The Wiffle Effect

Wiffle ball goes big time—well, not so big

by Lee Green
The Wiffle Effect

If the phrase "organized adult Wiffle ball" has a slightly ludicrous ring to it, that's because we invariably associate the white plastic sphere with childhood, backyard fields, and quirky ground rules. A one-hopper off the tool shed was a double, a shot over the boxwood hedge was a home run, and a foul ball into the fenced province of the neighbors' dog meant the game was over.

That version of the sport still exists, fostering, as one enthusiast's Web site puts it, "the ruining of America's backyards." But in the mid-1990s isolated groups of adult players—usually in their twenties or thirties—discovered on the Internet that plenty of others out there shared their passion. Adult tournaments have been around for years, particularly in the Northeast, where the Wiffle tradition runs long and deep, but competitive adult Wiffle ball has now grown into a thriving subculture of self-described "touring pros," structured competitions, cash prizes, and slick playing fields. Forget the boxwood hedges; these guys swing for low, Fenway-green outfield fences eighty to 110 feet from home plate. And forget those plastic Wiffle bats, too. "That little yellow bat just doesn't cut it today, especially against the pitchers you're facing," says Mike Palinczar, the organizer of two annual tournaments in Trenton, New Jersey, and one of the game's premier pitchers. "If you're up there with a yellow bat, you might as well give up." Today's players wield sturdier plastic or aluminum bats (including one manufactured by Palinczar) with names like Ledge Sledge, King Stick, and Wiffle Pro. A carbon-graphite model, the Moonshot, sells for $120.

The sport reached a milestone in January of 2001, when six players from various parts of the country, frustrated by bitter rivalries and a lack of organization, convened in Baltimore to see if they could invest the game with some semblance of order and uniformity. Two days later they emerged as the United States Perforated Plastic Baseball Association, a governing body that publishes rules, sanctions a series of tournaments on both coasts during baseball season, and conducts post-season playoffs that culminate in a fall national championship. The organization's name may suggest a lack of seriousness, but the players, most of whom played baseball in high school or college, intend nothing of the sort. Billy Owens, of Costa Mesa, California, a thirty-four-year-old electronics distribution manager, is one of the association's founders and the editor of an online Wiffle-ball newsletter called Fast Plastic. Owens bristles at the notion that he is consumed by a child's game. "For ex-baseball players," he told me, "this is the closest thing they can get to playing college-level baseball or even semi-pro."

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Comments

I have been hitting with my tee ball bat since I was very, very young. I didn't realize that adults still played this game. I wish I could find a league!