Wiffle ball's a hit on Long Island
Anthony Didio can throw a 90-mph fastball and hits with a $200 customized bat. The 22-year-old Deer Park native doesn't play baseball, though, preferring the sport's cousin, competitive Wiffle ball.
Long Islanders can see how Didio and other Wiffle ball players stack up this weekend at the Golden Stick Wiffle Ball League's Fast Pitch Tournament in Seaford, where more than a dozen local teams are expected to square off in back-to-back games.
"Long Island has a huge demand for Wiffle ball; it's just tough to get an outlet here," says Rob Longiaru, New York regional director for Golden Stick, which also sponsors leagues in California, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania as well as tournaments in places such as Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Changing the rules
While it resembles baseball, many of Wiffle ball's conventions are dramatically altered.
The game is played on a pie-shaped field that's only about a third the size of a traditional baseball field. Play goes four or five innings instead of nine -- team rosters are made up of just three to five players.
Another difference: "Ghost runners" replace traditional base runners, advancing a set number of bases depending on where a struck ball lands.
"The only time when you run in our leagues is when you hit a homer," says Longiaru, 23, of Seaford. "You trot."
A major-league baseball pitcher would be ejected from a game if he is discovered scuffing a ball, but in Wiffle ball the practice is essential to making pitches break.
Pitchers hurl the lightweight balls from 48 feet -- a full 121 / 2 feet closer than in baseball.
In order to hit, many players use Moonshot bats, a brand made out of carbon fiber, elastic fiberglass and Kevlar that is a step up from the traditional yellow plastic bat many associate with the sport.
"It's harder than the plastic bats," Didio says. "I feel like it swings a little bit better."
On the field
In terms of competition, expect to see players who want to win.
Golden Stick's motto: "A backyard game taken way too far." New York league teams have names like the Piranhas and Venom.
"It can get pretty intense," Didio says. "It gets up there, a lot of people yelling and screaming."
Still, Wiffle ball players say they try to strike a balance between competition and the sport's traditionally laid-back nature.
Says Longiaru, "The drive to get better and the drive to compete is so much more apparent than a softball league where you win a trophy at the end."
Golden Stick Wiffle Ball League Fast Pitch Tournament
WHEN | WHERE 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Cedar Creek Park, 3340 Merrick Rd., Seaford
ADMISSION Free for spectators ($100-$125 team entry)