Every July, one of the greatest sporting events on Earth takes place to a great deal of fanfare. This event is a tradition unlike any other, unparalleled in pageantry, excitement, and talent. An event that truly brings out the biggest and brightest stars of its sport to the forefront, with there always being a surprise or two up its sleeve. Despite what you may be thinking, I am not referring to Wimbledon, the MLB All Star Game, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, or even the NBA Summer League. What I am referring to is the greatest bat and ball sport spectacle on the planet where 48 teams battled this past weekend for plastic supremacy in Skokie, IL – the World Wiffleball Championship.
This year’s tournament holds a connection to our staff here at LMBF, with two of our writers (myself and John Hayes) competing for the 11th ranked team entering the tournament, the La Grange Wiffleball Academy (LWA) Pandas (@LGWiffAcademy on the Twitter, if you want some wiffleball news and about two weeks of activity a year). LMBF founder Brian Franklin was also slated to play this year, but was unfortunately transferred to the 60 day DL just before tournament time. Although you can find the full tournament rules on the tournament website (link above), in short it is a slow-pitch wiffleball tournament, where each team has a pitcher, catcher, and two outfielders. Games are 6 innings, with each team playing 4 pool plays games on Saturday, with teams finishing 4-0 or 3-1 (plus one 2-2 team) advancing to a single elimination playoff on Sunday. The game plays more like actual baseball than some other formats of wiffleball (lineball). While this tournament has been played for many years (this past weekend was the 38th annual installment), this was the 8th consecutive year that the LWA has appeared.
Entering the tournament as the 11 ranked team and returning a roster of veterans coming off our third consecutive 3-1 pool play record and subsequent playoff appearance, the Pandas had high hopes for this tournament. In an ominous sign of things to come, the Pandas got a tough draw for pool play, getting the 7th ranked New Carlisle Newts in an interdivisional game to open the tournament. The division was equally tough, drawing the 9th ranked Granger Panthers in the second game of the tournament. These games were followed by an afternoon slate against two unranked teams, Ball Busters and White Cubs.
The tournament opened rather unceremoniously, with the Pandas dropping the opener 7-2 to the Newts. The bats had a rough time waking up in this one, with the only hits for the team coming on two solo shots by veteran Colin Wallace. Despite the rough start, the team remained hopeful for the rest of the tournament, as there have been multiple years we dropped the opener only to rattle off 3 wins en route to a playoff berth.
Unfortunately, the wind was further taken out from our sails with a nail biter 23-8 loss to the Panthers in Game 2. The bats began to come to life, with John Hayes and Josh Galvan getting going with multiple home run games, and even myself adding a home run (with about 5 popouts to the catcher sprinkled in between). Unfortunately, the Panthers had a little bit more juice, cranking out about 17 home runs in the game and burning through the Panda bullpen.
After a grueling 3 hour layover between games and a quick refuel for lunch at Grecian Kitchen, the unofficial lunch sport for the team for about 5 years running, the Pandas opened up afternoon play against Ball Busters. Although the record stood at 0-2, there was still a hope for a playoff berth, as one 2-2 team makes it into Sunday’s bracket via winning the post-pool play 2-2 team tourney. In an instant classic and pitchers duel, the Pandas dropped a heartbreaker to Ball Busters 3-2 in 8 innings, despite a clutch go ahead home run by second year veteran Josh Galvan in the 7th to take a 2-1 lead. With the third loss in as many games, we had the pleasure of going into our final game with no chance for a playoff berth.
With our playoff hopes dashed, we went into the last game with not much care of the outcome, even letting the last pitcher on the depth chart throw a complete game (yes, that’s me) and quickly adding a fifth man in 2015 team member Ian Wallace to DH and lead off to take the roster spot of slugger Johnny Schwarz, who was inactive for Saturday’s game. Despite a strong pitching performance by newfound knuckleballer yours truly and some clutch hits, we fell 7-5 (yes, I’m considering 7 ER in wiffleball a good start, don’t @ me). Thus ended our tournament with a scorching record of 0-4, our worst record since the inaugural season of ’09 that me and John Hayes were a part of.
Although the tournament ended in a disappointing record, the tournament gave a good experience as always. Even though we did lose all four games, I’d like to toss in there we played one finalist (Panthers), and a Final Four team (Newts). However, we also struggled to score runs, which tends to hurt teams in the win column, or so I’ve been told.
For anyone who has ever played wiffleball in any capacity, I’d highly recommend giving this tournament a look for the 2018 season. It’s always a great time, and is always one of the highlights of my summer. We’ve been going for 8 years now, and there’s no sign of stopping anytime soon (as long as the old knees can hold up, that is). Win or lose, it’s a great day to spend with friends, and relive childhood nostalgia.
Despite the disappointing finish and likely loss of our rank, setting the franchise back by about 5 years and leading the haters and losers, of which there are many, to possibly think we’re done, the future is bright for the Pandas (or maybe I’m just delusional, time will tell). I mean, there’s nowhere to go but up from here. In a grueling 364 day offseason, there will be a lot of tough decisions to make and strategy to devise. But in the words of a wise man, the LWA doesn’t rebuild, it reloads. Til next year, Skokie.