Priessman wants still more. He hopes to add fields and to turn the existing cones into replicas of several of baseball's greatest venues. Soon Cincinnatians should be able to knock a Wiffle ball over a Green Monster, wander a centerfield like the one in Yankee Stadium, climb ivy-covered walls inspired by those of Wrigley Field and keep track of games on a giant scoreboard like the one at the Reds' old Crosley Field. Priessman's crowning achievement will be the North American Wiffle Ball Championships at Triple Creek Park, to be held Sept. 8-10. "I've had calls from people from Boston to San Diego," Priessman says. "You know what they say: If you build it, they will come."
Indeed, the Cincinnati complex has attracted an eclectic group. Competitors' ages range from 10 to 70, with a few father-and-son combos and one three-generation team. Some teams scout with video cameras, tape recorders and computer printouts, while others take clipboards onto the field, maintaining stats. Chatter is plentiful, as are diving plays, hightop spikes and flashy sunglasses. But the competition is friendly. During the 1995 lidlifter, which drew 23 teams, the loudest protests were heard shortly after the tournament began at 9 a.m. It seems a home run ball knocked over several steins of breakfast belonging to the Beer Bellies. "That's an out, man," hollered a player with an expansive midriff. "Hey, Commissioner Kevin, tell 'em. Beer fouls are an automatic out, man." The Bellies claimed the day's only injury: a groin pull attributed to an improper cooler lift.
On the field next to the Bellies were three players with DUMB, DUMBER and DUMBEST printed on their respective uniforms. The Big Benders were on field number 1, shutting out a team named after the '70s TV show James at 15. The team features a prosecuting attorney and a defense lawyer who share a bat decorated with Suzanne Somers stickers. The image of the actress receives a smooch after each homer.
Games are as freewheeling as the players. A 1-0 duel last year required 23 innings and two days to complete. Other games break the 60-run barrier. The losing pitcher in one game stumbles off the field and proclaims that his ERA is now closer to his bowling average. A teammate quickly replies, "Hey, dude, you're not that good a bowler." A short time later the same pitcher throws a three-hitter.
A Wiffle pitcher can work all day (some hurlers make close to 1,000 throws in this tournament), and he is identifiable after the tournament by the way he carries his pitching arm in his other hand. Balls move toward the plate as if jerked by strings, breaking, hovering, whipping by. And while every pitcher has a slightly different style, many of the styles are variations on a theme. The no-look approach of the legendary Luis Tiant is popular, as is the sidearm delivery of former reliever Kent Tekulve. Jeff Marshall and his U-turn curve pay homage to Chicago White Sox reliever Rob Dibble.
Today, however, Marshall is slightly off his game and his team finishes third, knocked out by a team formed during breakfast. In the semifinals, Marshall fouls off a pitch that travels 30 feet and into the next field. It is quickly retrieved and tossed back into play. Someone mentions that in the old days that ball would have landed in the cranky neighbor's yard or knocked over an office fern and ended the game. Marshall nods, then steps back into the batter's box with a smile that straightens his mustache.
"I love this place," he says.