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July 15 2000: It’s Amazing What They Can Do With Plastic

(This column originally appeared at www.yankeesxtreme.com, Yankees Xtreme. Reproduced here by permission of Ultrastar.)
I bought a gift for my boyfriend last weekend. No, not box seats at the Stadium or a Bernie Williams jersey. A Wiffle Ball. A recent article in Yankees Magazine said David Cone learned to pitch as a kid with one. Since, reading that, my boyfriend had been dying to get his hands on a Wiffler.

I know it’s summer because every pharmacy, grocery, and toy store in our area has sprouted a display of Wiffle brand products. When I saw the rack in the all-night convenience store I thought, what the heck and picked up a Wiffle bat, too.

Now, you know every true fan of the game wants to play. Hey, didn’t David Justice recently remark that Yankee fans are the ultimate “tenth man” on the team? Hmmm, I like that guy already. Deep in our hearts, we see ourselves on the field. Unfortunately, though, most of us aren’t physically equipped to hit, throw, or catch like major leaguers… or even Little Leaguers, as I’ve discovered after a few trips to the local sandlot. But Wiffle Ball? Wiffle Ball is the Equalizer.

We took the hollow plastic bat and ball out to the local park one evening. It’s got a dinky little diamond, with no bases and a chunk of rubber missing from a corner of home plate where someone’s spikes took a bite out of it.

There are a couple of things you should know about a Wiffle ball if you’ve never thrown one, or haven’t in a long time. It doesn’t matter how strong your arm is, you just can’t throw it that far. Light as a proverbial feather. And the Wiffle bat? Everyone’s got great bat speed when the bat weighs almost nothing! Oh yeah, and the ball curves like crazy when you throw it. This means that your average adult and your average ten-year-old have about equal skills on the Wiffle ball field.

We’d been taking turns batting and pitching for maybe a half an hour when a skinny ten-year-old in a shirt five sizes too big for him proved my point. Without saying a word, he set himself up as catcher behind me. After I finally made out with a pop fly right back to the mound (well, the spot about twenty five feet away that was the Wiffle mound), I gave the kid a turn at the plate.

“What’s your name?” I asked. “Daniel,” he replied, as he took some awkward practice swings.

After that, we didn’t chat while we played. We threw the ball, we hit the ball. Mostly, we chased the ball when it veered away from us. All three of us would yell “Strike two!” or “Foul ball!”–but as much as I wanted to, I never asked the kid who his favorite team was or if he played in a Little League.

I’m not even sure he was ten years old, that’s just my guess. Ten seems like the ideal age for baseball. Maybe because in 1977 I was ten when the Yankees won their first World Series in fifteen years. When I was ten I learned to keep a scorecard and going to the Stadium suddenly became a kind of fun I took very seriously. Ten’s the age you go from being a “child” to being a “kid.”

Maybe on the diamond, you never have to stop being a kid. Daniel didn’t look any more or less silly than we did swinging and missing at wildly breaking pitches or scampering after Wiffle grounders that would stop dead in the grass. We were all ten years old out there.

We didn’t keep score. We’d each bat until we got either three strikes or popped out. We just kept going around, trading off who did what, until Daniel’s grandmother called for him to come in. An hour had flown by in that sandlot, and it was time for us to head home, too. After all, it was almost time for the first pitch of that night’s Yankee game.

And you know what? When the Yankees win, I still jump up and down and cheer like a ten year old.

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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