Putting a spotlight on the Indiana University program is aim of the folks from Talking Hoosier Baseball — a podcast devoted to the sport at IU — along with its associated website (iubase.com). In alphabetical order, the THB team features Josh Bennett, Chris Feeny, Carl James and Cassady Palmer with help of student interns. “We say we are a fan site and we have a specific niche that we’re fulfilling,” says James. “When we (started) there was hardly anything. I have to say we’re in a golden age of media at least from an IU student perspective. “You’ve got some really great coverage from the Indiana Daily Student. IUSTV does good stuff. WIUX is now broadcasting games.” Using the tagline “Meet Me At the Bart,” the crew can be found sitting near the home dugout on the third base side at Bart Kauffman Field. The next home games on the 2023 schedule are slated for March 24-26 vs. Ohio State. Tailgating tends to happen on Saturdays. During games, Bennett’s young kids hawk foul balls and homers and have been able to give the spheres back to the players who planted them. “There’s not a bad seat in the house,” says Bennett, who grew up in Monrovia, Ind., where he played baseball. His father — a Bedford, Ind., native — was an adjunct professor at Indiana and the family followed Hoosier sports. His first IU memory was attending games at Sembower Field in the late 1980’s. Mickey Morandini was his counselor at a youth baseball camp staged in John Mellencamp Pavilion when Bennett was 8 or 9. Sembower was replaced in the spring of 2013 by Bart Kauffman Field. “I actually went to Purdue but rooted for IU up there and got kicked out of some places from time to time,” says Bennett. “I love IU sports and baseball especially.” In talking about the origin of the website, he noted that coverage for basketball and football was abundant but not nearly so for the Hoosiers on the diamond. “These kids in baseball and the other Olympic sports are paying to play at this university and represent this school,” says Bennett. “They don’t get their just due as far as we were concerned. “We wanted to branch out and have some other avenues to get some information out there. “We wanted to give them some exposure.” Bennett designed the first version of the site and it has been tweaked by James with his tech background. Day jobs have Bennett as an electronics technician at NWSC Division Crane Navy Base southwest of Bloomington, Feeny as a behavioral health technician at Indiana Center for Recovery in Bloomington, James as a digital media specialist at IU’s Kelley School of Business and Palmer as an epidemiologist for the Missouri Health Department. Feeny spent his early years in Massapequa, N.Y., on Long Island and moved to Brooklyn in his 20’s and is a major New York Mets fan. His brother attended IU so Chris knew about Sembower Field and Bloomington and made it his home in 2014. “I bought season tickets (for IU baseball) and jumped in with two feet pretty early,” says Feeny. “I was used to going to 40 or 50 Met games a year. Those trips took an hour on the subway and going to see the Hoosiers was a snap. “Before I knew anything about it I was in,” says Feeny. “I met a lot of cool people.” Feeny started a Facebook group and Twitter handle early in 2017. The website was created late that year. It was at a tailgate party that the idea of starting a podcast emerged out of a conversation between Feeny, James and Brian Tonsoni. Tonsoni had the crew doing the podcast live the first year. “It was a lot more nerve-wracking,” says Feeny. “We don’t do that any more.” Feeny is the one who gives out weekly awards for hitting, pitching and defense in the form of red belts. “The first year we did this we saw all these belts breaking on the field so the goof was it would be a good prize to win a red belt,” says Feeny. Last year, Big Ten pick ‘ems minus Indiana’s games were added to the mix. There are three B1G series this weekend — Purdue at Michigan State, Penn State at Michigan and Illinois at Nebraska. Palmer was 32-11 as the best picker on the team in 2022. “It does not apply to Basketball Bracketology — ever,” says Palmer. “My brackets always bust every year.” Weekly episodes are now recorded as the baseball schedule and the availability of the THB team dictates. “We’ve been lucky enough to get some player interviews the last few years,” says Bennett. “We’ve also had Bart Kauffman on.” Former IU player Kauffman is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. A preview of upcoming series is a weekly podcast staple. When possible, there is live-blogging during games. Recaps are posted on the site. The team has allowed THB to connect and there are now post-game wrap-ups featuring head coach Jeff Mercer’s comments. “We are blessed with that access,” says Bennett. “They are generous with their time,” says Feeny. “They really are.” A recent postgame allowed 29 minutes with the coach. “You get Jeff Mercer talking about baseball and he’ll just keep going,” says James. “That’s been a positive.” Pro Ball Hoosiers is a Twitter page that tracks Indiana players in baseball, basketball and football. Through a suggestion from those people, interviews with Mercer or players are now posted as separate podcasts. Pro Ball Hoosiers, Jeremy Gray and THB collaborated on an IU baseball alumni draft early during COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Players from all eras were eligible. “I went back to 1884,” says James. “Sixty percent of my picks were before 1950.” Both of James’ parents are from Martinsville, Ind. His father was a catcher for the MHS Artesians and