Invented by the Mullany family of Shelton, Connecticut in 1953 because they did not have enough players for baseball or softball, and couldn't throw breaking pitches with a plastic golf ball, the wiffleball is a baseball-sized white plastic hollow ball with eight oblong perforations on one side. It is these perforations that make the ball curve so easily - as a general rule, the ball will curve away from the angle at which the holes face. The design of the wiffleball also makes it nearly impossible to hit or throw a great distance, which allows a wiffleball game to consist of as few as two people, and cuts down time spent chasing to a minimum. The wiffleball gets it name from the high number of strikeouts, or "wiffs", that it produces.

The rules of a typical wiffleball game have been changed to accomodate a 1-on-1 backyard matchup. Players do not run after hitting the ball. The number of bases awarded is based on predetermined rules (e.g. "Off the fence in the air is a double", "Past the pitcher on the ground is a single), and baserunners are kept track of as invisible men. Balls and strikes are also not called in wiffleball... the batter must either strike out swinging or put the ball in play. Official rules can be found on the website of Wiffle Inc. (www.wiffle.com), but typically, different neighborhoods come up with their own ground rules based on players' habits.

A ball and a sport.

The ball is slightly smaller than a baseball. It is hollow, hard and white, and too light to be thrown or hit very hard or very fast. It is punched with holes. When I encounter wiffle balls, they usually have oblong holes in a radial pattern extending from one pole. However, I have seen one or two that have smaller circular holes punched in a regular pattern over the whole (ha ha!) surface. Wiffle balls sting at close range.
OUCH, that smarts!!

The sport usually ends up being much like baseball or softball, except with fewer gloves, fewer regulation sized fields, and fewer well defined rules...and practically no chewin' tobacco. However, there are more curbs, actual dinner plates, and at least as many heated arguments as in baseball. And you use a wiffle bat. Wiffle ball equipment is much more affordable than baseball equipment.

Wiffle ball is more than a sport, it's a way of life.
Just kidding (mostly). Actually, Wiffle Ball is a company that makes plastic balls and bats. They make baseball-sized balls and softball-sized ones as well. A Wiffle BallTM brand ball has eight oblong holes cut in one hemisphere of the ball from the equator towards the pole, and the other hemisphere is solid. Any other plastic ball is not an honest-to-god Wiffle Ball, but most people call them that anyway.

I really, really love playing wiffle ball. I still play with my brother and/or friends whenever I go home to visit my family. My parents' front yard is perfect for wiffle ball (unless you bat lefty).

Our Field

From home plate, the yard slopes gently upward into left and center field, which elevates the pitching area nicely above the plate. The front of the two-story house is at a right angle to the left field foul line, creating a great left field wall not unlke the Green Monster at Fenway. Any hit onto a roof surface is a home run.

In dead center field is the garage, from which extends the driveway (oddly enough) at a perfect angle to create the right-center-field home run area. There's no wall there, but any ball hit onto the driveway surface is a home run. A ball hit into the garage thru an open garage door is not a home run.

If you are a southpaw, this field is probably not for you because of the giant cedar tree just to the right of the pitcher's mound. Although it's not at the edge of the outfield, this tree is by rule and tradition the right field foul pole. So if you're a lefty, you better hit to the opposite field.

The finishing touch is the backstop, a wonderful work of wood fenceposts, old rusty pipes and chicken wire that stands about 7 feet tall and wraps around the back of the hitting area. In the middle of the backstop, right behind home plate, we cut a hole and tied in the business end of an old fishing net. We don't have umpires, but if you can pitch the ball into the fishing net, it's a called strike. Even if the ball bounces on the ground first.

Pitching

The real art of wiffle ball is pitching. The thing that makes a Wiffle BallTM brand ball so much better than all its imitators is the way it curves, which owes probably to how the holes are cut in the one side. I want to write down what I've discovered about throwing a wiffle ball over more than a decade of wiffling. Thomas, if you ever read this, stop here. Nothing to see here. This will not help you hit my sinker. (For the purposes of the rest of this writeup, I'm assuming the pitcher is right-handed.)

The Slider
This pitch is my favorite one, even though many wiffle ball players have it figured out. You hold the ball along the equator with all the holes on the right-hand side. It seems to work best if you grip the ball with your index and middle finger and thumb, all on or close to the seam that holds the two halves together. You throw the ball overhand just like you would a fastball, without giving it any spin other than the backspin it gets from rolling off your fingers. Thrown correctly, this pitch will move dramatically from right to left. The harder you throw it, the more it breaks, but I believe it works best when you don't throw it very hard and it becomes sort of a sweeping 3-to-9 breaking ball. I have seen this pitch thrown with so much break, that it went around behind a right-handed batter and into the fishing net.

The Curve
This pitch has more incarnations than Shirley Maclaine. It all depends on the direction of the break, the direction of the break, and the speed of the pitch. I personally prefer a medium-speed curveball that drops pretty much straight down, and is often referred to as a 12-to-6 curve.

I know of two ways to throw a fairly straight up-and-down curveball. The first involves making contortions with your arm and the second does not. The first, classical method of throwing a yakker is to grip the wiffleball with your index or middle finger along one of the holes, so you can get a good grip. As you throw the ball, you try to put forward spin on it by sort of snapping your wrist in that direction. This is as hard to explain as a curveball in real baseball, and I don't know if I can do it sufficiently.

The easier way to throw a good curve begins with a similar grip to that described in The Slider above. The difference is, you rotate the ball clockwise so that the holes, which are facing directly towards 3 o'clock initially, face more toward 5 o'clock. Then you just throw it like a medium-speed fastball. This pitch can have such a sharp break to it that it brings life to the old cliché "that pitch looked like it fell off a table."

The Knuckleball
Throwing a knuck with a wiffleball is pretty much a crapshoot. Sometimes it'll jolt and shift up, down, left and right, like it's schizophrenic about which direction it wants to go. When I throw it, it's usually more like a changeup.

I hold it with the holes facing up, thumb underneath the ball and my index and middle fingers on top. Those two fingers are bent and only touch the ball up to the first knuckle (hence the name). I try to keep my other fingers off the ball as much as possible; when I'm able to do that, I can throw a good lively knuckleball about 50% of the time.

Happy Trails and Happy Wiffling!

The Wiffle Ball factory is located in Shelton, Connecticut. The factory is a smallish red brick building with a giant sign that says "Wiffle Ball" in the shape of a wiffle ball. It's really a rather unobtrusive building, and not at all what you would expect from a company that manufactures an item that is recognized across the country. Of course, since I drive by it every day on my way to work, my opinion might be jaded.

I've heard that if you go on a tour there, you get a free wiffle ball and bat. That might just be hearsay, as I've never toured the company.

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