By Joe Wiercinski
Herald Staff Writer
Wiffle Ball is still a game for kids, but the players at a whimsical tournament Aug. 17 in Sharon were dads and moms, many of them with kids of their own.
Hadley Avenue neighbors Brian Pollock and Rhett Schenker organized the North Sharon Annual Wiffle Ball Tournament. They unabashedly admit they are tapping their memories of playing baseball and Wiffle Ball on local playgrounds and in the street.
They hope their tournament kindles the same love in their young children.
That includes helping them imagine the players are competing on a professional field while fans check the scoreboard and keep an eye on the action from home plate, down the foul lines and all the way to the outfield fence.
The authentic-as-they-could-make-it tournament featured an opening ceremony on the tiny field with fans and players standing at attention for the (recorded) playing of the Star Spangled Banner and the first pitch thrown by Mike Calla, acting superintendent of Sharon schools.
Home-run distance measured 142 feet in dead center and a little closer than that at the foul poles. Oh, and the real kids ran pierogi races between games among 10 teams that started at 10 a.m. and ended with the championship ceremony at dark.
One day soon, the under-13 crew will be big enough to play with their competitive parents. For now, the adults say, they’ve tried their best to make their kids think of the exciting atmosphere of PNC Park or Progressive Field when the games are played in Judy Fustos’s long, narrow backyard.
“Our wives thought we were crazy before we held the first tournament last year,” Schenker said, explaining that he helped to give substance to the idea that flashed into Pollock’s mind one day when the maintenance worker for Sharon City School District was cutting grass.
“We both remembered how much fun it was to play as kids,” Pollock said. “We want our kids to feel that way, too.”
Before long, Julie Pollock and Michelle Schenker, assisted by Julie’s sister-in-law Jamie Coates, got on board by making the costumes for their version of the Pittsburgh Pierogis: Jalapeno Hanna, Sauerkraut Saul, Cheese Chester and Oliver Onion.
Pollock and Schenker invited other parents – their friends from Sharon, Farrell, Sharpsville and Hermitage – who didn’t understand until they arrived to play just how determined Schenker and Pollock were to make the yard look like a ballfield.
Depending on how old they are, spectators might have thought of Little Rascals or Little League when they looked at the scoreboard fashioned from half of a ping pong table.
The regulation home plate sat at the top of a skinny scalene triangle with limed foul lines marking the boundaries. Hurlers used the regulation pitcher’s rubber and hoped batters wouldn’t knock the ball over the orange plastic snow fence that stretched about 60 feet at the base of the triangle from right field to left field.
Sponsors’ banners – Our Gang’s Lounge, Allstate Insurance and T-Shirts Express – added another note of authenticity.
The miniature field wedged between houses looked just the right size for teams of three players with locally sourced T-shirts identifying them, major league-style. Sort of.
Two Jerks and a Squirt had Jill Andes playing with Shawn Bresnahan and Mike Burry. All are from Sharps-ville.
One of the Sharon teams, Reverse Oreo, was named by David Wilson, the black guy sandwiched between teammates Charlie Chavara and Adam Giglio.
Teams paid a $30 fee to help pay for trophies and prizes for the second- and third-place finishers. Each team brought a side dish, and the Pollocks and Schenkers bought hotdogs and bottled water for everybody.
Team names might be goofy or fanciful – Pitch Slaps, Wiff On This, One Step Away From the Nursing Home and Half Corked – but players’ effort was all out.
“We all really want to win,” Schenker said. “We have people diving head first into the flowers to catch the balls.”
Fustos, newly retired from Sharon schools, said she didn’t mind if the action tore up the turf here and there in her Fisher Hill Street yard.
“What can you hurt with a Wiffle ball?” she said.
As in the major leagues, there was some trash talking when the opportunity arose, as one did in the opening game when Chris Kucik, pitching for Allstate Insurance, lobbed pitches underhand, apparently hoping for better control of the ball.
“Underhand? Pollock jeered in mock disbelief. “You’re going underhand on us?”
And there was some inevitable boyish sass.
Dressed as Sauerkraut Saul, Ben Pollock didn’t want to retrieve a ball that had been hit out of bounds.
“I am a pierogi,” the indignant 8-year-old declared to his father. “Pierogis don’t chase foul balls.”
Silly though it might seem to some, the tournament sparked interest and led to phone calls to the organizers with requests by other players to get in on the fun.
“It worked out to be such a good thing for everybody involved,” Schenker said. “It’s all about having family fun. We talked about adding teams but we would have to take it somewhere else if we wanted it to get bigger. Wiffle Ball is supposed to be played in backyards, so we’re keeping it right here.”