Why do you play Wiffle®Ball the way you play Wiffle®Ball? You could ask that question of any league, tournament, or association across the country and hear a different answer each time. There is probably no other sport with a greater variation in rules than wiffleball.
Very few leagues or tournaments use the official rules that come inside the box with a new ball. Not many of us are actually playing the game the way it was designed to be played, so who are we to say what the “right” way to play is?
Side note: This difference is actually why we used the “h” for several years. We said we played “whiffleball” with a “Wiffle®” ball. That argument was dumb and definitely not worth having, so we have since dropped the “h.”
Our reason for our style of play is fairly simple. It’s the way we played when we were kids, and that’s really all we knew.
Although we come from the same area as the original World Wiffleball Championship (WWC), it’s important to recognize that the ORWBL and our tournament during Hometown Days (now known as The Wiffle®Ball Championship) have a distinct origin and footprint. I had never even heard of the WWC until I was told that our inaugural tournament was scheduled for the same weekend.
Over time, we have adopted pieces of the WWC rules for the sake of conformity (foul ball home runs at the tournament), but we have always maintained our own unique style of play.
So is it the “best” way to play?
No, of course not. Certainly not if your main focus is the competitive aspect. Any time you limit the ability of player, in our case the pitching speed, you’re not going to have a pure competition. But that’s not why we started our tournament (and later our league). Sure our teams want to win, but there’s a balancing act between having fun and being competitive for us.
We play what most people consider to be slow-pitch or “lob-pitch” wiffleball, which is probably a fair description of it. However, I think of it more as “pitch to hit.” In our rules, there is no arc requirement or defined speed limit. Ultimately, it falls on the batter to determine if the pitching speed is too fast. With no strike boards or called strikes, the batter simply doesn’t have to swing and can even ask the pitcher to slow it down. Therefore, you will see a fairly wide range of pitch speeds from game to game (or even hitter to hitter).
Obviously, this comes with downfalls. There are some guys who will stand in the box and not swing at anything. On the flip side, you’ll see pitchers who won’t throw anything remotely close to the plate. It can be difficult to watch, and it’s even more frustrating to be a part of a game like that.
On its face, the easy solution to this issue would seem to be adding strike boards. However, boards are just not a practical option in the slow-pitch game. First of all, it’s entirely possible to throw a slow curve which crosses nowhere near the plate, but breaks late to hit the board. More importantly, a board wouldn’t prevent a batter from saying that a pitch was too fast. In fact, it would probably increase the amount of arguments over pitch speed, as the batter would be able to bail themselves out of a third strike that hit the board by claiming it was too fast.
It’s not ideal, but we just deal with this back and forth battle of gamesmanship and sportsmanship. In the long run, most players will figure it out, and it usually finds a happy medium. Those who don’t strike that balance typically don’t last very long in our league or at our tournament.
I’ve only pointed out the negatives thus far, and by now our style probably sounds pretty terrible. So why would we bother playing this way?
Outside of HRL: Twin Cities and their Wifflin’ for Wishes tournament, I can’t think of any other major league which also hosts a mega-tournament like we do. On the flip side, the other large scale tournaments, like London and WWC, are standalone events without a league attached to it. This puts us in a unique position.
Everything for us got its start with the first Hometown Days tournament in 2005. From the beginning, that event has maintained the goal of being open to everybody to play, and our style is the best way we have found to achieve it. Again, striking a balance between having a fun, community event and sporting competition is key. Anybody can pick up a bat and have a good time playing. But of course, by Sunday afternoon, the best teams are playing highly competitive games to get to Migley and eventually raise The Cup.
From the overwhelming participation in Hometown Days, a league was born in 2007. There’s no doubt ORWBL has developed its own history, but it has always been supported by the interest in the tournament. New franchises pop up every year, with a majority of them coming from teams having fun at Hometown Days and wanting to play all summer. For the record, ORWBL never saw a falling off or was ever a dying league. Personally, I got burnt out from running the league, but there was never an issue with waning enthusiasm for the league. And again, I attribute much of that perpetuating enthusiasm to the presence of the tournament.
The Wiffle®Ball Championship currently draws 80 teams, and our league had historically been eight to ten teams before establishing a high of 12 these past two years. Keep in mind, because of the number of games we used to play each season, we allow up to 15 players on a roster. In terms of overall participation, our numbers are off the chart.
We have more people involved in our wiffleball activities than probably any other place in the country. Additionally there are several other tournaments, like the WWC, in our main region of Chicagoland, northern Indiana, and southwest Michigan, which keep our teams busy throughout the summer and allow us even more opportunities to grow.
So why would we want to change? Our game offers the ability for anybody to step up to the plate and play. By pitching to hit, the ball is put in play virtually every at-bat. Which means fielders have to be ready on every pitch. You’ll see leaping catches up against the fence to rob home runs, you’ll see crazy double plays involving our pitcher’s hand rule, and of course, you’ll see a ton of pegging base runners. Bottom line: it’s a very active game for everyone involved.
Yes, without strike boards we have issues with long at-bats. We also run into the problem of home run derbies if the wind is blowing out. But these are the tradeoffs we make to have a game that is more often than not full of action. It’s no different than fast-pitch games, where you trade off the issue of the ball not being put in play for extended periods of time because of walks or strikeouts. Each style has its downfalls, but we have come to the determination that those respective negatives don’t outweigh the positives. Wiffleball, in all its forms, has become any activity we all enjoy.
We play our style because it works for us. I don’t think it’s any better than fast-pitch wiffleball, and I would never suggest that any of our teams could be dropped into a fast-pitch league or tournament and compete. I recognize the skill it takes to play the game as a true competitive sport. It’s just not what we do. Which is why we’ve never played in something like the NWLA Tournament.
It’s not that we don’t respect it or hate it, but it just hasn’t been on the radar of most people in our league. Sure it might be fun to try out something new and meet some of the guys from around the wiffle world, but the NWLA Tournament requires quite a bit of effort and overall investment to participate. And so far, the potential return on that investment hasn’t really matched up for us. The national tournament has traditionally been the same weekend as the WWC, so it hasn’t really made sense for us to skip a major event to try something different. (Also, the WWC registration deadline is typically before regionals, so we couldn't fall back on the WWC if we were eliminated in the regional round). In the future it’s entirely possible if the dates and locations aligned, we might be able to give a shot.
Our position in the wiffleball landscape has placed us at the crossroads of the many different styles. On one hand, we have plenty of connections to the various slow-pitch mega tournaments, which seem to be focused in our own bubble. While on the other hand, our membership in the NWLA has exposed us to many of the leading fast-pitch leagues in all parts of the country. Personally, I enjoy following all of it and just hope that others can at least respect what we do here.
So if you’re reading this and might be interested in a tournament that isn’t solely about winning it all, but will still give you a big-ass trophy if you do… check out New Carlisle during the last weekend in July.