Not Sports

How Major League Wiffle Ball is turning a classic summer game into a sport

"I'd like to run Major League Wiffle Ball full time."

When Kyle Schultz graduates from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor next year, he is planning to devote himself full time to a game that most people forget about once they're old enough to hold a metal bat.

Schulz, 21, is the commissioner and founder of Major League Wiffleball. He's been running Major League Wiffleball since 2009. It was born out of a "questionable call" during a front-yard home run derby with his two brothers.

"I have two brothers, Daniel and Brendan, we've just all been very competitive," Schulz tells Inverse. "We figured to not have that problem anymore, we would make a little field put up a fence, put up a backstop, and all that kind of stuff."

Now, the Major League Wiffle Ball's channel has 144,000 subscribers on Youtube, the league has over 82,000 followers on Instagram, and has sponsors like Dick's Sporting Goods as the 11th season hits its stride.

"I'll be a rising senior at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the fall," says Schulz. "I plan to graduate in the spring, and once I do I'd like to run Major League Wiffle Ball full time."

Schulz is looking to make a mark in the oddly competitive and passionate Wiffle Ball world: There are already professional Wiffle Ball players and organized leagues all over the country, but Major League Wiffle Ball has committed itself to a professional appearance that he hopes will set it apart.

What makes Major League Wiffle Ball a sport — Major League Wiffle Ball remains true to the essentials of the yard game. There's still the classic yellow bat and the white hollow ball. The field fits inside the outfield of a traditional baseball field — only three fielders are allowed on at a time. Of course, you can still peg people with the ball to get them out.

All of these trappings are given the major league sports treatment. The Major League Wiffle Ball logo is inspired by Major League Baseball's. All the games are broadcast on their Youtube channel, which features a homemade 30 for 30-style documentaries for multiple teams. Schultz is also refining the rules of the game as he goes — most recently the mound was moved back 16 inches to increase the number of balls that aren't hit over the fence, as well as "overall entertainment value."

An evening Major League Wiffle Ball game. Kyle Schultz

That said, Major League Wiffle Ball isn't interested in sanitizing the game. Wiffle ball is a tricky sport filled with late-breaking pitches and well-worn tactics. Scuffing up the ball can allow for greater control: Schulz demonstrates this technique in a video titled "How to Throw INSANE Wiffle Ball pitches."

Extreme bat-doctoring is also great Wiffle ball tradition: Examples include sawing the bat open and replacing the handle with a garden rake or filling it with bouncy balls to increase the weight. Major League Wiffle Ball nods to that tradition – teams can tape their bats to allow for just a little more weight.

The Michael Jordan of Major League Wiffleball – Schultz is definitely up there where it comes to the best Wiffle ballplayers in the league. There are about 50 people in the league but he's also a six-time MVP winner according to the website.

That said he doesn't want to "give himself that honor." Instead, he offers it up to his brother Daniel – a "staple in the league."

Outside of Major League Wiffle Ball, he points to Jordan Robles – a teacher in New York state who has won multiple Wiffle ball tournaments across the country. He's won so much he was referred to as professional Wiffle ballplayer in local news coverage.

"He's been playing Wiffle ball for about 15 to 20 years. I think he's based out in New York, and he just wins wherever he goes," Schultz says.

The spirit of Major League Wiffleball – Schultz is far from alone in striving to create structured, organized Wiffle ball. Major League Wiffle Ball exists within a shockingly intense ecosystem of competitive Wiffle ball leagues.

Major League Wiffle Ball began in 2009, but now has sponsors and thousands of followersKyle Schultz

There's the Palisades Wiffle Ball League, the subject of a 2018 New Yorker story that documented grown men throwing a plastic ball at 90 miles per hour. On Twitter, they brand themselves "the best league in the history of man."

There's also Golden Stick Wiffle based on Long Island. Its mantra is "a backyard game taken way too far."

Wiffleballers appear to love the feeling of taking things a bit too seriously – after all, a single "questionable call" has now spawned a full-blown league that will soon become Schultz's full-time job. Major League Wiffle Ball is committed to taking it too far off the field too. The league is all about pushing the boundaries of a game and turning it into a sport.

"I get a lot of comments from like older people saying, 'this is this is so cool, I remember me and my buddies playing back in the 80s but nothing with this capacity," Schultz says.

"I'd pretty much say we are taking a backyard game and putting a big professional spin on it. That really gives us that unique feel."

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