For the twenty days leading up to the first pitch of the PWL’s historic 20th season, we’re going to look back at a top moment in the league’s history each day.
In theory they will get bigger and better as we get closer in the countdown. Obviously that’s based on the personal opinion of two time national Commissioner of the year Chris Gallaway, who was once described as god’s gift to wiffleball. (That might be the #1, right?)
20. Arsenic Closes the Fields
The Spring 2008 season was underway at Ft. Reno Park, the highest point in DC and our home for four seasons, when it came to a screeching halt. We lost a couple of weeks of play time while the soil was retested. It turns out, a faulty arsenic reading taken from outer space (where Jesus lives) had caused the readings, and the shut down of the park. Once the actual soil was tested, it was deemed safe to reopen, despite the high lead contents of some of the areas.
19. Double Down On Masterbatters
The only two franchises to share a name in PWL history also share a name with a team in about every baseball related rec league in the country, the Masterbatters. The original Masterbatters played seasons 2 to 4 in the early days of the PWL. A fun loving group that lost more games than they won, they recruited teams, held house parties and invited the league, made cardboard signs for their fans, and one glorious season introduced Joe Gortenburg to Gravelly Point. Six seasons later a new franchise, completely unrelated to the first, joined. Much like their namesakes, they had more fun than success. With military appreciation unis, and Zach Carter pitching, they’re certainly not all about the W’s. Not only did the new edition outlast the old, they’re now on their 11th season. That’s good enough for third most in league history only trailing the Canvassers (20) and Scared Hitless (15). Before we upgraded the stats, the database couldn’t have two teams with the same name, so we changed the original team to be “Masterbatters” all one word. And the current team is “Master Batters” two words. The database has long been updated, and we’re not sure how they were originally intended, but we’re not changing it now.
Wait…Masterbatters…I just got that. Get it? Ha!
18. Doctor Dreyfus Sets Hit Record
The Summer 2013 season saw the Canvassers win their record 6th World Championship, but their arch rivals made the news during the season. Matt Dreyfus set the career hits record for the PWL, taking the title from Stephen Zigmund, one of the two players featured on the PWL website design. The record, 270 at the time, has since been passed by two others, Felix Fernandez and Kris Garcia, but Dreyfus still holds the top spot. After the hit, which was a home run for good measure, play stopped and a video message from Zigmund was played. The Spring 2015 season could see another precious record of Zigmund’s fall, the all time home run crown.
17. Gallaway’s Three Minutes
In late 2012 the Washington Examiner did a quick story for their “3 Minute Interview” section with Commissioner Gallaway about the league. Despite the reporter, a girl, questioning whether wiffleball was a manly sport, press is always a good thing. Players from the league, though not the league itself, were also previously featured in a front page photo in the Examiner practicing on the mall in August 2006.
16. Tests Prove Wind Affects Wiffleball
Just before the Spring 2010 playoffs, national ‘Character of the Year” Tony Ragano was convinced of a problem with radars. His arm always through the exact same speed, because of his muscle memory, and yet sometimes the board would read different speeds. It had to be the boards, obviously, as it’s not possible anything else might affect the speed of a ball, like wind, rotation of the earth, the tides, etc. In the alley behind the PWL HQ we did some tests, turns out Tony was convinced.
15. London Calling for PWL
In 2007 the PWL sent our first team to the largest underhand wiffleball tournament in the world. It’s held on a farm surrounded by corn stalks outside of London, Ohio. The first tournament ended in a rainout, and subsequent tournaments have involved massive organizational issues, incorrect brackets, and games played in zero visibility. It’s not our kind of wiffleball, but we’re hooked, and have sent at least one team, and for several seasons two teams ever since. We drove back overnight in a mini-van that first time after playing wiffleball for 12 hours. But, common sense prevailed later, and luxury buses and airplanes replaced the minivan. We’ve made it as far as a top 6 finish, but have never won the 80+ team tournament.
