Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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August 14, 2013

Mark Maynard: Wiffle ball flashback: 8/15/13

ASHLAND — It’s been a few years since I engaged myself in a game of wiffle ball. How about you?

Most of you who read this column regularly and who are anywhere near my age probably haven’t played wiffle ball in awhile either.

But when I think back on my summers growing up, wiffle ball was a big part of it.

Every neighborhood in Ashland had “stadiums” where you could play 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 wiffle ball for hours upon end.

Our favorite stadium was Greg Estep’s side yard. The beauty of our field was that while it was extremely narrow, it had the right trappings surrounding it. It had tall trees, but not so bushy a wiffle ball couldn’t pinball its way down through the branches. You never knew for sure where it was going to come out, but it (almost) always did. We had to make some spectacular diving catches when, at the last second, the ball would take a sharp turn.

Our home run line was perfect, too — a line of thick bushes only about 4 feet tall. If you could get back there fast enough, robbing a home run was a possibility.

We played mostly 2-on-2 games of double-or-nothing. You pitch whatever you wanted — curveballs, drops, knucklers or even the high hard one. It was pretty much an anything goes kind of game.

We not only played the games, but we kept standings and statistics as we went along, too. (Is it any wonder I turned out to be a sportswriter?). Most of the time the day would end when either a) the wiffle ball got stuck in the aforementioned tree or b) the ball split in half from so many hits.

We weren’t easy on the wiffle balls because we used our wooden bats. How many of you remember Little League coaches threatening you about the evils of wiffle ball (not to mention swimming on the day of a game)?

They lectured us on how it was going to mess up our swing using that light yellow bat. So we heeded the warning and used the wooden bats. Of course, after so many hits with a wooden bat, the plastic wiffle ball, which wasn’t made for such a beating, would split in half. That’s when we discovered the real reason why electrical tape was invented in the first place.

Truth is, those games of wiffle ball did more to enhance our skills than dull them. We got to see how a curveball would spin and a knuckleball would flutter. It wasn’t so bad when you came across the pitches for the first time in a baseball game.

Those wiffle ball games with my neighborhood pals in Estep’s side yard are still a special memory as are the days of basketball at the Henderson’s court and football and baseball at The Neighborhood Palace, aka Stafford’s Field. That’s where I learned to play and appreciate sports the most.t.

On Saturday, I’ll be on one of at least 20 teams taking part in a 3-on-3 Big Sandy Superstores AmyforAfrica.com Wiffle Ball Tournament in the side lot at Unity Baptist Church. I am the organizer of said event and hope some of my rusty skills come back to life for a day. I threw the knuckler a little on Wednesday while sizing up the field with buddy Scott Walter, who is the co-tournament director. We both took a few (pitiful) swings, too, although I was finding the groove when we quit (Scott did better with one hand than with two).

We will have Chick-fil-A food (and a team from the eatery) and Walk-FM playing Christian music (and bringing a team). We also have teams from WLGC (Cross Section), The Independent (sportswriters), several, of course, from Unity Baptist and a team of ringers. Brothers Rob and Ryan Lynch will team with Adam LaLonde, who happens to be an Olympic softball player. The L-Train is coming and it’s the odds-on favorite. The Lynches are the sons of Tomcat great Bob Lynch, so they have a lot to live up to. Maybe they can talk their dad into making out the lineup card? I hear he has some experience in that department.

Attorney John Vincent and his sons, Matt and Luke, will be another “team to watch” on Saturday. I’ll be with Greg Jackson and Blazer band director Roger Doss. That’s a formidable trio if there ever was one. We’re more than three pretty faces.

LaLonde may be one of the best softball players in the United States, but he’s never faced the Maynard knuckler in a game of wiffle ball.

A team not to watch will include marathon runner Amy Compston, her sister, Mandi Wesolowski, and friend Katie Adams. Girl Power will not work in wiffle ball. You wouldn’t want to race Amy around the bases for two hours, but everybody should feel pretty safe with her at the plate.

We’ll also have a Home Run Derby once the tournament is finished — $1 for three outs. There will be an All-Star feel to the day, with proceeds going to the AmyforAfrica mission project. Everybody is invited to come out and watch (and laugh).

For me, I just want a swig from the Fountain of Youth — and hoping none of our wiffle balls get caught in the trees.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.

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