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Wiffle Ball American Pastime Instagram: wiffleballinc/sebloc

The count is full. Three balls, two strikes. There’s an invisible man on second. It’s the bottom of the last playable inning before the sun sets. The “home” team is down one run. The sky is purple and gold. The plastic bat is skinny and yellow. The 12-year-old kid holding it mimics digging into the box, except he’s standing on asphalt in the middle of the street in front of his house. Still, he kicks at the pavement, plants his foot, and twists it before holding it straight out toward the pitcher, then pulling it back onto his shoulder. On the “mound” — which is just the straightest stick anyone could find — is his 10 year old brother, ahead this late in the game for the first time in his life.

Losing is not an option to the batter.

The crowd (of cicadas) is roaring. A heckler, their 8-year-old sister, loudly roots for both of them to lose.
The pitcher winds. The batter kicks his leg up and swings his yellow bat.

Wiffle Ball is one of the great pastimes of American childhood, and of summer evenings spent playing in the neighborhood. It’s the latest in a long tradition of abbreviated baseball games played by kids. (The original being stickball.)

Wiffle Ball is most famous, and maybe most beloved, because the game allows the average guy or girl to know what it feels like to make pitches dance through the strike zone like they’re Greg Maddux.

The game is as much a duel as it is a sport. Batter against pitcher. Friend against friend. Sibling against sibling. Father against child. It’s the source of as much joy as it is heated, Lou Piniella in the face of an umpire style arguments. And maybe a few Wiffle bats tossed into the bushes, too.

Foul ball. The sister boos everyone. The count is still full. The batter and pitcher reset. The batter lets out a sigh of relief. He barely got a piece of that curveball. He’s lucky to still be alive. He cannot lose to his little brother.

The pitcher sets and winds again. The batter waves the bat behind his head and gets a beat on the ball. He kicks his leg up again and starts to swing.

Wiffle Ball actually evolved out of its predecessor, stickball. The game was invented in Fairfield, Connecticut, in 1953 by David N. Mullany, when he designed a lightweight plastic ball, roughly the size of a regulation baseball, with oblong holes that his 12-year-old son son could make curve easily when he threw it.

The game became incredibly popular with David’s son and his friends, and was eventually given the moniker, “Wiffle Ball” because the kids referred to the (presumably frequent) strikeouts as “Whiffs.” It didn’t take long for David Mullany to realize he was going to have to make some more Wiffle balls.

Without having any idea what they were doing, the Mullany family accidentally created a legendary American game. Today, Wiffle Ball is one of the most popular summertime games in the United States. It’s played in city streets, in parks, at barbecues, on frat house front lawns, in backyards, and even in elaborate, specially built stadiums.

Wiffle ball tournaments and leagues exist across America, and multiple entities even crown “national champions.” A world Wiffle Ball Championship even exists. Needless to say, the goofy little plastic ball turned out to be a hit. So did the Wiffle ball bat, which has bound uses for both Wiffle ball and non-Wiffle ball related reasons.

Crack. Liftoff. The pitcher’s head snaps 180 degrees in the other direction. The ball has already flown past him. The batter — the older brother — admires his shot, tosses his bat in the air, and both unnecessarily and over-enthusiastically jogs around the imaginary bases. The pitcher — the little brother — walks out of the street with his head down. The sister squeals with glee at his defeat.

One day, he’d win. But not yet. Maybe tomorrow. They’d definitely be out there again to play Wiffle Ball.

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