HRL Twin Cities wiffleball league has no holes entering seventh season
Before touching upon the now-feverish anticipation for white ash and leather -- I thought I'd first offer a little taste of a local baseball offspring that arrives with the same anticipation for those involved. In recent weeks, the HRL Twin Cities wiffleball organization was brought to my
attention and my first impression was that the league was probably comprised of some sandlot buddies putzing around with surname's Sharpied to the backs of white t-shirts. Far from it.
One look at the league's MLB-mirrored website, replete with fantastic stats, standings, rules, articles and an annual charity event for Make-A-Wish immediately alerts visitors that the HRL approaches the pursuit in earnest. Really, the stats are outstanding and a must see for anyone turned on by baseball numbers.
Formed in 2004, HRL has expanded to 20 teams with two divisions (Eagan, Hopkins) and more than 100 players. With an 18-week schedule played in outdoor hockey rinks, HRL now readies for its seventh season under the direction of new Commissioner, Craig "Dee" Deelsnyder. Recently, Dee and City Pages hooked up to talk about wiffle stats, studs, and strategy.
Judd Spicer: Your rules note a pitch speed limit of 60mph. How do you monitor that?
Dee: The pitch speed limit is self-enforced, especially during the regular season. During a game it's the batter's responsibility to call it and can result in anything from a simple re-do of the pitch, up to a mandatory pitching change after multiple violations in the same game. A batter can just declare it without having to actually clock the speed with a radar gun, which is what normally happens. But we do have a couple of guns available that the fellas can also use as needed, especially if the pitcher doesn't agree. But at the same time we can only go so far. We don't want to have to take ourselves too seriously, using full-time umpires or constant pitch speed readouts.
J.S.: Sticking with pitching: Tell me about the off-speed stuff. Any special gyro-pitches? And who's got the rep for the nastiest junk?
Dee: It's definitely not just about the speed when you consider the ridiculous movement you can get with a wiffleball and that batters are also using the thin, yellow bats where the margin
of error is much smaller. You can obviously throw just about any pitch that a baseball player can, and many more. The riser is the simplest example of a pitch you won't see at Target Field. Screwballs, 12-6 sinkers, slurve, some of them self-named and some stuff that I don't know what to call. Guys are constantly working on new pitches, and with the speed limit you still have to have a pretty good arsenal to fool the best hitters
Putting me on the spot regarding the nastiest pitchers...you realize I have to bat against these guys soon? Spoon and Dr. Seuss of the Reds are perennial Cy Wiffle contenders. Hal, formerly of the Royals, had a monster year last year. CJ of the Indians is ruthless on the mound. Also tough are: Shirls, The Kid, The Man and Tugboat in Hopkins.
J.S.: Your rules also note that players are "no longer allowed to use gloves." Was that a controversial change, and how did it affect play?
Dee: Gloves were only used during the first season in 2004 and were long gone (and rarely mentioned) by the time I joined the league in the middle of the 2005 season. I think it came down to 'being a man' and not using a glove. Or as our beloved Vice Commissioner wrote at the time: 'God gave you a pair, so why don't you use 'em?' During the Winter Meeting after that inaugural season, a vote was taken where they were outlawed once and for all. Since some players wouldn't wear them it was done to level the playing field.
I definitely think gloves would give you an advantage in fielding, though I'd find it difficult to try to use one after all these years. I have to agree I feel like we're playing a purer version of the game without them and I think it makes the spectacular plays even more spectacular.
J.S.: As noted above, I love the stats on your page. I imagine that the players can get pretty caught up in that. Does that ever out-weight play itself?
Dee: Not at all. I've never felt that anyone goes out there and tries to pad stats. We always say 'stats are stats'. That was always my intent when I built out the current [web] system into what it is now. The system was a labor of love and provided some moonlighting opportunities for me to hone my skills for my day job.
They're just something else for us to explore while you're waiting for your weekly fix of wiffles. Obviously, they are fodder for things like messageboard chatter and awards voting and perhaps a little strategizing by the teams at times. Heck, we even have what may be the first fantasy wiffleball league.
Obviously a lot of wiffleball players are baseball fans, and therefore are usually stats geeks so the sport and stats just go hand-in-hand. Fellas are always out there just combing the stats for fun. Each player takes what they want away from it, but I can promise you no one gets tied up in knots over them on gamenight.
J.S.: As a recreational pursuit, why do you think wiffle is better than softball?
Dee: For me it starts with a lot of nostalgia. This is what I grew up doing, out in the backyard just smacking the ball around. Nothing organized -- just me, a bat and a ball. I never thought it would be something I'd be doing 25 years later unless it involved kids of my own. Also, it's about the community and people involved. People of all ages, men and women all play wiffleball. It's a kid's game that we've taken to the next level. We currently have guys in our league that are in their 40s and 50s. At our charity tournament, we see kids who aren't even in high school yet who have won their fair share of games.
But also the wiffle community itself that is out there right now is so awesome. Not only do I have a lot of friends within our league, but we've come to know and become good friends with leagues in other states such as Iowa and Michigan. Not to mention other leagues throughout the country.
J.S.: Your league has grown to 20 teams. To the best of your knowledge: is HRL among the largest wiffle leagues in the country?
Dee: I'm pretty sure we are the biggest in the Midwest. I don't know a lot of details, but there is a league in the Massachusetts and New York areas, where they have grown and split into regions in each state. They seem to be bigger. With the interest we've generated we could go down that path ourselves, but to be honest we're about as big as we're going to get.
J.S.: You've regulated a certain bat and ball. Please explain the sizes/shapes have you chosen and why you've chosen those specs?
Dee: There are a couple reasons, I think. First, it all goes back to the statement of keeping the game pure. This is the original gear you used growing up as a kid. Also, I think the
yellow bat and 8-hole ball fit our field dimensions perfectly. We take a hockey rink and chop it half, making two fields facing away from center ice, if you will. So you're looking at about 75-80' down each line and 107' to straight centerfield. The top homerun hitters normally hit between 30 and 40 HR's. Any changes in equipment and we'd likely have to change fields, or watch stats skyrocket. But I think the equipment suits our game perfectly.
J.S.: I've gathered you guys like to enjoy yourselves at HRL games. You've no doubt spent countless time on your league "Rules." Any booze rules?
Dee: Not that I currently dictate specifically. The cities that we work with to operate this league dictate those rules in particular.
J.S.: I've noticed that players all get nicknames. Can you grant me an Honorary one herein?
Dee: Absolutely, but that's bit of a tough request. You're talking to a guy who plays on a team with guys named Steve1 and Steve2. If you were a new player, you could try giving yourself a nickname coming in but a veteran would likely end up giving you a different one at some point, for someone you look like, or for something you did. But since we haven't had the chance to really get to know the real Judd, I'll go the obvious route: "Sporty" Spicer.
Images courtesy of HRL Twin Cities
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