It is nearly August. This is an exciting time for WIFFLEball. Qualifiers for the bigger year-end tournaments for various leagues are heating up, the championship season is around the corner and there are plenty of results to analyze. This article will briefly discuss some of the major happenings in the WIFFLE world as well as offer some midseason power rankings and awards. As always, your comments are welcomed and desired, but please keep them positive and clean.
For those of you who don’t know, Benas and Euro J-Rod have been hard at work in an effort to expand the WIFFLEball opportunities in New England and bring the format to other parts of the country. While much of their hard work will likely manifest itself next year, it has still been a banner year for BLWB.
BLWB took the show on the road to Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago, and you can see the smiling faces of the WIFFLE warriors of the Midwest in the results section. BLWB has many more national events planned over the next year, ensuring that the game and the format will continue to grow. While it is likely that the players from new regions are not ready to handle to incredible talent of the New England region, it would be interesting to see some matchups. Wiffle-Up has made an effort to determine a true national slow-pitch champion for years, but heavy last-minute tournament cancellations, player complaints regarding format and management, a tendency to force slow-pitch teams to play fast-pitch with no warning and other problems have haunted the organization. BLWB appears ready to fill the void going forward. But a big congrats to the winners in Wisconsin. I hope that next year we can all get together and see what region can dominate the medium-pitch WIFFLE ball world.
Wiffle In the Olympics
Due to tireless work by Benas and Euro J-Rod, WIFFLEball made its first appearance at the Nutmeg state games this year. For those of you who don’t know about the Nutmeg games, it is an Olympic-themed celebration of sports in Connecticut complete with opening ceremonies and medal presentations. I wasn’t expecting much because the tournament was in direct competition with NEWA Stoughton, but the turnout was very good. Veteran squads Doom, Absolute Gunners, Krusty’s Kids, Bronx Iron Lungs, Night Wiffs and Lou’s Diamonds were all there, as were a healthy number of new teams with considerable talent. At the end of the day, the Blue Razors snuck past Lou’s Diamonds 1-0 to advance to the medal round and take bronze. Doom dealt another heartbreaking loss to the Absolute Gunners, taking the final 9-8.
This tournament was about more than results. It was exciting to play new teams, many of which were much better than expected. The Nutmeg Games officials on site and the beautiful Olympic-style medals for winning teams gave the event a very serious feel, and I know all of the teams, mine included, were busting their tails to take one of those shiny medals home. As usual, the Diamonds were one game away from the goal, and the cream rose to the top with a Doom/Gunner final. Also present was a professional sports photographer who got some unbelievable shots. I got a chance to see some of them on site, and his work was absolutely top-notch. Keep your eyes open for these photos. The man was so good he even had the Animal looking like an actual athlete (okay, closer to an actual athlete). In my opinion, this event was the best BLWB has ever held, and it is sure to grow next year, further evidence that BLWB is really hitting its stride.
And now for my midseason review. These rankings and awards were compiled by secret ballot. In fact, the ballot was so secret only I knew about it. If something in this review bothers you, I invite you to post a response. I will then respond to your response by calling you a moron and we will all be better for it.
MIDEASON POWER RANKINGS
Rob “Wiffman” Piervananzi has been making the trip from New York, where he is already a WIFFLE legend, with regularity this year. Playing with various partners, Wiffman has shown a mastery of the strike zone when pitching and a terrifying bat when at the plate. Niff has been on the Fast Plastic circuit for some time and has competed at the national finals in Texas. This year, obviously recognizing the strength of the New England region, Niff has been spotted playing numerous BLWB tournaments as well as the world-famous Goldenstick fast pitch league, and the results speak for themselves. Niff has taken money in several tournaments, winning two by my count. Members of the squad have also become key components of successful Goldenstick teams. Niff playing a more complete New England schedule makes the tournaments more difficult for everyone, but we are a better region for it.
4. The Ego Squad
At the first tournament this year, the Diamonds advanced to the second round of the playoffs only to lose a tight game to a group that we thought was a new team. We beat ourselves up pretty badly over the loss, bemoaning the fact that we had wasted a “good draw.” Well, as it turns out Ego Squad is neither new nor a good draw. Pitching ace Ryan of the Squad informed me that they have been playing intermittently for years but have only committed to a full schedule this year. It looks like they made the right choice. The can bash the ball, field with the best of them and Ryan’s pitching can be shut-down nasty. Their results have been spectacular, and the cashes are starting to add up. On top of all of that, they are gentlemen to play against and playing them is always fun. With a full year or two under their belts, the sky is the limit for this team. Look for them to make some noise at the NEWA finals this year, at least until they meet the Diamonds who are ready to avenge their 0-2 record.
