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Midlothian Marauders Win and Advance in the 40th World Wiffleball Championship 2019

December 1, 2019

The goals where simple: 1) Score a run. 2) Win a game. 3) Advance to day two. 

These were elementary to success in the World Wiffleball Championship, but were also three things we failed to do last year in 2018, our first time in the tournament.

It was the failure to score a run in 2018 – 4 games! with 72 outs! – that hurt the most. 

We were the hometown team. We were the legends. We were defending the hometown honor. I had signed up our team last year when I learned that the World Wiffleball Championship was moving their championship to my very own hometown of Midlothian, Illinois, where I had played Wiffleball and baseball as a kid. Then 52 years old, I also persuaded David Leonhardt, St, David Leonhardt, Jr, Nolan Dreher and Mike Cline to join me. We named our team the Midlothian Marauders – Hometown Legends. We had uniform jerseys and caps printed up in the traditional orange color of the Marauders that I and Mike Cline had played on as kids.

Then, it was embarrassing. The fence was a mere 86 feet to center field, and 100 feet down the lines … yet not one my team mates or I were able to hit a wiffleball far enough to homer, let alone string a few base hits together to push a run across the plate. The worst of it was a 1-0 loss to a team of kids that averaged 13 years of age. The closest we came to scoring – the closest I came – was 3rd base … just 40 feet from home. I could see the promised land within reach, but couldn’t get there. I got “pegged” by the ball between 3rd base and home. We scored no runs in four games in 2018.

The first goal for our team in 2019 was simple: Score a run. 

The day started early on Saturday, July 20th. Our team, the Midlothian Marauders – Hometown Legends, got to the field and warmed up. Our team was comprised of me, Mike Cline, David Leonhardt, Jr., Nolan Dreher, and making his World Wiffleball Tournament debut, my own son, Canyon, another former Marauder. The day would be a hot one. The temperature would reach 97 degrees, and it was already in the 80s.

Midlothian Marauders – Hometown Legends 2019 team : Left to right: Canyon Novick, Ed Novick, David Leonhardt Jr, Mike Cline and Nolan Dreher

 
Unfortunately, we failed to score again in the opening game losing 5-0. Five games in a row over two years with no runs. Would the shame end?

In the second game we were matched up against a top 20 ranked team in the Funky Plastic Offspring. They were former champions that had been playing in the tournament for many years. I took the opportunity to chat with their manager, a former World Wiffleball Champion and Hall of Famer. He now managed the team and played as their 5th player for emergency situations only. He was content to manage his sons who now played on the team with their friend. I shared our own story of being in the tournament the first time the prior year, and failing to score a run. I asked him for some advice, and he kindly shared some.

Our opponents got off to an early lead smacking several home runs with the wind blowing out. We struggled to start again. But watching how they hit homeruns so effortlessly and routinely sparked my thought for how to do it: hit the ball off the outer half of the bat with a whip-like swing. 

In our at bat in the 3rdish inning, Nolan Dreher, our pitcher, started off the inning with a home run! We were on the board! The drought was over! Goal one met! We scored a run!

That same inning, I too hit a home run! It was a thrill! I looked over to my wife and mom watching from the outfield sidelines and we shared smiles and sensed each other’s excitement. I had never hit a home run over a fence in organized ball before. I circled the bases in glee and came home to my jubilant team mates who were happy for me. I also hit another homer later in the game, as did Nolan.

We lost game two, by slaughter, 20-4, but came away having met our first goal to score a run.

We also experienced another loss in that game. One of our team mates, Mike Cline, pulled a hamstring muscle in his leg making a running catch of a foul ball. He did make the catch for the out, but went down hard reaching for the back of his leg as he finished the catch. He would try to continue, but he and we all knew, he was done for the tournament. He couldn’t run or swing the bat without considerable pain. Maybe that should have been one of our goals – don’t get hurt playing wiffle ball – it’ll be hard to explain. (I can hear it now: Where’d you’ get that limp, old timer? Yeah, it’s an old wiffleball injury. lol)

Game 3… a must-win game if we were going to meet our next two goals: win a game, and a 2nd to advance to day 2.

