Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
A sport little known outside of Willets has begun to increase in popularity recently, due to the construction of an official league that plays every weeknight at 9:00 and 10:00. Residents of Willets 2nd Hall have certainly seen the game, as the field constructed on the hall requires residents to often pass through games in progress.
Although Wiffle Hall resembles baseball in many ways, it is “a very innovative sport” said league co-founder Jonathan Lo ’08 since the rules were designed to fit the specific location in which it is played. The heart of the game is the interaction between a pitcher and a batter, with corresponding ghost runners moving around an imaginary set of bases according to how far down the hall a batter is able to hit the ball. On one side of Willets 2nd south hall a strike zone is taped to the door with distinctions between left handed and right handed batters. The pitcher is located approximately one fourth to one third of the hall length away from the batter. Specific doors along the hall mark the distinction between first and third base hits, while a hit that gets past the pitcher yields a second base hit, and a ball that travels the entire length of the hall is a home run. Upon a successful hit the pitcher attempts to field the ball; catching the ball before it lands yields a fly out, while catching a ball that has bounced a single time yields a ground out such that other base runners may still advance. Any hit that does not make it past first base before hitting two walls is considered foul.
A full Wiffle Hall game takes place over three innings, with each team consisting of two players. Each player must pitch at least one inning, with no pitcher changes allowed during the inning. Players alternate batting, with an inning lasting three outs or until seven runs are scored due to a mercy rule.
Residents of Willets have been playing the game since first semester; however, the official league has only existed since spring break. Split into two divisions, a total of sixteen teams are participating in official league play. On most game nights league co-founder and Commissioner Andrew LeClair ’08 records the games play-by-play, which is then used with a computer program written by Shingo Murata ’07 to keep track of every player’s stats.
As the game is played with a waffle ball, pitches are a bit more unpredictable and can easily find their way outside of the strike zone. “The game is tipped ever so slightly in favor of the batters” said LeClair, adding that “every now and then it is easy to slip into a mindset where it is hard to throw strikes,” in which case batters just stop swinging. However, certain rules such as the fact that spectators are part of the field help even out the play when larger crowds are watching the game. Yet overall the weak spot on most teams is pitching according to LeClair.
The hardcore fanatics of the game have been known to practice an hour each day in preparation for the season, however most casual players only get a chance to practice 30 minutes a week outside of games. Official league games generally last an hour allowing for two scheduled games at 9 and 10, often followed by make-up games.
League commissioner LeClair also updates members about the status of the league, often describing the results of each night’s games and more recently criticizing problems such as missed games. In a press conference held Thursday after the absence of players from both of the night’s scheduled games, league commissioner LeClair expressed his outrage at what he called the “rampant delinquency” among players in the league. “We understand that many of our players have heavy academic loads, and while we are happy to accommodate conflicts in advance, we need to stop these last minute changes to the schedule.”
Although recent scheduling problems seem to question the future of the league, players are generally enthusiastic about the game such that it does not appear to be going away soon. Students who are interested in finding more about the league are recommended to visit Willets 2nd any week night, or contact Andrew LeClair for more information.