3. Absolute Gunners
It has been an interesting year for these WIFFLE mainstays. They spent a good deal of the last half of last year stumbling around without an identity after their ace pitcher, Junker (who used to share a truck with McHugh- hmmmmm) moved down south to learn what it felt like to be the smartest person in an entire state. To say that the team has rebounded is a disgusting understatement. Pitcher Matt McHugh had a label of choking under pressure and removing himself from close games late, even after so little as a single walk. Knowing he had to improve his stuff and his ability to compete under pressure, McHugh came out with guns blazing this year. The entire WIFFLE community expected McHugh to be a massive failure as an ace pitcher, but he has proven them wrong. He has shown he has the stuff to take it deep into tournaments. At the plate, the Gunners are a nightmare to deal with. Merrifield has long been a solid lefty power hitter, and the addition of Gerry Calca, formerly of DWPH has really made the difference. The Gunners have been in seemingly every final 4 this year, winning a couple and posting numerous runner-up finishes. They have undoubtedly cashed more this year than in their entire history. However, if the Gunners want to crack the top two on this list, they have to prove that they can win the big games against the big teams. The Gunners have squandered several championship opportunities, including two over the past two weeks, dropping the gold-medal game to Doom 9-8 and losing to lightly-regarded Plastic Jihad in the HRL finals (a loss that they avenged yesterday). If this team starts winning more of the many finals they reach, they could potentially top this list. Any way you slice it, this season has been a banner one for the Gunners, and it has to feel satisfying considering how many doubted their merits.
MY GOD! How could I not put the boys of DOOM in the top spot? Could it be a personal vendetta? Maybe? could it be that I am trying to stir up controversy? Perhaps. But in reality it is none of the above. I have not lost my mind. There is no WIFFLEball team in the region, perhaps in the country with the history and pedigree of DOOM. DOOM has won over 75 tournaments. DOOM has the best players in the region lined up waiting for a phone call from Trotta to join the team for a day, a week, or a career. Trotta knows every trick in the book, Dallas Mall is as outstanding a pure athlete as you will see out there, and absolutely nobody wants to look at the draw and see DOOM in their half. Be that as it may, it sure seems like we are watching DOOM take the Walk of Shame to the parking lot more frequently this year. Not only has DOOM failed to qualify for the playoffs at least once, but they are losing more divisional games than ever before. Sure, it must be tough to keep firing at 100% in every round robin game when you have been winning as much as they have for so long, but if you want to top this list that is precisely what you need to do. Perhaps DOOM is a victim of unrealistic expectations given all they have done in the past. After all, they have won many tournaments this year, and any team not named DOOM would be thrilled with the season. But breakout performances from younger teams highlight DOOM’s age, and as with any sport there is going to be a small slip as the body just doesn’t respond like it once did. DOOM even lost an elimination playoff game to Lou’s Diamonds this year. It is safe to say that that wouldn’t have happened 2-3 years ago. Doom is also heavily involved in many slow-pitch formats, tournament organization, multiple Goldenstick teams and Fast Plastic. It could be that they are stretching themselves too thin given their age. It wouldn’t surprise me in DOOM follows its gold medal performance with a string of tournament victories, and if they do DOOM will be right back on top. For now, though, they are number two. To see the gap closing, likely because of age, must be painful for Trotta, but like I said, they are by no means done and they are still scarier to face than any other team. And number two isn’t bad at all.
1. Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum
It is finally time for the Yo Ho men to stand tall at the top of the WIFFLE mountain. This is a team that knows how to close the deal. After winning several times at the end of last year and placing 3rd to DOOM’s 8th at the Wiffle-Up World Finals, Yo Ho has been giving the WIFFLE world a pounding. Russ is a top-level pitcher who can take them deep in any tournament. Kyle is a HUGE lefty bat and is also the most athletic fat person I have ever seen. He can run, field, and pitch, but he is a hitter first and foremost. His bat is so scary that Trotta intentionally walked him five times at the recent DOOM random pitch exhibition tournament. That’s right, 5 intentional passes at an exhibition. Trotta won the game, but may have lost much more by showing weakness to a team that is chasing, and, in the opinion of this reporter, caught his own. Having played against him numerous times, I can attest to the fact that there is no pitch Kyle can’t hit hard. Most importantly, Yo Ho knows how to close the deal and win tournaments when given the chance. There are many specialist teams in Wiffle today. Many teams are successful in a NEWA-style foul ball K yellow bat tournament but wilt under the increased demands of a broader format. Some only win in metal bat tournaments. Some can’t win with unscuffed balls. When interviewing Kyle, the Yo Ho characteristic of which he is most proud is their ability to win over all formats. They play anyone, anywhere by any rules, and they prove themselves the better team time and time again. Yo Ho are also great sportsmen. Kyle’s laid-back attitude belies his fiery competitiveness. It is a pleasure to see someone play the game with such skill and with such class. Many of the younger teams could learn a thing or two from him. I congratulate Yo Ho Ho on the top spot in these rankings as they certainly deserve it.
