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Article updated: 5/24/2013 5:35 AM

Batavia entrepreneurs take 'Wifflot' to next level

By Harry Hitzeman

It has all the elements: The requisite graded mound, 40 feet from home plate; bases 45 feet apart. It's 75 feet down both lines, and the outfield fence is adorned with scoreboards and enough local advertising to do any ballpark proud. Music. A public address system. And of course, an American flag.

Attendance last year shot up to an all-time best of 721. And this summer, it's hosting more leagues and games than ever.

This local Field of Dreams is the brainchild of Batavia High School students Andy Martinez and Ryan Pawlowski. They call it "The Wifflot."

"I love it. I'll be honest," Pawlowski said. "Looking out my bedroom window every day and seeing this masterpiece, it's a great feeling."

The pair put up the original Wifflot three summers ago, a bare-bones effort on a lot at 2S833 Hart Road owned by Pawlowski's parents. The outfield "wall" was a plastic, orange mesh fence.

But as their entrepreneurial spirit rose to the surface, the 18-year-olds rounded up more advertising than ever and were able to sink $1,500 into their park, which has impressed young and old.

"When they first started off, it was something simple. No big deal. It's just gotten bigger and bigger," said Debbie Pawlowski, Ryan's mom. "I'm proud of them. They've done a good job. They've worked really hard."

As you'd expect of Wifflot owners, the teens wear numerous hats: Martinez handles the business side and Pawlowski does the graphic design work for advertising banners.

"We mesh well," Pawlowski said. "We're using our talents and getting real life experience."

They rarely play on the same team, often because one of them is handling the public address system or queuing up music for each batter during games.

Along with Brad Speranza, a Batavia High senior, they've put in the sweat equity to build signs, seating decks and scoreboards; Lucy Hilliard, a Batavia junior, acts as the agent, ensuring players sign waiver forms. She also sells tickets for each game that start at $1 apiece and top out at $25 for the season.

To join a league, it's $80 for a four-person team and a 30-game season. There are leagues for all ages, and coed leagues. Fifty-six people have signed up so far.

Advertisers have gotten on board, too. Steve Warrenfeltz, owner of Batavia record store Kiss The Sky, put up an advertising banner this year and is trying to form a 50-and-over league.

"The kids are quite the entrepreneurs," he said. "I'm really impressed. These guys are inspiring, really. That's the reason we wanted to get involved."

Jeff Feller, national sales manager for Trillium Hardwood flooring, was the only advertiser at the field last year after hearing about the Wifflot from his two teenage sons.

"I said, 'Hey, why not (put up a banner)?' It sounds like a cool thing to do. We went out and played a father-son game on Father's Day," he said. "It was a blast. We had so much fun -- and the fathers crushed (the sons team)."

Feller said the Wiffle ball leagues give kids something active to do in the summer instead of, say, play video games.

"The community's gotten behind them," Feller said. "They're a great bunch of kids. They're really going to make it something this year."

Feller also has a banner up this year, and Martinez and Pawlowski filled the rest of the outfield fence, along with other billboards behind home plate and in left field. The roster of local shops reads like a Who's Who of Batavia businesses.

The duo began recruiting advertisers in January. They would dress up and approach a store manager with their plan.

The fact that advertising is free this year and attendance has been on the rise every year also helped.

Martinez said 721 people visited Wifflot last year, up from 151 in 2011 and far exceeding the 33 who turned out in the first year. They hope to top 1,200 spectators this year.

An open house is planned for 3 p.m. Monday, May 27, and the season starts June 3, which, not coincidentally, is the last day of school.

For more information, call (630) 632-1910 or (630) 940-8394, email wifflot@aol.com or visit thewifflot.com.

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