14. Scared Hitless Changes the Wiffleball World
The Spring 2010 season saw the influence of the PWL start to spread across the wiffleball world. It all started, as most things do, with a pissing contest. After confusion on the NWLA website in team rankings between our Scared Hitless and the similarly named Scared Hitless of the Kalamazoo Wiffle League in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a war of words and open letters was exchanged between the teams, and ultimately between the leagues. The matter could only be settled, as all things are best done, on the wiffleball field. The two teams met in conjunction with the London Tournament that year to settle their differences. That meeting spawned a second meeting of the leagues in 2011, and ultimately led to the creation of the NWLA Tournament. Without Hitless vs Hitless, none of it happens.
13. Six Innings Gets Personal
32 players and 2 inanimate objects have been featured in Six Innings profiles. Despite every member of the Barnburners having a profile, they’re worth a trip down memory lane to learn a little more about some of the players in the league. We asked everyone for an embarrassing photo of themselves, and most people brought their A-game. But, obviously, just like wiffleball skill, the ability to answer questions is something that some people are better at than others.
12. Kicked Out of GW
What’s creepy about two 30 year old guys sneaking into a college athletic center, busting out a camera, and filming co-eds playing intramural sports? Absolutely NOTHING! Obviously, when Commissioner Gallaway and New Media Director Tony Cani did this, they were asked to leave. But not before connecting the disparate parts of the DC wiffleball community together for a short time.
11. Just a Girl Hitting a Home Run
Only a handful, five we think without looking up the stats, of female players have hit an out of the park home run in the PWL. The first was Liz Smith, in our initial season. The history section of the page has her details at the bottom. But the most interesting was the second one, hit by Mindie Reule. After her feat she danced around, a lot. We need to find the original source video to upload a better version, believe it or not, that’s what the game videos looked like in the Spring of 2007. She was excited.
10. Night the Lights Went Out at Gravelly
For the 2008-2009 seasons the PWL got kicked out of Gravelly Point. Not just us, but all organized sports activity unless you wanted to play from 6 AM to 9 AM. Yeah, not a typo. Our home for the first five seasons, the policy changed, which we fought with a letter writing campaign, moved us to Ft. Reno. While we have fond memories of Ft. Reno, the highest point in DC (double meaning on high) we were happy to return to Gravelly in 2010. Yeah, it was a lot less windy at Reno in case you were wondering.
9. Zigmund and Thaman Retire
Every league needs a Babe Ruth and a Cy Young. For the PWL those players are Stephen Zigmund and Joe Thaman, the greatest hitter and pitcher in league history. Not only are their images embedded in the league website, their names are etched in the record books.
Zigmund played his first game in Week 2 of the initial 2005 season. He hit four home runs, besting the Commish who had three. He’d go on to hit 83 more, a record that might finally fall this season. He played his final game on 4/26/2009, Week 2 of the Spring Season. He homered in that game to drive in the GWRBI, but added one more RBI in his final plate appearance, ending his career on a sacrifice fly.
Thaman debuted 4/11/2010 during the first week of the Spring Season. He didn’t earn the start, that went to Chris Keeven, but came on in relief, striking out the first four of his record 614 batters. While no slouch at the plate, the big lefty set records on the mound almost unimaginable. While his strikeout record might fall in Season 21 or 22, his 14 perfect games are unlikely to ever be matched. He played his final game 10/2/2013, under the lights at the Maryland SoccerPlex, taking the loss in the Division Championship Series, striking out eight.
8. Government Shut Down, TWICE
A government shutdown helped facilitate the impeachment of a President, but it barely slowed the PWL down. Twice postseason games were relocated due to federal government shutdowns which closed Gravelly Point. In Summer 2013 both the DCS and World Series were moved to alternate locations. The lighted fields at the Maryland SoccerPlex allowed for the return of night wiffleball for the two DCS. In Spring 2014 the two DCS were also played under the lights on a weeknight, but Congress got the parks back open before the World Series. There was a threat of a shutdown in Spring 2011 also, but it turned out rain and Easter actually slowed the league for three weeks but the government kept operating.
