Suburban park districts take swing at Wiffle ball
After five seasons operating a regulation-size Wiffle ball field on a patch of land in Batavia, Andrew Martinez is swinging for the fences.
The Batavia High School graduate is taking his Wifflot concept and youth leagues to suburban park districts to give kids another option for outdoor fun and adults a chance to revisit their youth.
Martinez has erected a Wifflot Wiffle ball field in West Chicago, has an agreement to host leagues at a special field in Roselle and hopes to have fields and leagues with the Addison and Romeoville park districts in 2016.
The original Wifflot, carved out of a residential lot off Hart Road in Batavia, operated for five years, but space constraints and a lack of parking prompted Martinez to broaden his horizons.
"The park district has the tools to help us succeed," said Martinez, Wifflot president. "You can't get hurt playing Wiffle ball. You don't need that much space."
West Chicago Park District officials gave the thumbs-up shortly after Martinez pitched it to them last October.
"It was different and unique," said Joe Urban, West Chicago Park District recreation supervisor. "It didn't take too much space. Andrew was very optimistic about getting youth involved. It's more recreational, less pressure."
The West Chicago Wifflot is at Cornerstone Lakes Park, 2199 Smith Road and was made to conform to official Wiffle ball regulations, such as 45 feet between each base and 75 feet down the left- and right-field lines.
The only downside is park district regulations prevent advertising banners from being put up on the outfield walls; the outfield advertising was a feature that made the original Batavia Wifflot resemble a throwback, minor-league baseball field.
Martinez has organized two-month leagues for kids 8 to 10 and will continue leagues through the fall.
Wiffle ball teams can be a handful of players, as opposed to nine players on each side for full-on baseball. Games can take less than an hour and all players get their swings at the plate, said Jesse Felix, West Chicago Park District superintendent of parks,
"You don't have to be a star," Felix said. "It's a lot of fun and everyone can participate."
Any way to get kids out to play is worthwhile, added Dannielle Wilson, West Chicago superintendent of recreation. "It's a great learning environment. It's more intimate."
Brad Speranza, a fellow Batavia High School grad who helped Martinez build the West Chicago field, said Wiffle ball is accessible to people both young and old.
"It's really easy to pick up and play," he said. "I played as a young kid. Any location, you can turn into a mini diamond and play."
Mose Rickey, superintendent of recreation at the Roselle Park District, said the staff was impressed and excited about Martinez and Speranza's plan to have Wiffle ball leagues.
"Their excitement for what they do is quite infectious," Rickey said. "There's been a big push in our industry for retro-type recreational activities (like dodgeball). Many people enjoy the memories they bring."
There's no Wifflot field in Roselle; the leagues would simply use Miracle Field, a mini-field for children and adults with disabilities at Parkside Park, 401 E. Maple Ave. that opened about 10 years ago with help from the Chicago White Sox.
However, Rickey said, not enough teams signed up for summer leagues, so the district will try again and advertise in its fall brochure. The district also plans to host some summer Wiffle ball tournaments at Miracle Field to spark interest.
Martinez also has had discussions with the Addison Park District, but nothing formal has been decided, said Adam Vasquez, the district's athletic and rentals supervisor.
Martinez and Speranza also are working to introduce or re-introduce kids and grown-ups to their passion and will hold Wiffle ball clinics at each Kane County Cougars Sunday home game this season.
Shawn Touney, spokesman for the Cougars, said the duo will mesh with the team's entertainment lineup.
"It's a fun, interactive addition to what is always a great lineup. Us being a baseball organization, there's a perfect fit right there with the Wiffle ball component," Touney said. "It's something we're looking foward to. It's a local organization, so supporting them is great."
For more information, visit thewifflot.com.