Growing up entails a host of concerns and sacrifices. One begins to fret over bills, career decisions, and a myriad of other issues. It does not, however, require giving up games that left such an indelible mark of those childhood years. Kevin Sickle and Tom Hannon, founders of the Backyard Wiffle Ball League (BWBL), believed that if they built it, others would come.
The BWBL, Sickle enthuses, “was a dream of mine for 24 years. Back in 1989, there was an article in Sports Illustrated about a guy building a mini-Fenway Park in his house and backyard. I thought, ‘Man, that would be awesome.’” More than 20 years after encountering that story, Sickle remarks, “Such an opportunity doesn’t come around every day for guys trying to build a wiffle ball park.” Indeed, he began planting the seeds to bring that vision to fruition some 10 years ago.
From its inception, one of the primary aims of the league has been service to the surrounding community.
Initially, the BWBL was born out of a few meetings. Soon-to-be founders and others discussed and recalled childhood games that evoked feelings of nostalgia. As the collaborations would have it, they settled on the sport of wiffle ball and proceeded to publish notices of their intentions in the local newspapers. This led to the formation of the BWBL in 2004. The league was predicated upon three core aims: recreation, competition, and philanthropy. The organization initially utilized East End’s Minor League Field as well as a field in Kingston. Sickle’s dream, unfortunately, would not fully come to fruition until they acquired a field of their own, so with this in mind, he applied for a Pepsi Refresh Grant in 2011 and won the subsequent online contest. The BWBL was awarded $10,000 through that grant and with those funds league administrators and volunteers began to build Diamond City Park at 345 Madison Street, across from Dan Flood Elementary. According to Sickle, the design of Diamond City Park was influenced by the layouts of major league parks such as Ebbets Field, Forbes Field, and the Polo Grounds.
From its inception, one of the primary aims of the league has been service to the surrounding community. Since its founding in 2004, the BWBL has donated proceeds from its semi-annual tournaments to a number of charities. Past recipients of these gifts include the Colleen Shea Foundation, Sears Heroes at Home, the Tyler Winstead Fund, and the Wyoming Valley Challenger Baseball League. This year, the BWBL will be donating all proceeds to Dan Peck. Peck, a local resident, recently underwent open heart surgery, followed by a heart transplant, and he may also need to undergo a liver transplant in the near future. All proceeds will help to defray his mounting medical expenses. This year’s 9th Annual BWBL Charity Classic will take place on Saturday, May 11th, at Diamond City Park, from 8:30am until nightfall. Last year’s event attracted more than 200 spectators. This year’s tournament will feature additional attractions for attendees such as a horseshoe pit, food vendors, and possibly even some live music.
Following the Charity Classic, the BWBL can be found on their diamond any given Sunday from May 19th through the end of August. Their summer league consists of 16 teams comprised of players ranging in age from 12 to 50, or so. The rules of wiffle ball are relatively simple and have been intended to closely resemble those of its predecessor, baseball. The pitching mound is situated 45′ from home plate and the strike zone is demarcated by a rectangular cutout in a plywood board. Pegging, or, striking a runner with the ball to record an “out,” is permissible below the neck. Further, the league has transitioned from a fast-pitch format to medium-pitch to foster parity among the teams.
The BWBL has been a trendsetter in regard to statistical record-keeping among wiffle ball leagues. In fact, the association is noted for being one of the few of its kind in the country to keep a detailed account of both player and team statistics. League officials compile those stats and upload them onto the BWBL website. They are also working on developing a statistical archive chronicling various records. Sickle notes, “This is something that sets us apart from other leagues: we’re meticulous with regard to stats.”
Players to watch include Tom Hannon, Ryan Hart, and Bob Loftus. Hannon is touted as a solid hitter, an improved pitcher with great movement, and a team player. “I hate to lose,” explains Hannon about his motivation, “more than I love to win.” Similarly, Ryan Hart is considered a premier hitter and a “tough out.” He’s known to have a good “screwball,” “riser,” and “dropball.” Lastly, Bob Loftus, an athlete in his 40s, is the current “no-hit” leader. In fact, his fastball was clocked at no less than 90 mph while the fast-pitch format was in effect.
This year’s 9th Annual BWBL Charity Classic will take place on Saturday, May 11th, at Diamond City Park, from 8:30am until nightfall.
Teams to watch include “Bad Meets Evil,” “Saturday Crush,” “Vipers,” “Backdoor Bandits,” and “Bases Loaded.” Bad Meets Evil enters this year’s season as the defending champion, boasting a 2012 record of 33-1. They are considered to have good pitching and hitting, and a formidable defense. Saturday Crush is a venerable team in its own right, garnering five championships and comprised of players who’ve been friends since their formative years. They are a very cohesive group. The Vipers is a playoff team from last year and has made wise acquisitions in the off-season. The Backdoor Bandits is a well-rounded team and league experts believe it’s likely the Bandits will contend for the season’s crown. Finally, Bases Loaded is looking to upend others and emerge as a real contender, with recent roster additions which include two pitchers and two skilled hitters.
For those interested in playing in the summer league, the cost to participate is $20 per athlete for 20 games. The fee to play in May 11th’s Charity Classic is $10 per participant. Businesses looking to sponsor the league and associated charities can purchase field signage for $75 to $100. Others wishing to get involved may contact Kevin Sickle at email@example.com, visit www.bwbl.net, or even swing by the league’s facebook page at BackyardWiffleBallLeague or DiamondCityPark.
So, if you’re looking for competition, philanthropy, or simply a new pastime, all in a family- and community-oriented environment, the Backyard Wiffle Ball League is the place for you!