The game was a pitching duel. The wind was blowing in. Both teams struggled at the plate. Hitting a home run would be extremely challenging. A wiffleball doesn’t go very far, let alone when the wind is blowing in. Both teams mustered some hits, but failed to string them together in order to score a run. The game went 6 innings tied at 0-0.  

Extra inning rules require that the inning start with the player that made the last out the prior inning starting out on 3rd base, and the inning starting with 2 outs. Get a base hit, and score a run. Make an out, and your half of the inning is over.

We both went a couple innings making outs, so the game remained a tie. 

In the bottom of the 9th, I came up to bat. I knew hitting a home run would be almost impossible. I knew I would have to hit the ball hard, hope it would fall in, and beat out a hit at first base before the pitcher’s-hands would get the ball. I did just that. I slapped the ball hard to center field between the two outfielders, took off running, and got a game winning hit! 2nd goal met! We had a win! Our team and fans were thrilled. Marauders win 1-0. 

Our final game of the day we moved to a different field where the wind was blowing out. That can be good, but it can also be bad. It depends who would take advantage of the opportunity in it.

We were the ones who did. I hit 3 home runs in the game. Now knowing how to hit a home run, having the feel for it, the ball was jumping off the yellow bat, and my team mates and I were rounding the bases. 

If that wasn’t thrilling enough, to have several home runs and a lead in a game for the first time, there was one more novel experience to be had. In my final at bat, our opponents used their option for one intentional walk to give me a free pass to first base. They were afraid of me! Having already lifted several homers to put them in the hole, they were afraid that I would do more damage and intentionally walked me to first. Not ever having hit a home run over a fence in a game, never made me a feared threat before. I had never been intentionally walked before. Bonus! Fantasy goal experienced! Get intentionally walked by an opponent who feared you.

By winning our 2nd game of the day, 8-2, we met our 3rd goal and qualified for playing day two in the single-elimination Championship!  We were thrilled!

 

We came back the next day and played in one of the first two final-32 qualifying matches. There were 34 teams that won two games the prior day, so we had to win our match to make the final 32 bracket.

The wind was blowing in a bit so it would likely be a low-scoring game. In an early inning, I did connect for a two-run home run. We won 2-0. Our ace, Nolan, pitched a great game, and we were able to hold our opponent scoreless and won to advance to the final 32! We were thrilled!

Of course being a 32nd team into the 32 team Championship round, is not without its burdens. In the opening round we were matched to play the top-seeded team, the 3-time defending reigning World Wiffleball Champions : the Cult West Warriors. 

Sorry to say, that didn’t turn out so well. We got slaughtered 16-1 in 3 innings. The Warriors had home runs flying over the fence like sky-rockets going up on the 4th of July.

But the game wasn’t without its treasured moments.

I, myself, did muster a solo home run against the Champions. On the homer the opponent’s left fielder, an individual who had just been inducted into the World Wiffleball Hall of Fame earlier in the morning, ran into a pole in the outfield fence trying to catch my homer and hurt his knee, cutting a bloody gash in it, and removed himself from the game. So my hit did that damage to the Champs.

The beating at the hands of the Champions was humbling, but it was a moment of personal satisfaction that I hit a home run against the 3-time defending champions, and the team that would go on in the tournament to win their 4th Championship in a row.

Another highlight of that game: my son, Canyon, made a beautiful leaping one-handed grab at the fence to steal an otherwise home run away from the Champs. 

All in all, the tournament had been a success for us. We met our 3 goals. We scored runs, we won a game, we advanced to day two; and we also won a game on day two and had some personal thrills against the top team in the world for some treasured memories.  

What more of a thrill could a 53 year old kid-at-heart from Midlothian hope for in his very own hometown?

 

 

 

 

Featured in Chicago Sun Times newspaper article: https://chicago.suntimes.com/sports-saturday/2019/7/20/20700970/midlothian-team-excited-to-play-in-national-wiffle-ball-tournament-in-its-hometown

 

Chicago Tribune newspaper article: http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown/ct-sta-midlothian-wiffle-ball-st-0723-20190722-ammelyorpfgxjd3baycztmbuhq-story.html

 World Wiffleball Championship web site : https://worldwiffleball.org/

 

 

 

One Comment leave one →
  1. Marge Walsh permalink
    December 7, 2019 9:33 am

    You’ll always treasure the memories!

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