went into the U.S. Navy. Carl moved around as a “Navy brat” and the family ended up in Bloomington when his father retired from the service. James graduated from Bloomington North High School. “I was not an athlete,” says James. “I did play some baseball when I was really young. I’m a pretty small guy and was more of a theater person.” A retail career took him all over. When that ended he wound up back in Bloomington in 2013. “I was able to actually pay attention to sports again,” says James. “The first sporting event I went to was an IU baseball game. I pretty much got hooked.” He met up with the others on the THB team through social media. Along the way he got into Baseball Bracketology. His Facebook niche was speculating IU chances of making the NCAA Tournament. “You want to play teams that win games,” says James who compares D-I squads and their victories and losses. “Particularly NCAA’s Rating Percentage Index (RPI),” says James. “It’s a formula they cooked up specifically for basketball in the early ‘80s. It’s a simple formula. You take all the wins and losses of the team’s opponents (winning percentage) and that makes up 50 percent of it. You take the 25 percent of the opponents’ opponents and 25 percent is that team’s own winning percentage although there is an adjustor for that based on whether the game was played at home, away or neutral. “For baseball it’s like .7 for a home win and 1.3 points for a home win. It’s basically a bonus given to northern teams because they play more road games than southern teams do.” James says northern teams are punished by the fact they can’t consistently scrimmage outside in the winter months. “IU — now having a turf field and being far enough south to have decent weather — does pretty well,” says James. “They can actually schedule a couple of mid-week games in February. This year they’ve been able to play them.” At this writing, the Hoosiers at 11-0 in all 2023 games at Bart Kauffman Field. Both of Palmer’s parents are from Missouri. They moved to Bloomington at the time Indiana was winning an NCAA basketball national championship in 1987 and Cassady was born in Bloomington. Her father got a teaching degree and the family moved to Syracuse, Ind., and she graduated from Wawasee High School then attended IU. “I followed the (baseball) team quite a bit,” says Palmer. “I could watch practices from the top floor of Briscoe (Hall) when they were at Sembower. “Particularly in grad school I started really getting into data analysis,” says Palmer. “I started trying to apply some of the stuff I was learning a baseball data set. Except there aren’t really baseball data sets at the college level — not in the same way as basketball or football. “That means I need to make my own data set, which means I need to keep score. If I want percent of first-pitch strikes I have to know what all the first pitches are.” She began sharing her knowledge in Facebook groups and on Twitter and live-Tweeted at fall ball games and scrimmages. Palmer was quick to point out the sample size. She would give her findings then conclude with something like “we’re only five games in so take this with a big block of salt.” Palmer still tracks IU baseball data while residing in Missouri. “I do the in-game numbers,” says Palmer. “Carl does the across-games numbers.” The THB team has gone to season-opening series at Memphis (2019), Louisiana State (2020), Clemson (2022) and Auburn (2023). “All the Tigers,” says Palmer.
John Smolinski, who first wore a baseball uniform for Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, Ind., as a player in 2004 and was an Indians assistant coach for the past eight seasons is now Saint Joe’s head coach.
The last pitch that Brady Gumpf, now at Notre Dame, saw for Saint Joe was thumped for a home run against eventual state champion Andrean in the 2019 Griffith Regional championship game.
“I was fortunate to play for him and coach with him,” says Smolinski of Brady Gumpf’s father, John. “I got to understand his thoughts and how he thinks about the game.
“My goal is to make him proud and build upon the foundation he has started for Saint Joe.
“I’m very loyal to this school. I have big shoes to fill. It’s emotional. It’s high expectations. I’m embracing it.”
Smolinski’s senior year at Saint Joseph (2007) was Gumpf’s first as head coach. The Indians won Plymouth Sectional and one-game regional crowns and lost to future major league pitcher Jarrod Parker and eventual state champion Norwell in the Plymouth Semistate. Norwell finished the 2007 season at 35-0.
“We had a great team and a lot of seniors,” says Smolinski of Saint Joe. “There was a program chance when Coach Gumpf came in there.”
In Gumpf, Smolinski saw a competitor who respected the opposition and demanded the best out of his players and plans to emulate those qualities.
As interim coach, Smolinski led the Indians through Limited Contacted Period practice two days a week with about two dozen players.
“We did not have any positive COVID cases,” says Smolinski. “Our (practice) structure has changed. We take this very serious.”
Attendance was taken before each workout to make sure every student was able to participate. They were put into smaller groups — each player having a group number — and socially-distanced.
Coaches and players were always masked-up. He expects to have 13 seniors and 16 freshmen among 50 players for varsity, JV and freshman squads in the spring.
“It went really well,” says Smolinski. “Everybody bought into it.
“Not having the (spring) season hurt everyone (though most everyone played travel ball in the summer).