The Whackers have been on the scene for some time, and anyone who has been around knows that they can play. Star pitcher Andy Grady has led them to some incredible results in the past, and can be one of the best pitchers in all of medium pitch at times. I know this because he moonlights as a pitcher for Lou’s Diamonds occasionally and has been spectacular. His teammates can pound the ball and give him all the runs he needs. Sadly, this has been a down year for the Whackers, mostly because they have been playing without Grady. A brutal Goldenstick schedule has caused shoulder problems for the ace, and marriage plans have caused further unavailability. The rest of the Whackers have fought bravely in his absence, but despite their offensive ability, they simply aren’t a threat to win without Grady. the highlight of the year so far has been a spectacular runner-up finish at the penultimate NEWA tournament, where Grady pitched through the pain and the Whackers put up runs at an impressive rate. Sadly, we would expect even more from a full squad at full strength. This has been a tough year for the Whackers, but if Andy comes back from his injury and rededicates himself to the medium-pitch circuit, they could be a top-5 team. A final note: While it may be a down year for the Whackers, it is still an up year for Andy Grady. His fiance is a pleasure and tricking her into marrying him is more impressive than winning 100 WIFFLEball games in a row. Well played, Andy.
This is a team that has been disappointing only because of the number of tournaments they have played. Rumor has it that this veteran squad will be breaking up this year as its members disperse about the country teaching physics and righting wrongs. Given that, we were hoping to see more of them this year. What we have seen has been more than impressive. Waaayback made the finals of the massive Wifflerock tournament with a display of precise pitching and timely hitting that would impress anyone. They followed that result with a final 4 appearance at NEWA Stoughton, cementing themselves as a constant contender. However, the team seems to have decided that they are a foul ball strikeout specialist team and have played a reduced schedule. Given that they have been a New England WIFFLE mainstay for years, it is disappointing to have seen so little of them, particularly given the quality of their results when they play. When Waaayback puts down the yellow sticks for good, it will be a sad day for the WIFFLE community. Very few teams are as well-liked and highly regarded. It is truly a pleasure to play them every single time.
The Crag exploded onto the scene last year and put together an incredible rookie campaign. This year, a reduced schedule and some uninspired performances have been disappointing. I still believe that they are a top team and will do major damage in the future, but their lack of a truly outstanding result this year stands in stark contrast to their numerous money finishes last year. I still expect them to survive the sophomore slump and return to greatness.
As much as it pains me to put my own team on this list, it can’t be avoided. After struggling for 2 years doing very little impressive work, the Diamonds had a breakout season in 2007. 2 tournament victories and two other finals gave notice to the WIFFLE world that the Diamonds had made the transition to become a top team. Perhaps the key to the downfall of the Diamonds can be traced to the 2007 WiffleUp World Finals. Against a truly elite and stacked field, the Diamonds found themselves one out away from playing in the Championship game and accomplishing more than we had ever expected. A heartbreaking extra-innings loss there combined with another last inning, come from behind loss to Yo Ho Ho in the third place game sent the Diamonds into a tailspin from which they have not yet recovered. It is hard to diagnose the problem. I feel like the Diamonds pitch better than ever before and hit better than ever before. But you can’t argue with the results, and the Diamonds have yet to make it to a final this year. While we have posted wins over numerous top teams this year, consistency over the course of an entire tournament has been a problem, and, and they say, “It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that bling.” No bling equals big disappointment.
I have played these guys maybe ten times over the last 3-4 years, and they simply ooze talent. The have the bats and they have the arms. It is simply unacceptable for a team of this caliber to have zero finals this year. While they have played a reduced schedule and occasional internal conflict has led to them splitting up for certain tournaments, when these boys get together they can do it all. A team like this should be expected to break through a couple of times a year, and we just haven’t seen it from them yet.
