Encore Magazine May 2021

Page 29


“There is a low level of skill needed to participate,” Lewis says. “Most players, even if they played softball or baseball growing up, need half a season to figure out how to be effective. By effective, I mean able to pitch, hit, play defense in a way that makes them feel they’re contributing to their team and leave the game with a few stories to tell about awesome plays.” What’s with the Wiffle?

Clockwise from left: Mike Hogan of team Wiff That swings at a pitch from Diablos' pitcher Kyle Owen during a scrimmage between the teams at Flesher Field; plastic bats and balls used in the game; Lance Owen of the Diablos throws a warmup pitch as teammate Nate Thompson looks on; and Kyle Owen throws a pitch to a teammate.

teams and 70 players, competing on three fields on Kalamazoo’s west side. Its season is highlighted by a raucous All-Star Game at Mayors’ Riverfront Park, an intense playoff bracket and a thorough set of statistics — per baseball tradition — on its website. The league went viral in 2011, and CBS News dedicated a segment to its brief internet fame. Some of the league’s top players competed in a national tournament in Ohio in 2020, notching an emotional, come-frombehind win to help the squad take second place.

The Wiffle ball is a hollow, lightweight plastic ball about the same size as a regulation baseball, and it’s rather vulnerable to wind. The primary difficulty of the game lies in the ability of the ball to dip, rise, curve and dance. Against the league’s best pitchers, who can make the ball hit the “strike board” with remarkable velocity and accuracy, players occasionally engage in the bat chuck, a dramatic throwing of the bat perfected by Mason Everett, among many others. Even a standard fly ball becomes a potentially embarrassing disaster for a fielder should the slightest breeze pick up. The team rosters of the KWL — a coed, competitive fast-pitch recreational league — are composed of insurance agents, marketing managers, bankers, college students and others, ranging in age from 18 to 58. Teams field three defenders — a pitcher and two fielders — and a minimum of three players is required, but most teams have six or seven players. Teams compete on Monday and Thursday nights at Flesher Field and Oshtemo Township Park, on fields professionally constructed for the sport in collaboration with the Oshtemo Township Parks and Recreation Facilities department. Two of the league’s premier players — Grant Miller and Lee VanStreain — played college baseball. A starting infielder for Western Michigan University from 2014-2017, Miller ranks fourth all-time with 223 career hits. He also holds the school record for career hit-bypitch (52). VanStreain, a graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School, played infield for Grand Valley State University from 2004-2007. He batted .435 in 2006 to lead the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and helped the Lakers to multiple deep playoff runs. In addition to those with serious athletic prowess, KWL Vice President Justin Gregory also mentions the league’s “colorful characters,” including Mike Seigel, whose announcing skills during w w w.encorekalamazoo.com | 29