“We got after it. I got great feedback from the players. I was happy with the senior leadership. It was great to have some normalcy.”
At the end of the fall, Smolinski applied for the vacant head coaching position and went through the interview process.
Smolinski, who played four years at Manchester University for Rick Espeset before joining the Saint Joe coaching staff, was named head coach this week. Tom Washburn is expected be a varsity assistant and Dan Mentock the junior varsity head coach. There are other assistants, including a freshmen head coach, to hire.
“The last 24 hours have been kind of crazy,” says Smolinski, speaking on Nov. 4. “A lot of people have reached out to me.
“At Saint Joe, we’re a family. You can tell. People are willing to help out.”
Smolinski says players will likely get to help design an alternate jersey for the Indians. Recently, that look has featured black though the school colors are Columbia Blue and White. Coach Smo says Saint Joe will continuing to don a black cap.
Away from his coaching job, Smolinski is a self-employed social media manager that amplifies athletic accounts on Twitter including WhistleSports and FanSided.
“1932 was such a fascinating year,” says Wolf. “It was a pretty pivotal year in American history.”
On the diamond, there was Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest of the powerful Yankees, Philadephia Athletics slugger Jimmie Foxx belting 58 home runs and a tight pennant race in the National League.
The 1932 World Series was Ruth’s last. That year was also the final time he hit 40 or more home runs and or drove in 130 or more runs in a season.
The Babe had a rather un-Ruthian 1925 campaign, hitting .290 with 25 home runs and 67 runs batted in over 98 games.
“People were writing him off, saying he was past his prime,” says Wolf. “But he had a lot of gas left in the tank.”
From 1926 through 1932, Ruth hit .353 with 343 homers and drove in 1,070 runs. In 1927, his slash line was .356/60/165.
The Cubs ended up taking the NL flag even though manager Rogers Hornsby was fired after 99 games and replaced by Charlie Grimm. Hornsby was at the end of his playing days and had many legal problems, some related to his gambling habits.
“The Rajah,” who hit .358 from 1915-37 with three .400 seasons (.401 in 1922, .424 in 1924 and .403 in 1925), was known to be a prickly character.
“He did not get along well with other players, managers or management,” says Wolf of Hornsby, who was not voted a World Series share by the ’32 Cubs.
Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges was shot by his girlfriend/showgirl Violet Popovich at the Hotel Carlos on Sheffield Avenue near Wrigley and recovered in time to help Chicago down the stretch.
Wolf weaves these and other details together in “The Called Shot.”
“It was fascinating to research the ’32 season and challenging to put all the stories together for the book,” says Wolf. “I wanted to tie in the world outside of baseball since 1932 was such an important year in the nation’s history — again, the research was eye-opening for me, and I learned a lot.
“I suppose that’s true for everyone who writes non-fiction — the research exposes us to facts and characters and perceptions about events that we only vaguely knew — in my case, for example, the history of the Bonus Army.”
Wolf enjoyed studying what it was like for ballplayers in the 1930’s. They spent many hours on trains, playing cards and talking baseball. Old players mentored new ones.
In that era, there were eight teams in each league with St. Louis being the farthest point west or south. Likely for monetary reasons, road trips would take weeks. For instance, the Cubs might play games in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Brooklyn, Boston and Cincinnati before coming back to Chicago.
As the Yankees travel from New York to Chicago during the World Series, they made a stop in Elkhart, Ind., to change engines.
“Fifty youngsters charged onto the train and searched for ballplayers,” wrote Wolf in “The Called Shot.” “They found Babe Ruth and mobbed him. Ruth and other players signed autographs for their young fans, and then the youths were shooed from the train.”
The routine and relationships between the press and the ballplayers were different in those days.
Wolf notes that today’s athletes will talk to reporters after a game and then tend to their social media accounts — Instagram, Twitter etc.
“Every player is his own brand,” says Wolf. “They’re in their own world with their own followers.”
Wolf says he first began taking notes for what would become “The Called Shot” around 2000, began the writing process around 2013.
He began talking to literary agent Stacey Glick in 2007, began working on a book proposal after that and got contract with the University of Nebraska Press around 2013. He turned the manuscript over to UNP early in 2019 then did the bibliography and end notes.
“It was about a six-year process,” says Wolf.
The book came out during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was not easy with book stores being closed, book festivals being canceled and newspapers doing less reviews on baseball books.
Born in Bloomington, Ind., in 1947, Thomas Wolf is the son of Irvin and Jeanette “Jan” Wolf, who met at Indiana University. Irvin was born and raised in Wabash, Ind., attended Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., and then got a doctorate in psychology at IU.
Irvin Wolf was a college professor. He was at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill when Thomas was 1 to 7. From second grade through high school, his father taught at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.
Irvin’s brother, Jack, attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and lived most of his life after college in New York City.