The Lawnboys are not on this list because they aren’t playing well. They have, in fact, been tearing up the fast pitch circuit both in Fast Plastic and Goldenstick. But judging from their results from last year, including an impressive win at the NEWA finals, they are just too good to sear off medium-pitch entirely. A team with their talent and their charisma needs to be visible in all formats. Playing the Lawnboys is a pleasure both because of the quality of their play and their sportsmanship. They are another of the established teams that realizes that WIFFLE can be competitive and fun, and that choosing not to be hostile or obnoxious is not tantamount to choosing to be mediocre. They are class guys that let their WIFFLE do the talking, and talk it does. They make this list because they have played fewer medium-pitch events this year than ever before and the game needs them both to elevate the quality of play and to serve as an example to young teams coming up who are heavy on talent but lighter on sportsmanship.
Teams To Watch Out For
The Yum Yums used to be that team you were praying were in your division. Simply put, they showed up all the time and they lost all the time. Things are different now. Ace pitcher and hitting machine Erik Andersen has grown stronger and smarter and is playing at such a high level that he has been openly courted by the likes of DOOM. Erik is also tearing up the Goldenstick league and is ranked as one of the top pitchers in the fast-pitch format. If Erik can continue to improve and if he stays true to his original teammates rather than running off to be a fill-in for a dynasty team, I see a number one ranking in this team’s future.
I got my first taste of the Blue razors in the quarterfinals of the Nutmeg Games. They are outstanding, especially considering their lack of experience. They cruised through the field to a well-deserved bronze medal. I am hesitant to predict huge things for them just yet as it appears that their bats are going to be an issue. Once they hit the quarters and were facing the top teams, they managed only one run against Test of the Diamonds, zero runs against Doom and only 3 runs against a mediocre pitcher in the bronze medal game. Regardless of how they hit, however, their ace is truly an ace. While Trotta was able to solve the mystery, undoubtedly drawing on his decade of experience, the rest of the field couldn’t. I know for sure that he mesmerized the Diamonds with what seemed to be 35 different pitches that he could throw for strikes. At the end of the day, this game is about pitching and they have it. As a journalist, I feel compelled to mention that several of the Razors wore face paint at the tournament, and it was decidedly…let’s be diplomatic… uncool. Stick with the WIFFLE and avoid the sideshow and the Razors will be a force in the coming years.
The Beantown boys didn’t make the best of introductions, slamming yours truly on a message board for an obvious joke, but while their sense of humor might need work, their WIFFLE game is already there. When they proclaimed themselves an up-and-coming young team, it many of the regulars took it with a grain of salt. After all, many young teams have declared themselves the future before only to wilt under pressure from the big boys. Well, there was no wilting going on at NEWA Stoughton on Saturday, and the young team with big aspirations took the first step toward greatness with a huge tournament victory, beating several accomplished teams on the way. Let’s be clear here. You don’t win a tournament as big as NEWA Stoughton with as many good teams as were there unless you are the real deal. While they will need to back up their win with further solid performances, particularly in formats where foul balls aren’t strikeouts, they are undoubtedly on the scene and their win on Saturday speaks more loudly than any message board post. Great job guys!
To say that Plastic Jihad isn’t the most beloved WIFFLE team out there is an understatement. In fact, I found it difficult to find a former opponent that wasn’t rubbed the wrong way by them. Many complained of excessive and unnecessary celebration, questionable rulings and questionable pitch speeds. However, WIFFLEball isn’t a popularity contest (or the Diamonds would top the power rankings). Jihad looked down and out in an HRL tournament 3 weeks ago, barely squeaking into the playoffs as one of the last teams to make it. From there, it was Cinderella stuff. Jihad took home the trophy after startling and impressive consecutive wins over Ego Squad and Absolute Gunners, two teams in the top 5 of the power rankings. And just to show it was no fluke, they lost a close one to the Gunners in yet another HRL final on Sunday. This team has announced its presence with authority and now we need to sit back and wait to see if their success translates into other formats beyond HRL.
