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Big League Wiffleball sparks interest around the globe
The long yellow bat, the perforated white ball and any rules you want to come up with. That’s wiffle ball, a game normally played by children still in elementary school.
But for Nick Benas and Jared Verrillo, CEOs and co-creators of Big League Wiffle, their goal is to keep playing well beyond the sixth grade.
“Tournaments, leagues and charity events started popping up in the early ‘90s and there was no visible passion coming from the event organizers,” Benas said. “Jared and I felt we could bring that to the table. We felt we could build a community around our Big League Brand.”
Hailing from Guildford, Conn., Benas, 31, and Verrillo, 29, are childhood friends who began playing wiffle ball in their cul-de-sac.
“I fell in love with the brand from the start,” Verrillo said.
In 2007, they decided to start their own league for wiffle ball players of all ages and skill levels.
“We are an open tournament that caters to all abilities,” Benas said. We keep the format medium pitch so it doesn’t discourage new-comers to the sport. We have a cap on the pitching speed at 35-40 mph so it levels the playing field. There’s a good balance between offense and defense.”
Kevin McHugh, 21, who plays for the team “Norwegian Wood” in most Big League Wiffle tournaments, is glad Benas and Verrillo started the league.
“I joined competitive wiffleball because I have always loved the sport,” McHugh said. “Being able to play it competitively against great players made it even more fun.”
But Big League Wiffle isn’t the only league of its kind.
“I joined Big League Wiffleball because of how well the tournaments are run and how great its player community is,” McHugh said. “I had played in many competitive leagues and tournaments before Big League Wiffleball, but I have played in more of Big League’s tournaments than any other organization mostly because I always have a great time.”
Fellow Big League Wiffle player, Ben Biddick, 32, was quick to join, but had a hard time getting his friends and teammates to think of wiffle ball as a competitive game.
“The hardest part was getting friends to make the leap passed the concept of wiffle as a kid’s game,” Biddick said. “Once they saw a few YouTube videos of what is possible when pitching a wiffle ball, they quickly began sharing my interest.”
But, according to Biddick, it doesn’t take much.
“All it takes is to set up a strike zone and throw a few pitches that appear to break the laws of physics,” Biddick said. “Your buddy steps up and gets embarrassed when he whiffs. After seeing the movement on the pitches, the batter usually shakes his head and asks, ‘How did you do that?’ The next night he’s in his backyard trying to wrap his mind around wiffle pitching with the wiffle ball he picked up from the store on his way home from work.”
And it’s not only for entertainment value.
“ I have always had fun playing wiffleball with my family, but being able to meet new people and compare your skills with them brings the game to a whole new level,” McHugh said. “It usually costs around $100 just to enter a tournament and, depending on the amount of teams, the prize money can be in the thousands.”
As the league’s popularity grew, Benas and Verrillo expanded the league throughout the country and even host an annual Home Run Derby in Fenway Park in Boston.
It even made its way to Iraq.
“I was in Iraq on a deployment with the Wisconsin Army National Guard,” Biddick said. “I packed a few bats and balls with all my gear and carried them with me. When we got down time we played some games. We lined up water bottles for field lines. Blast walls served as our outfield fence. The blast walls were to prevent mortar shrapnel from blasting through our housing units”
Biddick said he wanted to take a photo holding the wiffle ball bats near the “Crossed Swords,” a large statue of two arms with swords over a road, but the one time Biddick was near the statue, his convoy was taking small arms fire and was nearly hit by a roadside bomb.
“Some guys thought we were crazy,” Biddick said. “Other guys got hooked and wanted to play when we got downtime. When Newmann was able to get down to see me in Baghdad, it was surreal. We would’ve never dreamed that one day we’d be playing wiffle in Iraq.”
Back home, Biddick does his best to get to any tournament within driving distance.
“I think the biggest draw to wiffle ball is that serious competition is possible,” Biddick said. “With all that is possible with wiffle pitching, it becomes a sport, not a game. America is realizing this in a greater and greater capacity.”
Benas, though, had a much simpler suggestion as to why he still plays a child’s game.
“It’s fun because we’re still kids and we don’t have to grow up,” Benas said.
Photo credits: Ben Biddick