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Wiffleball is not for sissies


As every clear-thinking American knows, wiffleball remains our greatest backyard game, better than badminton or horseshoes or any other sissy sport where you don't even bleed.

Wiffleball is for anyone willing to shrug off a full-speed collision with the tool shed and six months of subsequent blackouts just to snare a grounder up the middle.

Look, if you're one of these crybabies who runs into a hammock tracking a fly ball and gets yoked off his feet and then whines about spending three weeks in a neck brace, sorry, perhaps croquet is more your speed.

But if you're not afraid of being wheeled into an operating room occasionally -- and let's face it, that's what they have anesthesia for -- maybe you have what it takes to play this game.

Really, if you think about it, no other backyard game demands such a range of athleticism and dark, suicidal urges.

Shuffleboard? Please. My eyes are starting to close. Frisbee? They should have buried that sport during the Age of Aquarius. Lawn darts? That's it, I'm officially asleep.

The beauty of wiffleball is that it's a sport the whole family can enjoy -- or it can lead to endless bickering and bruised feelings, as is more commonly the case.

Certainly, a sullen pall seemed to hang in the air during our first family wiffleball game of the season.

The day dawned sunny and cool, perfect for that harrowing ride to the hospital should someone snap an ankle in one of the many holes the dog had dug.

In the interest of saving time, I quickly chose up sides. The key here, of course, is to stack the teams in your favor.

What you try to do is get a lot of young, athletic people on your team.

Ex-college ballplayers, Green Berets, women helicopter pilots, varsity softball champions, combat nurses -- these are the folks you want in your lineup.

On the other team you stick all the pencil-necked computer geeks, pasty-faced math teachers, guys who throw like girls, asthmatics, drunks, people with heart conditions, the wheelchair bound, narcoleptics, pregnant women, even babies.

Then you ask in a loud voice: "OK, are these fair teams?"

Before anyone has a chance to respond, you run up to home plate, grab a bat and shout: "All right, we're up first!"

Once again, this strategy worked to perfection, as the teams ended up being me, my 10-year-old son and our 14-year-old neighbor against my wife, our 7-year-old daughter and 23-month-old son.

Naturally, my wife started whining that the teams "weren't fair," even when we pointed out the obvious advantages of having a toddler on your team.

I mean, the kid has a strike zone of what, six inches? How do you pitch to someone like that? If the kid had any brains, he'd keep the bat on his shoulder and draw a walk every time.

But this kid . . . I don't know, you can't talk to him. Instead of crouching down like Ricky Henderson and making it impossible to pitch to him, he's swinging from his heels on every pitch.

I felt kind of sorry for him -- but not sorry enough to ease up on him during his first at-bat. So I fed him three fastballs -- WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! -- and he struck out swinging. Didn't take it real well, either. Started acting like a 2-year-old, if you want to know the truth.

Things did not improve a great deal when my daughter came up to bat next.

"Remember, she's only 7!" my wife shouted.

"She's got a bat in her hands, doesn't she?!" I snarled.

I mean, what was I supposed to do here? Let her take me deep just 'cause she's 7? How's that going to sound when word gets around the neighborhood that little kids are rocking me for extra bases?

So I started her off with two fastballs -- WHAM! WHAM! -- that

(with all due modesty) were nothing but a blur. Then I threw her a curve that broke somewhere out by the tire swing.

She waved at it feebly for strike three and walked dejectedly away.

"Now she's all upset!" my wife said.

Look, my thinking here is this: She's young, she'll get over it. Fifteen years from now, I don't see her sitting on a Scandinavian leather chair in some analyst's office, sobbing into a Kleenex that her life is all screwed up because daddy once K'd her on an 0-2 fastball.

Anyway, along about the third inning, trailing 28-3, the other team walked off the field -- just like they do every year.

Then my wife, who's the biggest crybaby of them all, accused me of running up the score and not playing fair and blah, blah, blah.

It's a wonderful game, wiffleball.

Although certain people take it a bit too seriously for my taste.

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