Most Valuable Pitcher- Adam Trotta (DOOM)
I know that my teammates are going to groan when they see this, but to me it makes perfect sense. If you watch Trotta pitch, it does not appear that his stuff is electric. In the batter’s box, Trotta has a way on getting you to pop up or ground out seemingly at will. Every single time you feel as if you are all over him and that eventually you are going to pound him. Eventually never comes. He has just enough late movement to keep you from squaring up on the ball, and his control is far and away the best in slow-pitch WIFFLE. He can set you up and even pitch around you if you are hot because he knows that he will never walk anyone unless he wants to. He constantly pitches from ahead in the count and the batter is forced to adapt to him rather than the other way around. So many pitchers with nasty stuff could learn from Trotta. Pound the zone first and work from there. DOOM has won 75+ tournament titles and probably over a thousand WIFFLEball games, and I am guessing that Trotta’s pitching was integral to many of those titles. He gets the job done week in and week out. There may be several pitchers who can outpitch him in a given game, but over 25 or 50 games? No way. Winning WIFFLEball begins with solid pitching, and Trotta’s results speak for themselves.
Most Valuable Hitter- Gerry Calca (Absolute Gunners)
Notice that the award is most valuable hitter. Were we looking for the best hitter, Dallas and Kyle could give Gerry a good run for his money. But Dallas plays for DOOM and they can score in other ways. Kyle is the best slugger on Yo Ho Ho, but they too have a potent lineup. Calca (with a nod to McHugh’s improved pitching) is the primary reason that the Gunners have made the jump from good team to elite team. McHugh is a good lead-off type, looking to walk first, slap the ball second, and Merrifield is a very solid lefty bat, but it seems like a disproportionate number of game-winning hits for the Gunners have come off of Gerry’s bat. This is Gerry’s first full year with the Gunners. After his initial team, DWPH, folded, Gerry split time last year between the Diamonds and the Gunners. We saw first hand how scary a hitter he is. He is rarely overmatched and he has outstanding power. He was so good that we made a big push to sign him full-time this year, but the Gunners won that battle. And it is hard to argue with Gerry’s choice at this point. He has contributed to the best season in Gunner history, picking up hardware and cash in the process. To understand his full impact, one need only look at Gunner results. As good as McHugh has become, he is still not the pitcher that Junker was before he left. Despite that, the addition of Gerry has turned the Gunners into a top 3 team. The Gunners are better than ever before, and I have to give Gerry a large part of the credit. On top of all that, he is a hilarious guy and a true sportsman. He has a “Sweep the Leg” shirt and not only does he choke out his girlfriend in MMA exhibitions- she likes it. What a stud!
Most Valuable Defensive Player- Andrew “Test” Morse (Lou’s Diamonds)
This is obviously the most difficult category to judge. Most teams have a guy who they think fields better than anyone. But they are wrong. I have been at this for years and seen thousands of games, and in my opinion there is nobody even close to Test in this area. When we started, he couldn’t even hit the ball but we kept him because he was making 10+ outs a game for us. He can certainly hit now, but that hasn’t made him any slower in the field. He routinely makes five or six of the best ten defensive plays in a tournament. He has no regard for his body and he can make diving plays at full speed with astonishing regularity. But that isn’t even what sets him apart. What makes him different from the other fast guys out there is his first step. Test seems to be flying toward a ball before it is even hit. As a result, his range is seemingly limitless. There is no doubt in my mind that having him in the field is worth more than 2 runs per game to us on average, and, for a team that sometimes struggles on the mound, his ridiculous effort in the field keeps us in games we don’t deserve to be in. Adam Trotta knows about Test’s defense first hand. In his random team tournament, Trotta, playing with Test, gave up a potential game-losing bomb. Trotta didn’t even seen the explosively-acrobatic play that kept the ball in the park because his head was down, sure he had given up the home run. Test made the play and they went on to win the title. This is a common storyline for the Diamonds, apart from the title part, of course. I get a chuckle every time he makes a play and the players watching ooooh and ahhhhh. He can’t impress us anymore, because he makes just about every play humanly possible. In formats (unlimited fouls) where fielding is a key factor to success, I have no doubt in my mind that his fielding is as valuable as a big hitter’s swing or a big pitcher’s arm. I am also amazed that he hasn’t put himself in the hospital yet given his disregard for his own body. His skill is something that you truly need to see week after week to appreciate.
So that is the lay of land as I see it through the first half-plus of the year. If you didn’t get a mention, please don’t hate me. This article is already a novella, and there simply wasn’t space to write about everyone who is doing big things out there. Also keep an eye-out for my second-half studs and duds. Keep doing work out there. With championship season rapidly approaching, most of the big stories are yet to be written. Teams that are on top can fizzle and early disappointments can become opportunities for glorious redemption. This year has featured the best overall level of competition I have seen, and I have no doubt in my mind that there is no place on earth with better medium-pitch WIFFLEball than New England. Thanks to everyone for making it so competitive and fun.