Saturday, July 5, 2008
A Game For the Ages
The smell of spring: flowers bloom, the insects buzz, the grass glistens an emerald green, and the stage is set for the boys to step on to the diamond. The lines have been drawn at Woodwinds Field, and the distances marked. The cooler has been wheeled out and placed like an altar behind home plate. The Allman Brothers tune,"Sweet Melissa," shouts its enchanting melody from the speakers of Steve Murray's car. A winter's worth of intense twelve ounce weight training has led up to this moment - a chance to prove oneself on the greatest stage of all - Pi Kapp whiffleball has begun.
Founded sometime in the distant past by a fraternity at that time known for some reason as Pi Kappa High, Pi Kapp whiffleball is a sport unlike any other. Only bowling can equal the utter lack of movement combined with mass alcohol consumption that takes place during the course of a game. In fact, laziness and drunkenness, which are usually considered vices in our society, are celebrated in this sport. The number one rule requires you to have a beer in one of your hands at all times. Anyone appearing at home plate to bat without a beverage is considered automatically out. There are no exceptions to the rule. Forgetting to bring your beer with you is an unforgivable sin. The can should be attached to your hands at all times like a magnet. Go ahead and super-glue it there if you are using a cup, you can always have it surgically removed one day if absolutely necessary. Anyone without a can of frothy delight that makes contact with a ball as a fielder is immediately castrated (actually we just call it a hit). Given time, you will become a Busch Light Cyborg, part man, part liquid refreshment.
Fortunately, in a game invented and played by stoners, consideration was made for diminished lung capacity. There is no silly running around the diamond like in baseball or softball. Singles, doubles, triples and homers are all based on where the batted ball lands. Lines are marked on the sides of the field to indicate the amount of bases allocated for each hit. Having a fence to indicate the home run area is a perk, but not crucial. For a ball to be in play on the ground it must roll at least to the pitcher’s mound, otherwise it is considered a foul ball. Any hit that falls on the ground in fair play, short of the double line, can be fielded off the surface for an out, but only if the defensive player picks up the ball cleanly and before it has come to a complete stop. Outs can also be recorded by catching fly balls, and bonus outs are awarded if you pick one from the sky with chopsticks. If you strike out, congratulations, you have taken sucktacularity to a heretofore unattained level (unless you are toasted and then consider your result par for the course).
Our happily high whiffleball founding fathers also decided that fielders must concentrate at all times on making minimum effort to attain the ball. Running or diving is considered against the spirit of the game and any out made under these circumstances will be taken away from the defensive team. Being kind of a spazzfest, I always had trouble with that rule. Pitchers also must take it easy. All pitches thrown must have a defined lob to them – if you are a budding Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson, PKW is not your game. The game is designed with hitters in mind, there should be none of those mundane 1-0 pitching duels. Potheads and drunks have one thing in common – they get bored with inaction easily and if the ball isn’t flying around the yard, nappy time fast approaches.
Games can be played for nine innings or until a team manages to score ten runs. If you lose track of the score don't worry, it wasn't that important anyway. Contests often take an hour or more, so smoking is allowed during play. If holding a cigarette causes you to run out of hands, those are the breaks. Use of other banned substances before and during play is encouraged, although I tend to avoid steroids since the last two things on my Christmas list are a hairier back and smaller balls. Teams are made up of four to five players each, but you can play with as few as seven people total if you have an all-time pitcher.
The sport has expanded since those early days of playing games behind the Woodwinds Apartment complex. There is now an annual tournament, where ten or more teams gather south of Asheville during the last week of July for a festival of whiffleball greatness. Although, the North Carolinians have tinkered with the rules some, the basics are the same. A small entry feed includes your beer, hot dogs, and a minimum of two games per team.
So get your butt out there and have some fun. If there is a way to garner more good times with just a beer and a plastic ball, I am unaware of it and most likely such a thing would be illegal anyway. If you have any questions concerning the rules, just drop me a line. And remember kids - never mix whiffleball with sobriety!