Wiffleball league provides big-league backyard fun

Feature story for The Commercial Appeal

July 25, 2013

The excitement was palpable, from the spectators in the pool to the few parents under an umbrella. The players wore homemade jerseys, swim trunks and bare feet. This was Game Day for the Memphis Wiffleball Association, founded in June by 10-year-old Trey Whidden.

Wiffleball has become an activity that keeps Trey and his friends outdoors and away from the video games and television that can dull any summer day. He did get the idea from the Internet, though.

He saw “guys in leagues and pictures on YouTube; I thought it would be kind of cool,” he said. “I mostly got the idea from these kids our age in Michigan, and I got a lot of the rules and stuff for the website from them.”

Not content to gather friends for a one-off game, the sixth-grader at Holy Rosary began a league consisting of four teams, each with four players. Trey put together the rosters and schedules, andnamed the teams from Major League Baseball. On any given day, the Cordova Cardinals might play the Germantown Giants. On this day, the Ripley Rangers took on the Raleigh Red Sox.

Trey’s folks, Jimmy and Cynthia Whidden, own Poplar Perk’n coffee shop, and Cynthia’s family’s business is Landmark Heating & Air Conditioning. Thus, the games of the MWA take place on “Landmark Field at Poplar Perk’n Park,” known to the Property Assessor’s Office as the Whiddens’ backyard in East Memphis.

“I was unaware of all the doubleheaders,” Jimmy Whidden said with a laugh from his shaded seat in leftfield, adding, “but the alternative is to have them inside playing video games, so I’m fortunate enough that I get off early and I can come watch them, and I enjoy it. I like helping with the field. He tells me what to do, and I’m pretty much the groundskeeper.”

In the heat of a July sun, the diamond was well-manicured, and PVC foul poles bookended the 6-foot outfield fence. The terrain is tricky: a flower bed in rightfield, the pool in left, a wooden jungle gym with a slide where a dugout might be, and a trampoline abutting the bullpen.

A golden retriever lumbered across the pitcher’s mound. Stopping his windup to pet Sampson was Ranger Thomas Smith, 11, a sixth-grader at St. Louis Elementary, where he plays football, soccer, baseball and basketball . . . (read more)