offseason is not even a month old, but 2017 Mid Atlantic runner up My Name is ERL is already hard at work shoring up their roster for the next season. On Halloween, ERL announced the addition of young lefty Blake Hoffman to their roster. The Ohio native is part of the new breed of “YouTube wifflers”, impressing viewers with his quality stuff in bullpen sessions and one-on-one backyard games. His tournament experience, however, is rather limited. ERL captain Connor Young views Blake’s youth and inexperience as an advantage, not a detriment.

"We’re excited to have Blake on board,” Young commented via a team issued statement on social media. “This kid’s the truth. He’s hungry, too. Blake’s going to grow and excel quickly under my wing. This is the ideal pickup for ERL.”

Although ERL has been quiet so far on their exact plans for Hoffman, there is no doubt the team will look for him to take some of pressure off of Connor who tossed a Mid Atlantic leading 77 2/3 innings pitched in 2017. The Drop spoke with a prominent player who has seen Hoffman in action and believes that once Hoffman gets some regular tournament experience under his belt he will join the elite tier of pitchers in the game.

ERL might not be done yet, either. There are rumors that they have been courting one specific veteran player to round out their roster.

Winter Wiffs

Copy of WINTERCLASSIC.png

Can’t wait until April to get back on the field? You don’t have to! MAW will host the Winter Classic on Saturday, February 3rd at Big League Dreams in Medford, New Jersey. Big League Dreams – originally conceived as an indoor facility exclusively designed for Wiffle® Ball – features two permanent indoor fields modeled after Philadelphia’s Citizen’s Bank Park and Boston’s famed Fenway Park. The custom fields will provide a unique backdrop for this rare February tournament.

The tournament will be an 8-team event and registration is first come, first serve. Full details coming soon. In the meantime, contact timcooke1982@gmail.com or cyoung1282@yahoo.com for additional information.

Where Will Shirey Land?

The first transaction of the offseason – actually the first few – involved veteran Nick Shirey. The longtime captain of the Yaks first announced his own departure from the team he founded. Shirey hoped to land with the InHumans due to his desire to pitch more often and to act as a mentor to the kids on the team. We are told that Cameron Long initially balked at adding the veteran Shirey, but eventually relented. Shirey and Cameron – along with Dan Potter – competed as the InHumans at the Arlington Wiffle® Ball Tournament at the end of October. Yet in the immediate aftermath word leaked that Shirey’s move to the InHumans is not set in stone yet. We hear there is a chance that Nick might end up back with the Yaks after all. Stay tuned.

2018 Road Trip in the Works?

Although The Drop is unable to provide any specifics at this time, we can pass along from sources within the MAW offices the organization is exploring plans to hold tournaments outside of York in 2018. While Shi Wiffle® Ball Park would still serve as the home base for MAW and host the majority of the 2018 MAW tournaments, officials hope to add anywhere from one to three tournament stops next season. We hope to have more information on this story in the near future.