Sports

By Douglas Farmer 

The unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day, has its mainstays. For many in the Coulee Region, May’s ending hinges around the parade up Main Street and down West Avenue. Or is it down Main Street and up West Avenue?

Either way, everyone comes across a hot dog or hamburger at some point during the long weekend. A cold beer or pop follows that grilled good.

This year, you should add a whiffle ball and bat to your grocery list before the last week of May.

No, really, do it. They are probably just down the aisle from the potato chips and pretzels. (Yes, this author assumes everyone has an equally unhealthy holiday weekend.) Compared to the dollars spent on [insert preferred light domestic beer here], the $10 necessary for the ball-bat bundle may be the most reasonable cost on your receipt.

Whiffle ball is a maddeningly frustrating game. It is, in fact, designed to be. The game—whiffle when spoken of generally, Wiffle when referring to the company and its trademark—consists of hitting a ball quite literally fashioned to create wind resistance. Oh, that’s not aggravating enough? Let’s swing a bat half the width of the bat any other form of baseball uses. Exasperated yet?

A cousin twice-removed from misery, exasperation loves company. That aspect of the not-just-for-childhood novelty levels the playing field between those who maintained some degree of their high school athleticism long after college and, well, the rest of us. Blame the hot dogs, beer and potato chips. Few things will rekindle a college friendship as quickly as taking turns watching each other flail with effort while meagerly smacking the ball 30 feet.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, when a 4-year-old sees his cool uncle hit the ball only a little farther than his 7-year-old brother manages to, both children start to believe they will close that gap entirely by the end of summer. This blissful optimism is not only a direct result of the aforementioned inherent frustration, but it is also grounded in a reality the uncle realizes, though his nephews do not: One’s physical abilities are trending the opposite direction of the others’. Perhaps the pride of being the “cool” uncle will survive this summer, but its days are undeniably finite.

Whiffle ball underscores that inevitability while simultaneously slowing it.

In 10 years, the children will baffle themselves at their inability to embarrass their limping uncle. Whiffle ball’s humbling lessons will diminish their dreams of dominance just as it does their elder’s now.

Any lofty hopes of establishing, or reestablishing, physical supremacy will dissipate with each pop-up to the pitcher. Before long, those hopes will dissipate for everybody. College buddies and children alike will send an out to the pitcher, the grandfather in this Rockwellian tale, the only one wise enough to not reach for the yellow bat.

That equal footing and shared failing will delight the 7-year-old and, therefore, his mother and grandmother, as well. What more do you want from your holiday? Some bacon on your burger? You have time; add it to the grocery list, just below the beer, the chips, and the whiffle ball and bat.

Douglas Farmer grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin, before covering sports across the country with stops at The Los Angeles Times, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Dallas Morning News. He graduated from Aquinas High School in 2008 and from the University of Notre Dame in 2012, and now spends his professional time keeping an eye on the latter’s football team.