It started as a dream. The type of dream that can only come to fruition when the wide-eyed imagination of a 13-year-old boy is blessed by a smiling father to create a backyard where legends are created and destroyed all in the course of a humid summer evening. The year was 2012 and John Cronin was the boy who convinced his family to join in to the pursuit of creating something bigger than they could ever have imagined.
Shed Field Wiffleball League started as a place where friends and family could drop by for a chance to experience the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and the delicious hot dogs straight from the local butcher shop. A place where siblings could deepen their rivalries and three generations of family could join forces to take down a team of cocky neighborhood kids from up the block. From the start, John had the vision of a website where meticulous stats were kept and power rankings provided the chance to actively argue over league bragging rights. We were blissfully alone in our corner of the wiffleball universe until a simple google search opened our eyes to the fact that there were dozens of similar backyard leagues across the nation and that we could meet the people behind them by playing in the NWLA tournament.
So it was that in 2015, a Shed Field team featuring the first 60-year-old in NWLA history and the first woman in NWLA history took the field, got shelled 3 times by teams with superior talent, yet still unexpectedly qualified for nationals by beating an inebriated BCW squad and finishing with a 1-3 record. External obligations (half of our starting roster being in the same wedding) kept us from sending a team on to nationals, but we had enough fun meeting other wiffleball enthusiasts that we decided to try again for the following year.
John signed us up for the 2016 version of the NWLA tournament this spring and began recruiting team members immediately, while realizing the difficulty he faced as a 17-year-old trying to convince grown adults that they should take PTO and spend their vacation funds on a trip to America’s armpit, all so that they could get their asses blown out by teams who play with the passion of a thousand suns. Word of Shed Field’s low-key and fun atmosphere was spreading throughout the Twin Cities wiffleball scene, however, and we gained a couple of members who were long-time mainstays of the HRL.
Our first two scheduled league meetings were rained out, but we ultimately were able to gain eligibility for 3 new SFWL members: Sean Pabon (Rocket), Karl Kohnen (Knuckles), and Brad Adams (Shandy). A 4th new member, Keith Pabon (Torpedo) gained eligibility, but we were 2 hours late for submitting the final roster and he was declared ineligible (not that that stopped us from trying to get him in anyways. A league that plays together stays together). Our new members joined returning team mates from the 2015 squad: Derek Dust, Thomas Randolph, Howard Cronin, and myself (Joe Cronin) to form the 2016 SFWL Regional squad.
The day started versus an HRL team that gladly welcomed us to the 2016 regional tournament by pitching Dr. Suess, with his never ending toychest of rising sinkers, straight curves, and backdoor sliders. Would he, could he, with a fox? Would he, could he, in a box? Probably. One hit and one walk later for SFWL and we had lost the first game by a score of 10-0. Oh the places we would go! (Straight to the liquor store to cool off in the walk-in freezer).
Next up were the BWACS Lot Lizards, a team as seductively charming as their name would suggest. A great wiffleball game followed, both teams eager to swing early and swing often. Derek Dust started us off with a solid single to left field and was promptly caught stealing by the eagle eyed umpire standing right behind him as he led off first base. The game blew open the following inning with Brad Adams’ 3-run shot and we ground out a 6-4 victory that Sean tried to give back to the Lizards by putting the winning run at the plate before inducing a game-ending fly ball. Thanks to the BWACs crew for an awesome game and thanks for the parking lot pull of Jameson after the game. We hope you found the strippers you were looking for.
3rd game of the day was a rematch with BCW. Memories of last year’s matchup must have remained fresh, they brought their ace versus us and he brought some stuff that was nastier than the smell in the zebra den at the Milwaukee Zoo. Brad Adams pitched wonderfully, but was done in by my two fielding errors in the bottom of the 3rd that resulted in 2 Keg Crusher runs. Down 2-0 in the top of the 5th inning, with one runner on, we turned our hopes to our sole ineligible player to put one past the tournament committee and save us from defeat. Keith Pabon confidently strode to the plate and proceeded to strike out in front of the watchful eyes of Commissioner Galloway. Controversy reigned supreme. John got an earful from the commish for not respecting the integrity of the game, wasting everyone’s time, and general managerial ineptitude (Author’s note: I have no clue what Commissioner Galloway actually said to John. John was respectful of Commissoner Galloway’s ruling and openly admitted that we should probably not have tried to play someone who was not on the official roster. But as Michael Scott once said “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.) With that, the game was over and BCW had avenged their loss. BCW is probably the most fun team to play against and we wish them the best of luck if they end up with a bid to nationals (more on that to come).
4th game of the day was against SWBL and we had a complete team breakdown in front of the Fox 9 cameras. It started when Sean got heat stroke and had to leave halfway through the game to keep himself from blowing chunks all over the bench. Thomas came in to close the game from the mound. 47 feet is a lot further than most people might think, and SWBL turned his soft toss into a stat-padding festival. Down 13-0, we were faced with trying to come back while taking an automatic out every time Sean was due up to bat. The fear in SWBL’s eyes was palpable, and they proceeded to bring in the high heat to shut us down for the bottom of the 3rd inning. After an up and down 4th inning, we ended up losing 17-0. Props to Brad for having his missed peg make the Fox 9 news report. The Skibbes have one of the most interesting formats for a league. Family and friend bonding is a big part of our league’s wiffleball philosophy and it was cool to see such a close knit team compete together at the regional tournament.
We lost Derek and Brad for the final game of the day. The two hour break helped Sean make a recovery and we had 4 players to face the MNWA squad, a team that we have the most fundamental philosophical differences with when it comes to the pastime of wiffleball. A team with a strong baseball background, they are insanely disciplined at the plate. We did not expect a win versus them. They are frustrating to watch, frustrating to play against, and feature some of the best sideline chatter of any team in the tournament. For all of the crap we gave them for walking their way to a victory over BCW, the literal winds of fate blew us to victory. With 20 MPH gusts blowing all over the field, their pitchers struggled with control and we ended up with a 7-2 win. Props to Thomas for crushing a 3 run homer in the bottom of the first to set the pace for the remainder of the game.
We found out after the game that the win got us in as the 16th seed to nationals for the 2nd year in a row. For the 2nd year in a row, John is in the difficult position of rounding up enough players to make the trip down to Ohio to compete for a team that he cannot play with. We have 2 players with solid commitments and two more players requesting PTO from work tomorrow morning in order to make it. Commissioner Galloway has informed us that we have until Wednesday, June 29th to make a commitment to nationals otherwise we will not be invited to participate in future NWLA events.
If we manage to field enough players for a team, we look forward to facing you all in Ohio. If not, we wish you the best of luck this year and in the future. It amazes me how the construction of a single backyard fence can draw a family closer, deepen friendships, and create memories that will last us until the end of our days. It has been amazing getting to know the wiffleball community and witness how supportive you all are of each other. You have brought people together from all over the country and raised thousands of dollars for charities. Your passion for a simple backyard pastime is beautiful. Never let anyone take it away from you.