Eugene “Gene” Wolf, grandfather of Thomas and father to Irvin and Jack, moved to Wabash from Germany and was a partner in the Beitman & Wolf department store and married to Rachel Simon Wolf. The Cubs began broadcasting their games on the radio and Gene Wolf became a big fan. He would travel to see games in Chicago.
The ’32 Series was aired by the Mutual Broadcasting System, CBS and NBC.
Thomas Wolf has a bachelor’s degree from Knox College Galesburg, Ill., and a master’s in Fiction Writing from the University of Iowa.
Wolf taught at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, UNC Chapel Hill and Santa Clara (Calif.) University and was a testing specialist and writing consultant before focusing on writing projects.
Patricia Bryan, Wolf’s wife, is a professor at the UNC School of Law and has been teaching at the university since 1982. She was a visiting professor at her alma mater — the University of Iowa — when she and her husband toured the prison grounds at Anamosa.
Wolf has produced several articles (many in conjunction with Bryan), including “The Warden Takes a Murderer to the World Series: A Tale of Depression-era Compassion,” “On the Brink: Babe Ruth in Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day,” “The Golden Era of Prison Baseball and the Revenge of Casey Coburn” and “Jack Kerouac and Fantasy Baseball.”
There are plans to write another true crime book set in Iowa.
Thomas Wolf and Patricia Bryan have three sons — John and twins David and Mike. John Wolf (29) is a dog trainer living in North Carolina. David Wolf (27) works in the public relations department for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mike Wolf (27) is an assistant men’s basketball coach at Purdue-Fort Wayne.
Migley Field was started with some scrap fencing in 2006 and elements have been added over the years, including Wrigley-like scoreboard and marquee.
Before each home game, they play recordings of retired Wrigley Field organist Gary Pressy and the voice of radio play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes welcomes everyone. Regular-season home games start at 1:20 p.m. as do the Hometown Cup semifinals.
The Hometown Cup draws 70 to 80 teams most years. Twenty fields are used during Saturday pool play — some at the Little League park and some at New Prairie High School.
The Top 48 return Sunday for single-elimination play with the semifinals and championship on Migley Field. Dimensions roughly emulate those in Chicago. It’s 95 feet down the left field line, 98 in the power alleys, 100 to center and 93 down the right field line.
This year, all-time home run leader Scott Soos of the Newts belted his 400th circuit clout. The league has been keeping stats since about 2010.
While Hometown Days is canceled for 2020, the Hometown Cup aka The Wiffle® Ball Championship will go on July 24-26. The home run derby is July 24, pool play July 25 and the Top 48 in single-elimination plus the semifinals and finals July 26. The last two rounds are at Migley Field.
Past finals have drawn hundreds of spectators. BroadcastSport.net is again planning to stream the semifinals and finals on the internet.
ORWBL is one of the few Wiffle® Ball leagues around that has home fields for all its teams — Palace of Bourissa Hills (301 St. Meridian St., New Carlisle) for the Wildcards, The Garage (7564 E. 400 N., Rolling Prairie) for the Kings, The Barnyard (9352 S 150 W., Union Mills) for the Cyclones, Magic Park (Kesling Park, A Street, LaPorte) for the Magic, various locations for the Heat, The Spin Factory (3810 Lincolnway East, Mishawaka) for the Meatspins, The Goat House (53105 Ironwood Rd., South Bend) for the Billy Goats, Manor Field (2332 Kenilworth Dr., Elkhart) for BFAM, Cam Snead Field (51972 Gentian Lane, Mishawaka) for the Panthers, The Hideout (410 French St., Niles, Mich.) for the Godfathers, Rocko’s Park (29481 Lynn St., New Carlisle) for the Leprechauns, Migley Field (500 S. Bray St., New Carlisle) for the Newts, The Land Down Under (110 S. Harris St., New Carlisle) for Emery’s Army and Helmet Head Field (10109 S. 600 W., Union Mills) for the Goon Squad.
Week 4 (June 3) players of the week were Eric Wodrich (Meatspinners) in the American League and Nate Hansen (Leprechauns) in the National League. Wodrich went 15-of-22 (.682 average) with six homers, 12 RBIs and 11 runs. Hansen was 10-of-17 (.588) with eight homers, eight RBIs at the plate and went 2-1 in 19 innings pitched with a 7.68 earned run average.
The ORWBL plays tripleheaders on Sundays for a 24-game regular season. Playoffs run through August. Games are six innings and last 45 minutes to an hour each. The league plays with a pitcher, catcher and three fielders.
The pitching rubber is between 30 and 40 feet from home plate. There will be no called strikes, balls or walks. Batters can strike out swinging. Foul tips caught by the catcher with two strikes will also be a strikeout. The pitcher’s hand rule applies for outs. There is no bunting allowed in slow-pitch Wiffle® Ball.
It’s always been pitch-to-hit league. Every pitch has to have some sort of arc.
