Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wiffleball 2011 Wrap-up

Despite not being a man of regrets, I regret not having kept you up to date on the summer's wiffleball action. It leaves me in the difficult position of prolonging suspense until the end or "giving it up," as my college creative writing instructor begged us to do. Relying on suspense is a cheap technique. Which I will employ.

By the way, no one gives it up better than the writers for "Breaking Bad." If you're not watching that show, I understand. It's dark. If you are watching that show, you have to be amazed at the writers' ability to avoid prolonging suspense. Things happen. My five favorite shows currently on television:

1. Mad Men
2. Louie
3. Breaking Bad
4. NFL Redzone
5. The Walking Dead

If you're counting, that's three AMC shows, two cable shows, and no HBO or network shows. Granted, I do like "Parks and Recreation" and "Sunday Night Football." Still, let's pick it up HBO.

Now, with only a bit of further ado, I'll get back to wiffleball action. I will try my best to avoid humblebragging ("I hit only two homers this year--must be getting old") by boasting in a more straightforward manner (examples to follow).

Regular Season

When I last discussed wiffleball, I believe it was midseason, and we were undefeated. After we slaughtered the only other undefeated team 7-0, I pitched the next game, and we lost 1-0. At the plate, I was 0-3 and hit into a double-play. Bad day. It was the only run I gave up all season, in part because I twirled a few gems, as they say, but mostly because we added a new guy on our team who was one of the top three pitchers in the league. He also gave up only 1 run during the season, even though he pitched twice as many games as I did.

We finished the regular season with the #1 seed.

This year, we had a statistician keeping score of the games. While he hasn't gone back and compiled all the statistics yet, he did gather the stats for all six playoff teams. I finish third in BA (.480), first in runs (13), and second in RBIs (13). When he finishes the statistics, I promise to return and update these figures.

The Semifinals

In the first round of playoffs (#3 vs. #6 and #4 vs. #5), there were two upsets. First, the #3 team, which defeated us last year in the finals, got beat 5-4 after leading 4-0 in a single-elimination game. One of the three best pitchers in the league got shelled for 5 runs by a team the squeaked into the playoffs. (I admit to being secretly delighted. I can't hit against him.) The #4 seed, which beat us 1-0 in our only meaningful loss of the season, also went down in defeat. (I was not delighted. I wanted revenge, which was a certainty in my mind.) That pitted us (Ken Wiffey) against the #6 seed (iWiff).

Quick scouting reports for both semifinal teams:

Ken Wiffey - Much better team than the one that lost in extra innings of the finals the previous year. Lost two mediocre players to injury and picked up one of the best pitchers in the league, who didn't play the previous year due to a sabbatical. Of the six hitters in the lineup, four hit consistently with power, and the other two force the pitcher to throw strikes. A fifth excellent hitter is unavailable in the playoffs due to travel in Europe.

iWiff - Young team with 20-something interns who hit for power and don't need to stretch out before the game to avoid injury. Seven-man lineup with four excellent hitters, two solid hitters, and one guy who looks athletic but strikes out a lot. If the strikeout guy weren't playing, the two lineups would be a wash. iWiff's weakness is their pitching. They have only one pitcher. He has good stuff, but struggles with control. Bad matchup against a patient hitting team like Ken Wiffey.

The first game went as expected. We were patient at the plate, had tons of runners, and Ken Wiffey won 3-1.

For the next game, I couldn't get out out bed due to either a cold or a flu. I had a fever and nausea and all that. I still seriously considered driving in to work to play in the game, but when I got out of bed and grabbed my keys, I got wobbly and whimpered, "No, it's just wiffleball." That shows how sick I was. Just wiffleball? Pfff. Ken Wiffey lost 5-0.

I should mention that iWiff consists of the digital publishing team I work with. In a meeting, there were taunts and challenges hurled my way which I did not appreciate. OK, that's not true. I appreciated almost all of the taunts, except for the one in which a tester claimed that it wouldn't have mattered if I had played--they would have won anyway.

In Game 3, our ace got out of jam in the top of the first. I led off the bottom of the first with a home run. Crack! Slow trot around the bases with an attempted glare at the suddenly silent tester. We added a couple more runs, played solid defense behind great pitching, and won 3-0.

