Seventy years after the first official Wiffle ball floated toward a batter gripping a skinny yellow bat, a group of middle- and high-school-aged boys congregated in a tree-lined Northville backyard earlier this week to face off in a series of games in the inaugural season of the Northville Wiffle League.
Fueled by game highlights posted on Instagram and YouTube — and the organizational efforts of brothers Liam and Evan Porter, who constructed a slick field in their sprawling backyard — the league has generated over 2,300 Instagram followers in just a few months.
Popularity of the old-school pastime — which peaked in the 1960s and ’70s — had waned considerably since the emergence of attention-grabbing video games and iPhones.
But it’s back and better than ever thanks in part to social media and, well, the fact that boys and girls just want to have the kind of genuine fun that electronics can’t deliver.
As the Porters and the other member of the NWL have discovered, Wiffle ball is a great generator of friendships, camaraderie and friendly competition — just like the 1960s-era pick-up baseball games depicted in the ultra-popular 1990s movie “The Sandlot”.
Field of dreams
“Last summer, Evan and I built this field because we both loved to play baseball and there wasn’t a lot to do,” explained Liam Porter, a student at University of Detroit Jesuit High School in Detroit. “We played against each other last summer, but over the winter we started to network and now we have 30 to 40 players in our league.
“Once we started posting our game highlights on YouTube and Instagram, the number of views for individual games were like 50K, 20K, 30K — and we have almost 2,500 followers on Instagram, which is on the high side for Instagram followers in the first year.”
The Porter brothers’ stadium features well-groomed base paths, a mound with a pitching rubber set 38 feet from home plate (following the guidelines set by the national Major League Wiffle organization) and an outfield fence that is 60 feet from home plate down the first- and third-base lines and 70 feet in straight-away center.
Cellphones resting on tri-pods in strategic locations on the field’s perimeter film entire games, the highlights of which Evan Porter edits before posting on the league’s YouTube channel.
Down to the smallest details
Using PVC piping, the Porters even built a strike-zone device that is placed three feet behind the plate to act as a pitch-stopper and umpire (if a batter takes a pitch that hits the strike-zone square, it’s a called strike).
Liam Porter, the league’s commissioner, revealed the NWL even has a pocket radar device set up behind home plate to make sure pitches don’t exceed the maximum speed of 70 miles per hour.
“Given the distance from the mound to the plate, if a pitcher threw 80 or 90 miles per hour, it would be almost unhittable,” Porter explained. “And we have some pretty good baseball players in our league who can bring it.”
A lot of action is packed into the three-inning NWL games.
For instance, Tuesday afternoon’s first game featured a three-run home run by Drew Mackiewicz and a highlight reel catch of a looping foul ball by Jack Suiter.
“I’ve been competing in Wiffle ball leagues for the past five or six years and the sport is really growing, especially among younger players,” said Fenton resident Jackson Pearson.
“The younger generation is finding out how fun it is, plus when you have well-organized leagues like (the NWL) that play on nice fields like this, interest is only going to grow.”
Statistics and standings are posted on the league’s Instagram page. The longest home run this season traveled 150 feet, Porter estimated.
Both Porter brothers are accomplished pitchers armed with an array of dazzling offerings.
“I can throw eight or nine different pitches, four or five of which I can consistently throw strikes,” said Liam.
Depending on the details, backyard fields can be constructed in a relatively cost-efficient way.
The NWL has even secured a sponsor — Brandt Real Estate — whose business is prominently promoted on a right-field banner.
The NWL draws players from several southeast-Michigan communities, including Northville, Novi, Plymouth, Westland, Brighton, Livonia, Birmingham and Royal Oak — all of whom swap their electronic devices for skinny yellow bats and perforated balls to enjoy a few hours of old-school competition.
Ed Wright can be reached at 734-664-4657 or email@example.com.