We went to a graduation party in the Summer so, naturally, there were a lot of teenagers there. I'm not the type to sit around and make conversation with people I don't know very well so I grabbed a Wiffle ball and bat and asked my Dad if he thought we could get a game started.
I should have known what we were in for from the condition of the equipment-- still in it's original packaging-- not a scratch on it. Wiffle balls are best used after they have been well broken-in for a season or so. They are made from a space-age polymer that resists cracking even after hundreds of long balls. Incredibly enough, I have seen more shattered storm windows from well hit Wiffle balls than broken Wiffle balls under normal use.
After a few minutes of "sidewalk scuffing" (a proven technique of rubbing the ball on a rough surface, such a concrete, to speed up the aging process) my Dad and I were playing a leisurely game of catch. It didn't take long for us to collect a few spectators, as the only type of people that like making conversation with people they don't know very well more than me, is teenage boys. It didn't take very long for us to have enough people to start a game either because teenage boys find it hard to turn down a challenge-- especially from a guy old enough to be their father and his father.
Two things became, painfully, obvious shortly after the game started. One, they had never played by these rules before. Though we explained all of the rules prior to the first pitch, we had to stop several times to go over them again. It really is very simple: you swing and the catcher catches the ball-- your out; foul tip is an out; a caught fly ball is an out; over that sidewalk on the fly is a home run; any other fair ball is a single. No... you don't run the bases. No... there are no walks (or even balls), doubles or triples.
Now these are not the official rules of Wiffleball. These are the rules I learned from my Dad and he learned from the street when he was a kid in the late 40s and 50s. They are, probably, closer to stick ball rules as that's what they played before the Wiffle ball was invented and easily accessible to everyone. These were our rules when we played in our yard or anywhere else that we had numbers on everyone else.
We ran into many different rules growing up. Many were regional, by neighborhood, but even then, there were sometimes different variations of the game played on the same street. Some gave you three strikes or didn't require the catcher to catch them; some didn't count the foul ball as an out or counted a cleanly caught ground ball as an out. I've seen games played that they try to keep track of balls and strikes and Cox's group used to play with a trash can behind the plate-- if you hit it with the pitch, it's a strike... nonsense!
The Official Wiffleball Website, has the official rules and there are sanctioned leagues out there now that play by there own sets. All-in-all there are some differences, but the one thing all of the rules have in common is... no base running. That is why the phrase "Man on First" was first uttered and why it is one of the most common memories of a man's childhood.
One of the best things about Wiffleball is that it can be played with as few people as two or three. The game was also developed to be easily played in backyards, side lots, city streets and alleys or even indoors. These two important features didn't allow room for bases, much less, running between them, therefore "man on first" was stated after a single was hit and often between batters and even pitches to remind all the players that there was an invisible "man" on first base and that a dinger would score two, instead of one.
The other thing that I noticed very quickly, is these kids had, not only never been taught how to properly throw a Wiffle Ball, they had probably never seen anyone who has. This was obvious in that, besides watching me pitch like I had two heads, the confident (almost to the point of arrogant) little bastages, literally, couldn't touch any of my stuff with the bat. They would step their cocky punk-arses into the box and then quickly duck back out as the little white ball, that seem to definitely be directed right at their head, curved away, crossed the plate, and landed, gently, into the waiting hands of my Dad-- right down the middle.
I would let up a bit on the second and third pitch to reassure them that, even if they do catch one in the face, back or nads, it isn't going to hurt them. It's a Wiffle ball, for God's sake. The laws of physics won't allow an object with this light of a mass to accelerate to speeds greater than 23 mph. Then I come in with a riser that looks so inviting as it floats to the plate, tailing in slightly towards the right-handed batter, that the kid can't resist swinging for the fences-- Whiff! (How Wiffleball got it's name.)
My Dad still moves pretty good for an old guy and there aren't too many that I got past them that he didn't scoop up. I think I saw a little more of a pep in his step, too, when we started to gain a little respect from the juvenile delinquents. The kids were pretty amazed with our skills and even asked us to show us a few tricks. Some of them even listened when we explained how to throw a screwball or slap at the ball with the bat instead of swinging for power.
I feel bad that those little twerps made it through there whole childhoods without playing Wiffleball. What else did they miss out on?
I learned a lot of lessons growing up from Wiffleball and other games like it. I could go on-and-on about the secret to curving the ball (don't try so hard) or other uses for the Wiffle bat (snipe-hunting, bottle-rocket-launching, sword-fighting) and things like that for hours but I, unfortunately, don't have that time right now. I will find it, though, soon and write about some more fun stuff in future postings. Right now, we will leave it on hold... Man on First. Buy T-shirts. Peace.