Back in the finals

The Finals

You know how before the Super Bowl, prognosticators talk about what an advantage it is for the team that's "been there before"? They're right. In the wiffleball finals, the league organizers go out of their way to make it a spectacle. There are announcers, a hot dog vendor, an umpire in full umpire dress, still photographers and motion cameramen all over the field, at-bat music for every hitter. The game starts with a national anthem and a first pitch thrown by a vice-president.

When you're a spectator, going over the top like that is fun and ridiculous. When you're a player, it sweeps you up in it. Last year, it made our team extra tense. I reacted to the tension by oddly not playing as hard. I was flat. This year, the lunacy made us more focused, and several of us went out of our way to joke around and stay loose.

Quick scouting report for both finals teams:

Ken Wiffey - They've been here before. Excellent pitching, dominant hitting, solid defense. Leadoff hitter batting 1.000 in playoffs.

Muse - Only one pitcher, but he's lights out. Excellent heater, nasty curve, good control, mixes up pitches. Average hitting team that added a strong hitter near the end of the year. Only lost once all season, but tied four times, usually in 0-0 games. Their one loss was to Ken Wiffey.

Game 1 went as expected. It was a pitching duel between two of the league's top three pitchers. I lost confidence at the plate. The guy was throwing fast, and I let him get in my head. I swung too hard to try to catch up with the speed, and it put me off balance. I struck out 3 times and went 1-5 with an infield single. Before that game, I had struck out only twice all season. We loaded the bases in the bottom of the second extra inning and won the game on a sacrifice fly.

One of the things I love about playing sports is the constant battle between your mind and body. In Malcolm Gladwell's most recent collection of essays, he talks about choking. If I recall, he broke out choking into two different reactions: panicking and freezing. If a fire breaks out in the kitchen and you run outside and jump behind a bush, that's panicking. If the same fire breaks out and you sit on the couch with a quizzical look, that's freezing. Against this pitcher, I somehow managed to panic and freeze within the same at-bat.

In Game 2, I somehow managed to regain my composure. I didn't let an incorrectly called strike 2 get to me, I fouled off a couple good pitches, and then I tomahawked a loopy curve into left field for a double. The next three guys struck out, but I was feeling good.

We made a game-time decision to let our other pitcher take the mound instead of me. He's the guy who lost 5-0 in the semifinals but he's also the guy who took a shutout into extra innings in Game 3 of the 2010 finals -- a memory that still haunts us. He said he wanted to pitch, and since he put together the team, I agreed. (OK, I was secretly relieved.)

I played left field and made a couple of running catches that had the announcer talking in cliches ("Bringhurst has effectively taken away the entire left side of the field...").

When we came up to bat, we had one of those moments that NFL Films captures and makes you realize how much you can learn about a team by standing on the sidelines. I was thinking we were tightening up. As I approached Matt and Todd, I was going to say, "This guy's hard to hit." But in the middle of my sentence, I decided to say something else. "This guy doesn't have it today. I'm going to get to him." Todd (the league leader in BA and RBIs but who fell off in the playoffs) jumped in and said, "Yeah, I can hit him too."

Matt nodded and went up to the plate with a man on first. Smack! Home run. Todd belted a triple off the top of the fence. One of our lesser hitters struck out, and then I singled in Todd with a hard liner off the pitcher's leg. We're up 3-0.

Muse kept getting runners on base, and we kept making running catches. In the bottom of the last inning, they had runners on 1st and 3rd with one out and their best hitter at the plate -- the only guy on their team who can hit home runs. He smacked a one-hopper to Todd, who flipped it to Matt for the double-play.

Ken Wiffey wins 3-0! Ken Wiffey is the 2011 World Seattle Adobe Wiffleball League Champions!

For the moment, we can bask in glory. Unfortunately, we all know what happens next. The Disease of More sets in. Role players want to be perceived as stars, stars want to be perceived as superstars, and everyone wants more. Some players will switch teams; other players will take business trips to Asia. In wanting more, the players lose just enough of what got them there -- teamwork, sacrifice, indomitable spirit.

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