2011 has been the year of media exposure for Wiffle Ball. Players, leagues, and tournaments have been mentioned during local news broadcasts across the country. A controversial play by an outfielder in Kalamazoo, MI made national news on Dead Spin and was featured on the CBS Early Morning Show. The whole country watched as Sean Steffy pitched 95 mph on the Tosh.0 program on Comedy Central. Just recently, a montage commemorating Wiffle’s 58th birthday aired on CBS Sunday Morning and featured a lot of footage from the Palisades WBL in New York. On Labor Day, National Public Radio did a 5 minute story on the Wiffle Inc. on Morning Edition. They talked about the production of the balls, the Mullany family, how the product has been and still is made in the U.S.A. There was little mentioning of the fact that there several dozen leagues and tournaments across the country. While it is great that wiffleball has gotten yet another tap on the shoulder for national recognition I cannot help but be annoyed that the game can be so easily summed up in 5 minutes by outsiders. There are nearly 100 leagues across the planet, that I’m aware of, and there’s nearly the same amount of tournaments. It is a big deal. A child’s game has become a cult phenomenon that is growing in numbers every year. Yet all the media wants to discuss is that the product is nearly 60 years old and that it’s stayed in the family business. Don’t get me wrong, that’s awesome. But there’s so much more to the game than that!
I have a feeling that this may be only the beginning of what could become regular media exposure for the game. People are obviously finding the game interesting right now and the low cost of the equipment is alluring in this limping economy. The cost of a Wiffle Ball and bat is one of the few things from the mid-20th Century that hasn’t skyrocketed in price or gone out of style. If you have a couple of bucks (pocket change nowadays) when you walk into a Dick’s Sporting Goods or a local hardware store – you’re set. The game requires so much imagination and making the best of whatever environment you’re playing in at the moment. The sky is the limit with this game and anyone can play. How many sports can you say that about? Not very many. To some of us this simply isn’t a game, it’s a recreational revolution and despite the fact that the media doesn’t really understand that – some people are still “getting” it.
Lou Levesque, president of Golden Stick Wiffleball, has been having camera crews show up to some of his events filming the action. I’ve asked Lou about it and he’s keeping a tight lip for the moment but it appears that Golden Stick may be appearing on cable television in the near future. Whether or not this television appearance will be a steady series or a special in presently unknown but if either were to come to pass it would do wonders for the wiffleball world. But is the U.S. ready for that much exposure for the sport of wiffleball? I must remain skeptical. But I have to ask – why now? The sport has showed potential since it’s invention and all of a sudden it’s being repeatedly cast into the local and national spotlight. Could it be that the constant uploading onto Youtube by people like Sean “Wiffleboy28″ Steffy have stirred up enough interest in the national public to pick up the ball with the oblong holes and try it for themselves? It’s a good possibility.
One thing that seems to be clear is that wiffleball doesn’t seem dependent on the media or sponsors. Leagues and tournaments have been coming and going since the 1970s. So if the game doesn’t really catch on and isn’t featured on ESPN – it’s not the end of the world. The game will survive just as it has for nearly 60 years. It’s resilience is what makes this game so great. So you see it’s so much more than a ball produced by a family in Connecticut to me. Stories about the Mullany story in 1953 is so overdone. I’ve read at least 40 similar stories over the years about the invention and production of the Wiffle Ball. Move on! There’s so much more to the game, why not show it?