Palatine teen creates backyard Wrigley Field for ultimate Wiffle experience
While Major League Baseball stumbles toward opening day for a truncated 60-game season, America's pastime is thriving in a replica Wrigley Field that a Palatine teenager built in the backyard of his family's house.
D.J. Dick has created an ultimate Wiffle ball experience that includes a scoreboard, flags, ivy-covered wall and outfield basket similar to what's at the Friendly Confines. The Wiffle park regularly draws neighbors to watch the boys in 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 action from the home's upper-level deck or outside the fence.
"I just looked at pictures, did what I could and made it happen," said D.J., 16, an incoming junior who plays baseball, basketball and golf at Palatine High School. "Because I've been a Cubs fan all my life and everyone's dream is to play at Wrigley, I was like, 'Why can't I build it in my own backyard?' So that's what I did."
Danny Hopper, 15, who also will be a Palatine High junior, has known D.J. since they met several years ago while playing travel baseball. He's impressed with how his friend created the Wiffle paradise.
"It's so cool," Danny said. "It's crazy (having gone) to Wrigley and coming here and how similar it is. Win or lose, you're always having fun playing."
D.J.'s vision to elevate his yard started small about two years ago, when he installed PVC pipes as left- and right-field foul poles. He also built a screen behind home plate in an effort to prevent foul balls from landing in a neighbor's yard.
A bare-bones scoreboard debuted in 2019. Major upgrades began when D.J. wound up with more time on his hands in mid-March after in-person school ended due to the state's COVID-19 stay-at-home order.
Accompanied by his father, David, who is athletic director at Fremd High School in Palatine, D.J. purchased materials at a home-improvement store for what became a new Wrigley Field-model scoreboard a few weeks ago, complete with an American flag at the top. He also replaced the PVC pipes with two yellow flagpoles.
Other touches include real bases, a pitching rubber, an on-deck circle with a Cubs logo, lights for night games, short grass and neatly chalked foul lines. The distance from home plate to a "short porch" at the right-field pole is 65 feet, and 93 feet in the corner, 90 feet to center and 95 feet to left.
"It's actually pretty hard to hit a home run," he said. "We pitch an official Wiffle ball, so they move a lot -- a lot of spin. You've got to really get good contact on to get it out."
Wiffle balls are plastic and perforated, allowing for pitches such as the riser to make it difficult for hitters using a thin yellow bat. Connecticut-based Wiffle Ball Inc. started in 1953.
Some of the older neighbors get on the field to play as well. Among them is Dan Weber, who complimented D.J.'s attention to detail.
"I love the ivy in the outfield," said Weber, 60. "This year, he's taken it to a new level."
D.J.'s mother, Jen, and his father said they are pleased with what their son has created and support his ideas, provided they remain within reason.
They also said it's been a good way for him to combine his athletic abilities and his artistic skills. The latter recently were on display at Palatine High after D.J. was asked to draw the school's pirate logo in a grassy area on campus when graduating seniors were honored.
"As a parent, there's a lot worse things that a kid could be asking his parents to buy as a 16-year-old," Jen Dick said.