“It was built as a fun league — giving the batter a pitch to hit,” says Magic manager and ORWBL commissioner Alex Friedman. “You get action all the time. Balls are being batted into the field of play. Defense has to be played.
“People enjoy watching our style.”
Maple City is the defending three-time league champion. Friedman took over ORWBL commish duties from Keck.
Friedman says one of the reasons the league uses three outfielders is that Bourissa Hills — home of the former league champion Pterodactyls — is so wide and there’s so much outfield ground to cover.
Covering the world of ORBWL is the Don’t Get Wifflenated podcast. WiffleTalk.com follows all things slow-pitch Wiffle® Ball.
There’s even a ORWBL Hall of Fame.
The Dirtyard (1117 W. Epler Ave., Indianapolis) is known as one of the top Wiffle® Ball fields in the country.
Circle City will be hosting the National Wiffle® World Series there Sept. 18-20 (it moved from Morenci, Mich.).
The league typically plays Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. There is a one-day round robin tournament to get all eight teams to the field at one time and promote league camaraderie. That recent Sunday event went from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. There are lights at The Dirtyard.
To be a National Wiffle® member league, a website, statistics and video presence must be kept.
“It’s to prove you are a competitive Wiffle® Ball league,” says Circle City president/commissioner and Short Shorts player Brendan Dudas, oversees The Dirtyard in his parent’s backyard. “You have to be 18 to play for liability reasons.”
Most teams have there own Twitter accounts. Games are often streamed live. Podcasts keep Wiffle® wackos informed.
Dudas and has friends were middle schoolers fooling around in the back yard with a ball and bat in 2009. Four years later, Circle City Wiffle® Ball became a reality.
“It’s been slowly evolving ever since,” says Dudas, who played baseball at Perry Meridian High School and the University of Indianapolis and coached at Center Grove with former Perry coach John Carpenter.
“All the guys in the league are either former athletes,” says Dudas. “They like the competitive nature of sports in general.
“It’s low impact, a controlled environment and we still fulfill the competitive drive we all have. We enjoy being around each other and having fun.”
Circle City plays six-inning games. It’s 3-on-3 (pitcher and two fielders). There can be on a roster and all of them can bat. It’s 45 feet between bases, 47 1/2 feet between the rubber and the strike board.
“You have to have (quality) pitchers in fast pitch (Wiffle® Ball) or it becomes a walk fest,” says Dudas. “In the national tournament, it’s all about pitching. The recipe to win tournament is throw a shutout, make one big play and hit a home run. Scores are often 1-0 and 2-1.”
The Dirt Yard dimensions are 89 feet down the left field line, 97 to left-center, 95 to right-center, 102 to center and 85 down the right field line.
Dudas has observed that most leagues have fields between 75 to 100 down the lines and 85 to 110 to center.
“You get further than than and it gets hard to poke the ball out,” says Dudas.
When the 8 Balls joined the league in 2017, they brought snazzy uniforms with them and the league soon followed suit and now sublimated jerseys are a Circle City requirement.
“We encourage guys to run wild with it,” says Dudas, who cites Keck and the ORWBL as the inspiration for creating his league.
“It’s fun to do something competitive one you get out of high school” says Ratajczyk. “It satisfies everybody’s competitive desires in the summer.
“We had enough friends that wanted to do it consistently. We’ve embraced it as a weekend getaway where we get to see our friends.”
Traditionally a Sunday league, Griffleball went to four weekend tournaments (pool play Saturday and single-elimination Sunday) for the 2020 slate. Remaining dates are June 27-28, July 18-19, Aug. 1-2.
New players can pick the team of their choice. There is also a league waiver wire.
Every squad picks out new flashy uniforms each season.
“We usually sit down in January and February and brainstorm,” says Ratajczyk of Griffleball planning. “This year was the exception with coronavirus.”
While childhood 1-on-1 games between Ryan Galiher and Kyle Lidster can be cited as the genesis of Griffleball, the league’s modern origins date to 2010 when it played on a public basketball court and set up fencing around the grass — ask the Griffle Grounds in Highland.
The 2017 all-star game was played at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith and the league moved its games there for 2018 and 2019.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, a new field — The Warehouse, 5000 W. 45th Ave., Gary — was selected for 2020 action. Opening Day was June 6.
The first eight years of Griffleball, teams were kept intact year after year. The last two years, things were shaken up and there was a re-drafting of players.
Even with the moves, Griffleball has stuck with the same field dimensions — 60 feet down the foul lines, 85 to the gaps and 80 to center.
Griffleball games are five innings and last around an hour. There are four players per team though there is only a pitcher and two fielders at a time. Everyone in the lineup hits.
There is no catcher in fast-pitch Wiffle® Ball, but a strike board (which is 20 inches wide, 32 inches tall and 12 inches off the ground).
There are two outs per inning, five balls for a walk or two hit batsmen in the same at-bat.
