Dreams over the Potomac

Dudefluencer: Wiffleball

I cradled the plastic ball in my hand, fingers moving around holes to find the right grip. Batters on first and second with the tying run at the plate, our team clung to a two-run advantage. The catcher made the call, pointing bottom-left. He wanted me to throw a curveball on the inside of the plate, right at the batter’s knees. My arm whipped forward, the wiffleball dragged the air, twisting inside until it plunked the plastic strike zone.

The speedometer read 12 miles per hour; strike three. The batter whipped his yellow banana bat into the grass. We were men playing a sport designed for children—all wanting to win.

Baseball was my first love; it didn’t matter how high up in the stands we were, I was convinced the next fly ball was going to land in my glove. Before every game I’d devour so much cotton candy and Cracker Jacks I’d sugar crash around the 7th inning, forcing my dad to carry me to their 1990 Chevy Cavalier.

Evenings were spent on the front lawn pretending to be Frank Thomas, smacking baseballs off the tee. Like Ken Griffey Jr., I tracked the ball with my eyes and called off the imaginary outfielders so I could make the game-winning catch.

Summer afternoons, I spent my money on packets of Big League Chew, the only bubblegum designed to look like chewing tobacco. Fresh-cut grass stained our kneecaps, friends and I’d point our bats towards the outfield fence; we’d tell ourselves that the next time the baseball cracked off our bat, it’d soar over the John’s Pizzas and Subs vinyl sign. Once, it did.

Dreams of being a Major Leaguer from Buffalo died in middle school. Coach suggested I stay in Little League for another year while my friends all moved up a division. Afraid to be alone, I told my mom I didn’t want to play baseball anymore. I hung up my glove. 

You can never forget your first love no matter how tucked away in the garage it might be.

The Potomac Wiffleball League was a grassroots recreational wiffleball league that played their games across Northern Virginia, with the most successful seasons taking place under the gaze of airplane passengers at Potomac River at Gravelly Point Park.

I joined others who traded in hardballs for wiffleballs.

We grew up dreaming of being the heavy hitting Vlad Guerrero or the strong-armed Randy Johnson just like me.

What started as a group meetup grew into something bigger. One summer, the commissioner attached speedometers to the strike zone to make sure our pitches weren’t moving too fast. Another he installed video cameras behind home plate which uploaded to Youtube. One captured an umpire getting thumped in the testicles with a plastic ball that eventually led to the league being ridiculed by “real sports” analyst Keith Olberman.

That didn’t matter. For three hours every Sunday, we rediscovered baseball. For some, it was pretending to be Pedro Martinez hurling 27 mph wiffleballs high and inside. For others, it was imagining tumbling into the ivy-covered walls at Wrigley Field catching a floater in the D.C. sky. For me, it was digging my toes into the dew covered grass, the crack of the plastic bat against the howls of the Potomac, the childish banter amongst infielders.

I still remember my first home run as an adult: bottom of the third with one out and two men on base, I watched the pitcher contort his wrist for a slider. The breeze off the water carried the ball upwards towards the center of the plate. I twisted my hips. The wiffleball launched skyward off the center of the bat. The outfielder stood and watched as the ball skyed over the fence.

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