What is it about hitting a plastic sphere over an eight-foot wall about 70 feet away that makes you want to flex your muscles?
Welcome to the thrill of Wiffleball.
For the past seven years, the Amy For Africa mission has staged the AFA Wiffleball tournament in the Ashland area. Teams come from three states to get a crack at our Green Monster modeled after Fenway Park or bounce one off the Warehouse (church office of Unity Baptist Church) field that is modeled after Camden Yard.
Let’s face it, you have to be creative these days.
Forty teams come in with a guarantee of playing two three-inning games with some unique rules including no running. More on that later. The four-man teams pay a $40 entry fee.
Fifty games were played over nine hours on Saturday and more than 250 home runs went flying out of the two fields combined and that’s not counting the Home Run Derby when at least that many more were hit.
It was a smashing good time, let’s just say, and the mission was able to raise $2,500 toward building a school in Uganda.
The tournament started in 2013 and has grown in popularity. It has become a must-do summer event. You know why? The focus is on fun. The atmosphere is electric and Christian music is playing over the loudspeakers non-stop the entire time. We have umpires for the games, but arguments are few and none ever serious. Teams stick around and fellowship even after they’ve been eliminated (you have to win every game to be crowned champion) and many onlookers come over with their lawn chairs and take in games.
I’ve also never heard any bad language in the family-oriented community event played on the corner lot of Unity Baptist Church. This year included teams from the local fire department, sheriff’s office and jailer’s office. Teams can include young and old – 7-year-old Brevin Snyder belted two home runs on the Green Monster field although both went over the 65-foot fence in right field and several of us sixty-somethings slayed the Green Monster.
It was a family affair. Fathers and sons and fathers and daughters were part of some teams. Brothers played together and against each other. You name it, this tournament had it.
Lauren Spears was one of a couple dozen (at least) girls who took their swings. Spears, a softball star for the Ashland high school team, belted two home runs – tying an AFA record for most home runs hit by a female.
Hitting a home run at my age is like chugging 32 ounces from the Fountain of Youth. It’s much more fun hitting a home run at 61 than it was when I was 11 (not that I could really remember).
In our rules, you pitch to your own team. If balls hit are fielded cleanly, the batter is out. If not, or if the ball stops rolling before a defender gets to it, it’s a single or double, depending where it stops. Anything off the fence – groundball or fly ball – is a triple and anything over the fence is a home run. That’s why there is no need for baserunning (fielding is different, of course).
There’s a six-run limit per inning and teams are allowed to purchase “Mission Balls” (heavier Wiffleballs) in one inning for $5.
The winning team gets a championship trophy and the Home Run Derby entry receives a silver metallic painted bat. Derby entries are $10 apiece and 38 participated.
Don’t get the idea it’s not competitive though. Players dive over fences to try and keep those plastic balls in play. Some of their attempts are dangerous and probably SportsCenter worthy including the last out of the last game when an outfielder snatched away a sure home run to clinch his team’s victory.
The event takes on a festival feel with a bounce house, a Kona Ice truck stationed there all day and a water balloon free-for-all with 1,000 balloons.
It all adds up to an incredible fundraiser that over seven years has brought in nearly $25,000 to the Amy For Africa ministry, an organization operated by Kentucky Baptists.
It is also a witness to the community that it’s not only good to be a Christian but it can be a lot of fun, too! And the best yet? It wasn’t a bad place to start a gospel conversation.
MARK MAYNARD is managing editor of Kentucky Today and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org