Ratajczyk, who has played in all four National Wiffle® (formerly National Wiffle Ball League Association) leagues in Indiana, says fast pitch Wiffle Ball is all about the batter vs. pitcher duel and the scores of games often rely on the elements.
“If the wind is blowing, there will be no runs,” ays Ratajczyk. “If the wind is blowing out, there will be a ton of runs.”
The GBL has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Snap Chat.
LWA plays all its games at a six-field compound in an incorporated community near Crown Point on land owned by commissioner/president and Leroy Riot owner/manager Tim Wiltjer. The address is 4504 E. 145th Ave., Crown Point.
In 2020, the league includes 12 teams — Backdoor Sliders, Barn Stormers, Bushleague Badgers, Fabulous Flamingos, Lake County Liners, Leroy Riot, Marvelous Maniacs, Mighty Melon Heads, Noble Narwhals, Porter County Porkers, Squints Sluggers and Walking Tacos.
The Sluggers are the defending champions.
Ty Bothwell (a redshirt pitcher for Indiana University baseball in 2020) and Bo Hofstra (a junior pitcher at Purdue University) are on the Badgers.
There are seven players on each roster with four players competing in games. There are three players on defense — one pitcher and two fielders. The fourth player keeps stats or takes a break.
All four players have to pitch one inning, giving everyone a chance to bat, field and pitch. Regular-season games are five innings with two games a night. A team’s best pitcher goes two innings with one apiece for the other three.
Post-season games are six innings. Forty-eight players compete each Wednesday.
“It breaks up the week,” says Wiltjer of the preferred gameday.
A unique feature of LWA is that only the manager can stay with a team year after year while the rest of the rosters are shuffled.
“We start fresh,” says Wiltjer. “We don’t have a Golden State Warriors thing going on.
“As commissioner, I want to see our guys get along and get together. Teams from so many different cities with so many friend groups.”
The LWA is numbers-driven.
“I’m obsessed with stats,” says Wiltjer.
To keep things competitive, Wiltjer has devised a “salary cap” based on the batting and pitching numbers put up by players. All awards are stat-based. The highest salary is the MVP. Ironman awards go to those with the most at-bats or most innings pitched.
While the first official LWA season was 2014, Wiffle Ball was part of a Lawn Olympics on the property before that.
Leroy plays a hybrid style of Wiffle® Ball. Throwing fast pitch, pitchers can run up a count of up to five balls. After that, he moves closer to the batter and lobs it.
Once a 10-ball count is reached, the batter can elect to take a single or he can elect to keep hitting. At 15 balls, it becomes an automatic double, 20 an automative triple and 25 an automatic home run.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” says Wiltjer. “It gets runs all the time.”
Teams rotate among the six fields. Two fields are symmetrical with dimensions being 85 feet down the lines and 95 to center.
The four other wider fields give a flavor for Major League Baseball parks, including Boston’s Fenway Park (short porch in right and deeper in right center), Houston’s Minute Maid Park (deeper center, shallow left and right), Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
It’s 45 feet between bases with 48 feet between pitching rubber and strike board.
Batting lineup pitching lineup are the same and must be submitted 24 hours before the game.
The LWA normally begins the first or second week of May. There’s an 11-week regular season (22 games per team).
The 12th team does not make the playoffs. Teams seeded 7-10 go into a single-elimination “death bracket” with the winner earning the No. 8 in the Final Eight. Teams then play two-game series plus a one-inning sudden death game to break ties (if necessary). There can be extra innings.
Pitchers switch every inning during the playoffs.
“All four Indiana (National Wiffle®) leagues are very, very unique,” says Wiltjer. “That’s what makes it awesome.”
Going Corn is the podcast of the Leroy Wiffle® Association.
Indiana players are well-represented on the rolls of the Wiffy Awards presented by National Wiffle®.
Migley Field (ORWBL) was the National Field of the Year in 2019.
The New Carlisle Newts (ORWBL) had the Team Jersey of the Year in 2019.
Friedman (ORWBL) was National Commissioner of the Year in 2018 and National Manager of the Year in 2017.
Nick Arndt (ORWBL) belted his way to National Home Run Champ and Jay Ryans (ORWBL) tossed his way to National Closer of the Year — both in 2012.
Garrett Curless (ORWBL) powered to National Home Run Champ in 2011.
The Dirtyard (CCW) was chosen as National Field of the Year in 2018.
Mid City Moonshots (CCW) sported the Team Logo of the Year in 2019
Caleb Jonkman (LWA) was selected as National Player of the Year in 2017 and 2019 and thumped his way to National Home Run King in 2019. He also is regular in all four Indiana National Wiffle® leagues.
Matt Dykstra (LWA) was National Closer of the Year in 2016.
Heading into his third season as pitching coach at the NCAA Division II school in 2020, Hutchison uses the latest training methods while staying focused on the ultimate objective.
