Monday, October 11, 2010

Tiffany Barber, 17, warms up and later hits a double in the game.
Joey Pierry pitches to Marvin Villata during Wiffle ball practice at Harbor Highlands Park in San Pedro. (Photos by Jim Hart).
By Diana L. Chapman
It’s a baseball. It’s a softball --- No it’s a Wiffle ball!
That’s  the craze that has hit hard across the east coast, landed in Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties catching on like “wildfire” and its blazing its  way here.
Chris Furgel, who will aide the SoCal Wiffle Ball Association in bringing the sport here,  started  practice games at San Pedro’s Harbor Highlands Park Saturday. Wiffle ball, he said, is “goofy,” “crazy,” but most of all “fun.”
 “This is going to be for family times,” said Furgel, a baseball coach who started playing Wiffle ball with his son Richard about a month ago. “You don’t have to be an athlete to be good at this game. We’re just in the baby steps right now and we want to get it off the ground and running.”
League games will begin in January.
The truth was already out last Saturday as about ten players showed up for the practice: One team was called the Vipers, the other the Scallywags on the teams that typically have only three to five members.
Until the players climb to high ranking levels, Wiffle ball encourages silliness across the board with everyone teasing one another – especially because they are all at the rookie level. The din of the park was cackles, laughs, hoots and howls during the practice game, which was charged with pleasure.
“You’re terrible Ryan,” shouted out Derrick Traeger teasing his friend who was up to bat. “You’re just terrible!”
When people struck out, no one got upset or marched off the field. They just giggled. Because the truth was, no one was too good at the game – yet.
While the structure looks a lot like baseball, it’s only so close. For instance, no one runs to bases. There are only four innings and every player pitches. Pitching, in fact, is the key to the entire game, something not all that easy since a Wiffle ball seems to have a mind of its own.
It can go up, down and all around. But that’s part of the crazy fun. And it didn’t stop people from coming.
Tiffany Barber, 17, a San Pedro High school student, said she found the game easy – and exciting.
“I just wanted to learn it,” said Tiffany, who hit a double. “It’s easy and a lot of kids at school who can’t make the teams will like to play this sport.”
“I like the atmosphere,” said Jimmy Pierry, 19. “It’s light hearted and  a fun time when you’re playing with friends. I’ve never done it before.”
“The rules are just a lot of fun,” added Marvin Villalta, 19. 

That’s the whole idea, said Furgel, who stumbled on the game on the internet and started playing with professionals in Riverside for the heck of it. He later urged the organization to expand to the South Bay area, which he will help pull together.
There can be Wiffle madness – touring pros and backyard bombers – but at the rookie level – it’s all about enjoyment.
The game hosts a scaled down diamond – and all the pitches are determined fair if they hit the back stop  – the strike zone area – behind the batter. How far out the ball is batted out defines whether it’s a single, double, triple or home run, Furgel said.
“It’s just phenomenal what you can do with it,” Furgel added who wants leagues to start from San Pedro, across the South Bay and up into Malibu. “We want to get everyone out from Lomita, Redondo, Carson, Gardena, Los Angeles…
To play, each member pays $20 for eight games. If their team makes the play offs, they will enter tournaments where winners will receive cash prizes of $250 for first, $100 for second and $50 for third place.
One of the beauties of the game, Furgel explained, is it doesn’t take much overhead and the equipment isn’t expensive. The diamond is placed down on grass using rope and spikes, which are removed after the game. Bats usually run about $2 to $3 and a single Wiffle ball about 99 cents on the internet.
Wiffle ball was created in Connecticut in 1953. David Mullany designed it for his 12-year-old son, according to Wikipedia.
Nearly anyone can play the game, Furgel explained, saying that his dream is seeing teams with moms, dads, grandmas, aunts and uncles and kids coming out, barbecues in tow and making it a pleasurable day.
“This game is the great equalizer,” Furgel added. “It doesn’t matter how good you are as athlete. You don’t even have to be an athlete.”
The players Saturday all left – saying they planned to return and were likely to join the league. The Scallywags won 8-3 against the Vipers. But no one left sad since it was all in the name of fun.
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