You Pitch How Fast?

Spring rolled in a little over a week ago.  This means that spring and summer sports are right around the corner.  If you know me or read my Generalizations column a month ago, you know that I play in a Wiffle Ball league.  I’ve been playing for the better part of a decade now and, barring life events, will be playing this upcoming season.  My team (shout out to the Westside Washout) has actually been ranked the last two seasons.  This is my go-to icebreaker and is rarely met without question.  People mainly know wiffle ball as that backyard sport you played when you couldn’t get enough people for baseball or when little league was over.  I would bet that most families have the trademark bat and ball in their garage, scattered among clutter, cobwebs, and rust.  They couldn’t imagine an organized league, let alone a fiercely competitive one.  I’m going to dispel the main myth about the sport of Wiffle Ball.  Maybe I’ll even convince some of you to start or join a league by the end of this.

I started playing Wiffle Ball competitively in the summer of 2007, after stumbling upon a league that happened to play in Wilkes Barre.  They played in an old minor league field.  The base paths were 45 feet, the fences between 90 to 110 feet, and mound-to-plate was about 45 feet.  Because of mound distance, I (as well as the rest of the team) assumed the fastest pitchers threw about 60 mph.  Six years later our captain, Beau Reznak, was in the process of starting a league.  This league was set to have a speed limit around 60-65 mph.  Beau and his dad, Bill, purchased a radar gun.  From there myself, Beau, and our anchor pitcher Dan Rish had the daunting task of throwing as hard as we could at the person holding the radar gun.  Most pitches clocked in around the high 60s-low 70s.

That may not seem too crazy, but I haven’t begun to talk about movement.  The holes on top of the ball allow for some crazy pitches.  A good pitcher knows where the holes need to be as well as their arm/wrist movement at the moment of release.  For example, holding the ball upside down and throwing sidearm with a flick of the wrist will cause the ball to rise.  This pitch is aptly called a “Riser.”  Holding the ball right side up, unobstructing the holes with a flick of the wrist will cause it to sink.  The best pitchers combine speed with movement, embarrassing anyone brazen enough to step to the plate with confidence.  Some risers will start at ankle level and end at your face.  Some sinkers will start above your head and end at your knees.  Some pitches will be traveling at your face before curving outside for a strike and some will be so far outside that you’ll kick yourself for standing there as it slides inside.  Most leagues also allow for scuffing balls.  Scuffing is when you grind the new off the ball by either scraping it off concrete or using sandpaper.  It allows for more violent movement.  Combine this with a 45 foot mound distance and speeds up to the low 70s and you have an untouchable cocktail.  A pitcher that, even if you can read the pitch, will leave you feeling like there’s a hole in your plastic bat.  Against the best pitchers, I’ll decide at what pitches to swing at while I’m on deck.

In some ways, Wiffle Ball is the closest thing to Backyard Baseball video games in real life.  A perfect mix of fun and absurdity.  If you have a ball or want to buy one, I’d highly recommend scuffing it up and seeing what happens.  And don’t be embarrassed if your first pitch is a worm-killer.  There are plenty of YouTube tutorials on how to pitch wiffle balls.  But instead I leave you with our league’s feature film, WiffleBall Club.

Link to our Wiffle Ball league is here:

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