“It’s very tech-driven,” says Hutchison, who was learning more about his craft at the Jan. 2-5 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville. “But at the end of the day you’ve got to try to get guys out.”
To get his pitchers ready to do that, Hutchison pays close attention to health.
“Arm care is definitely the No. 1 point of emphasis,” says Hutchison. “Workload is managed. We’re not throwing too much. We’re not throwing too little.
“We make sure we’re recovering and moving the right way. We’re making sure we’re getting proper sleep, nutrition, all those things.”
Motus sensors are used to monitor throwing. It’s a seven-day workload that maps out to a 28-day workload.
“If you keep that on pace it helps ramp things up in a safe manner,” says Hutchison. “We use the Florida Baseball Ranch style of training as far as the cycle goes.”
The Greyhounds have heavy day followed by a recovery day, connection day (a time to work on movement patterns) and max intent day.
“If you keep repeating it, you don’t have to think about it out on the mound,” says Hutchison. “The last thing I want them thinking about is that. Their job is to get guys out.”
After his playing career, Hutchison served the 2016 and 2017 seasons for the Red Storm as a graduate assistant. He received a bachelor’s degree in Educational Studies in 2016 and a master’s in Coaching Leadership in 2017 and joined the UIndy staff in the fall of 2017. Indianapolis went 31-23 in 2018 and 30-20 in 2019.
Since each pitcher on his staff is unique in his approach, cues won’t be the same for each one.
“Sometimes it’s best to tell them to change their aiming point or use their legs more because they have nothing to do with their mechanics,” says Hutchison. “If you’re glove side is flying open, you might be told to stay tight.
“Little things like that can help guys stay in line and stay true.”
D-II baseball teams are allowed 45 days of practice in the fall. After that comes individual work. That’s when the process of developing velocity and pitch design begins.
During pitch, Hutchison will create video overlays of all the pitches in a hurler’s repertoire.
“We want to make sure all those are tunneled and we’re going from the exact same arm slot,” says Hutchison. “We want them to mimic each other. Around the 40-foot mark is our goal for when they start to separate. That’s when the spin actually takes effect.
“I’d rather have later movement than earlier (giving the hitter little time to react).”
Each pitcher is given an individualized plan that begins when they arrive on campus in the fall. Hutchison asks them the last time they threw live
“I tell them to be honest,” says Hutchison. “There’s no point in lying because you’re just going to hurt yourself.”
Once they get to winter break after final exams, UIndy pitchers are given six- to eight-week plan they can follow when they are away from the coaches.
Players are due back on campus Jan. 13.
“That’s when we start hitting things pretty hard,” says Hutchison. “We open up Feb. 15 (against Hillsdale in Johnson City, Tenn.).”
The Hounds will also play several games inside their dome.
“We’ve got plenty of arms,” says Hutchison. “Guys are getting full ground balls and full fly balls since it’s seven stories high.
“Hitters are seeing live (pitching) and it’swhite background. If you can hit the ball in there, you can probably hit the ball almost anywhere.
“With our pitchers we do a good job making sure their intensity and pitch count is where it needs to be.”
Hutchison says UIndy head coach Al Ready wants pitchers to be able to throw seven innings or up to 100 pitches within their first outing.
“If we can get them to that point we know we’re going to have a chance to win,” says Hutchison. “If they can go seven innings, we have a bullpen that can seal the game for them.”
When Hutchison arrived on campus, there were 15 pitchers. The following year that moved to around 27. This year, there are 30.
“To be a fully-funded program, there must be at least 45 man on the roster,” says Hutchison. “Why not bring in arms?”
Besides his role at UIndy, Hutchison is also national scouting coordinator and regional director for Pastime Tournaments, which runs travel baseball events all over the country.
He is in charge of staffing all events. Last summer, the organization employed around 250 250 independent contract workers.
Hutchison makes certain baseballs and merchandise go to the right places.
On tournament weekends, president Tom Davidson, vice president and national director Brent Miller and Hutchison divide up the 25 or more tournaments and oversee them with the help of site directors.
Hutchison also acts as a point of contact between players, parents and college coaches and educates the recruited on the process. He lets them know that the colleges will want to know things like age, grade-point average and SAT score. Players should get their own email address to be used in corresponding with colleges.
“I want to recruit the athlete,” says Hutchison. “I don’t want to recruit the parents.”
It also helps to have a presence on social media, where videos and other important information on a recruit can be placed.
To help college programs, Hutchison can let coaches know which teams and players will be playing in which region so they can take a look at that uncommitted left-hander they seek.
When filling tournament fields, Davidson likes to pool like competition to keep them challenging for all involved.
Pastime’s social media presence has swelled in recent years. The organization has more than 8,500 followers on Twitter and more than 1,000 in Instagram.
