Don’t fear the sphere: The tao of wiffleball

The Sporting Life I
By DANIEL MCGOWAN  |  August 3, 2011

If you're the type of person that spent your youth perfecting that Nomahh Garciaparra batting ritual, or you still find yourself bragging about the wicked riser you used to throw in your backyard, then head to Slater Park this weekend and show your stuff.

Seventy teams from as far away as Washington, Pennsylvania, and Cranston will make the trek to Pawtucket for Edd Pedro's eight annual Wiffleball Tournament, one of the largest of its kind in New England.

The day-long competition benefits the Arthritis Foundation and features a home run derby and three separate tournaments based on skill level: Adult Competitive, Youth and, for the special group of people that couldn't hit a wiffleball if it were thrown underhand, Fun.

But don't let anyone kid you. For hardcore wifflers, nothing about Pedro's tournament is fun. It's a vicious, dog-eat-dog, two-loss elimination battle that often results in shouting matches and intentional beanballs (a 60-mph wiffleball to the thigh hurts more than you think). And you thought your son's tee-ball games got out of control.

In addition to being wildly intense, the three-inning games are also fast-paced. Most of time, they last about as long as your average video game and, yes, there is a 10-run mercy rule. And don't expect to be sitting around much. The dimensions of a regulation wiffleball field are narrow enough that 22 tournament games will take place at once, according to Pedro.

With games happening side by side, scouting becomes the key. Veteran wifflers say keeping an eye on the weaknesses of other teams is the only way to survive in such deep tournaments. But the truth is you never really know what kind of talent you're up against until you take the field and stare down the opposing pitcher. It's almost like Little League All Stars in that way. If the pitcher has a mustache, he probably has a legitimate fastball and a curveball that seems to come in from two fields over.

But no one is checking birth certificates or asking players to pee in a cup for this tournament. You could be up against the Gold's Gym Gorillas in the first round and then face off with a group of 12-year-olds in the prime of their playing days in the next game. And watch out for those out-of-shape-looking 40-somethings who still collect baseball cards and talk fantasy sports all day long. They live for wiffleball tournaments.

"It's a great cause and people come from all over to play," said Pedro, the tournament's founder. "It's really picking up now. More and more people want to play every year. I'm getting new team registrations every time I check my e-mail []."

There may be a good reason for all the late signups. Word is the three-time defending champions, a local group that calls themselves Scared Hitless, may not entering this year's tournament. As of Tuesday morning, they still had not contacted Pedro.

"They have four guys, but I think one is out of the country with his college and another one can't play," he said. "So two of the guys are trying to decide if they can find a third player and make a go of it."

And that's all you really need. Just three players with a dream, preferably one that has mastered the art of pitching a wiffleball.

But here's a word for the wise: Don't just pick a few random Joe Schmos off the street and expect to be crowned wiffle king. The tournament takes real skill and a dedication to the craft in order to come out on top.

Besides, if you're only there for fun, you have your own tournament to compete in.

Daniel McGowan

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