Landon Hutchinson is baseball pitching coach at the University of Indianapolis and national scouting coordinator and regional director for Pastime Tournaments. (UIndy Photo)
“Character means do what you say,” says Thompson. “Community means serving others. Change means bring positive change wherever you go.”
A non-profit, faith-based organization, NG3 invests in the lives of high school students, spending time with them and teaching them valuable lessons while providing mentors in small gatherings known as “Huddle Groups.”
While Thompson and other volunteer mentors have been ever-present at Jimtown, he has also met with student-athletes at other schools in northern Indiana, including Fairfield and Goshen and has established partnerships with Jimtown, NorthWood and Triton for 2018-19.
“My hope is to add at least two schools a year moving forward,” says Thompson, a former football player at Concord High School and Anderson University who established a sports ministry at Nappanee Missionary Church. “We will have a person at each school we work with — people who are invested and embedded in those communities. Long-term, I’d like to see NG3 in every school in Indiana. That’s a big goal.
“NG3 is coming along at just the right time. I am passionate about helping people and teams reach their potential.
“We want to be present on school campuses on a weekly basis. A lot of students are probably skeptical at first. They have adults in their lives that are here and gone. It may be a parent or a coach.
“We don’t want to be a flash in the pan. We aim to be there for the long haul and model all those character traits for them.”
Thompson got involved at Jimtown through his relationship at NMC with former high school principal Jeff Ziegler and continues to work with current JHS principal Byron Sanders.
This spring, Thompson has been able to work closely with the Jimtown baseball program. He is at practice several times a week and makes it a point to be at home varsity and junior varsity contests. “We continue to build relationships. We are there be an encouragers.
“Coaches find that ‘other voice’ is beneficial to them.”
Thompson, who holds bachelor of education and master of ministries degrees from Bethel College, has helped coordinate service projects for Jimtown coach Darin Mast and other Jimmies teams and classes.
“We come in and serve,” says Thompson. “It’s about being available, being present.”
School-wide, Jimtown has about 50 kids involved in huddle groups.
These groups of generally 10 students or less meet once a week, usually in the home of one of the group’s members.
“You can get real,” says Mast of the small group. “You can do life.
“It builds much more community.”
Thompson says the goal is to get to the point that huddle groups can be offered to all students.
Mast has known Thompson for years from serving with him at NMC.
“He’s like a spiritual/mental athletic trainer so to speak,” says Mast of Thompson. “It means something to him.”
Mast continues to compliment NG3.
“I really like the concept of what they’re doing,” says Mast. “The whole point of a team anyway is bringing that togetherness.”
Mast likes taking time to build character and addressing concepts like integrity, commitment, honesty, social media, family, trust, loyalty, perseverance, teamwork and excellence and having the students define those traits and what it means when they add or subtract those from their lives. “So much time is spent with X’s and O’s and the ins and outs of the sport.
“I felt like it was something that needed to be addressed and now we have an avenue to do that.”
Mast said that coaches are ultimately graded on their won-loss record.
“That’s the No. 1 priority,” says Mast. “But I’ve failed them as a coach if I haven’t helped them become productive members of society — great workers, husbands and dads.
“It’s all that stuff goes into character development and leadership with NG3.”
Darin Kauffman first heard Thompson speak to the Fairfield girls basketball team during their run to the regional last winter. Darin’s wife, Lindsay, is an assistant to Falcons head coach Brodie Garber.
Kauffman, who is in his first season as head baseball coach at Fairfield, invited Thompson to address his players and plans to do it again.
“I have athletes who have not played baseball in awhile,” says Kauffman. “I wanted them to hear about being a great teammate and how we can mesh and play together. And hear it from someone outside
“(Thompson) is a great speaker. He talks at their level. I think the guys got a lot out of it.
“It’s a great program. I’m glad we have that in our area.”
Thompson sends a weekly email called “Coaches are Leaders” to a list of about 75 with tips and links to articles that reinforce the NG3 model.
“I want to find ways to serve coaches,” says Thompson.
Tim Dawson, an Indiana High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Famer, was Thompson’s coach at Concord.
“He brought passion and excitement,” says Thompson of Dawson. “He used football to teach so many life lessons.”
As he headed off to college, Thompson thought he was going to be a teacher and coach.
“I’ve come full circle,” says Thompson. “This almost better than coaching. I get to work with athletes across teams.”
Helping his along the way is his family.
Jason and Rachael Thompson, who will be married 16 years in May, have two daughters Haley (11) and Natalie (7). The family resides in Nappanee. Rachael Thompson, a Goshen High School graduate, teaches at Prairie View Elementary School in Goshen.
Jason Thompson (second from left in back row) spends time in the dugout with the Jimtown High School baseball team. Thompson is the Indiana director for NG3 and has spent the 2017-18 school year embedded with Jimtown students.
NG3 Indiana director Jason Thompson addresses baseball players at Fairfield High School.