7. Strike Board Added
It’s almost impossible to imagine the PWL without the strike board and radar. However, for the first nine seasons it didn’t exist. There have been three era’s of the PWL, the first six seasons required pitchers to rotate, like batters. That meant no wins for pitchers, no pitcher dominance. Even the worst guy on your team had to pitch unless you subbed him out. Then, for three seasons we stopped that, but still didn’t have a strike board. It was still an era of hitters. You could wait and wait for your pitch, one time Alex Filides took 60+ pitches in an at bat that lasted nine minutes and 40 seconds. That changed some minds. A gentleman would call a strike on himself, but there were few gentleman in the PWL. For the Spring 2010 season it all changed. A new era began, the strike board, and radar, having been long tried, debated, and ultimately voted on became a fixture in the PWL. Those original boards were made of pegboard and warped in the rain. We’ve come a long way.
6. Twits End Barnburner Run
The Blandsford Barburners lost their first game as a franchise, they forfeited because they were late getting to the park. Since that start they have played six seasons, only joining us in the Spring, and have five World Championships, second only to the Canvassers. They always manage to win the World Series. They’ll have ups and down in the regular season, but in 15 postseason series, they’ve only lost one. Their most recent one, to the DC Twits. The three game series was a seesaw affair, with the Twits taking game one 4-2, then the Barnburners coming back 7-4. But in the final game, the Twits just beat them. Three home runs for the Twits, and not a single bomb from the team that invented bombs. Down to their final two outs, and trailing Superman’s Wheelchair in Game 3 of the Spring 2012 World Series 6 to 2, Commissioner Gallaway had placed Wheelchair’s plaque on the trophy. But the Barnburners came back, scoring five runs without recording a single out to win their 4th title. The plaque came off. As bad as things looked then, a betting man would have found it more likely for them to win that game than to lose to the DC Twits in Game 3. In the first 17 seasons of the league, just 6 teams won every World Series. The DC Twits became the 7th team, and were soon followed by the 8th in the Wolfpack the next season. The plaque for the Twits World Series was delayed. Not because the Barnburners one had to be removed, it was never put on, but because it had a typo, DC Twists. Who would have ever though a reprint would be needed.
5. Starting Nine at Nationals Park
The Spring 2011 Champions Dinner was a little different. For starters it was before the World Series, so we didn’t know who the Champions were who were hosting. The opportunity though, was worth doing something a little early. The Nationals invited the PWL to be the “starting nine” on the field before the game. The Starting Nine was a group of nine folks, usually kids, who ran onto the field and took each position before the Nats took the field. Each position player shook your hand, then you ran off the field. Usually kids. Not ones to be shy of playing a kids sport, or taking over a kids activity, the PWL was honored to go on field. The weekly POTW winners were given first dibs on the spots, and we filled in for some no shows. We also had a suite at the game and even the non on-field celebrities joined us for the game and the awards.
4. PWL Makes National Marks
For years the PWL was isolated in the world of national wiffleball diplomacy. We didn’t have people who wanted to write for the national blogs or participate in the message boards, and we were largely ignored. That all changed in late 2009. Tony Ragano became the first PWL member to win a “Wiffy” award, being named the National Character of the Year in both 2009 and 2010. PWL was a co-winner of the national event of the year from 2010 to 2014 for the various Ohio events. The national integration became complete when Commissioner Gallaway was then twice named Commissioner of the Year in 2012 and 2013, and was robbed in 2014. In addition to these individual awards, our many of our teams have obviously been ranked in the weekly rankings. Generally we have 4-5 in the top 50 every week. The #1 team in the nation though is a special honor, and following the Spring 2011 season the Barnburners finally broke through after weeks at #2. Just to cheapen the honor though, another PWL team, the Moose Knuckles, made it to the #1 rankings for a much shorter time in May 2014.
3. 4th Website Launched, Reaches #1 Ranking
A wiffleball league is nothing without a website. Without the ability to get stats, game videos, and information, half the appeal of the league is lost. We created a POTW weekly vote because we worried that no one was visiting the website. Once we got stat tracking on visits, and video views, boy were we wrong. People were DEFINITELY spending time on the website. Our first version was actually generated using Microsoft Excel. Yes, it was as crappy as you would expect, but it had stats and standings. As crappy as it was, we were ranked the 13th best website in the nation.
For one year, we had bridge site between the old excel file, and the revamped blog based site. This covered the 2006 seasons.
In the Spring of 2007, Tony Cani helped us launch a new site, our 3.0 version. It was largely a blog format. We were able to more easily post content, but it didn’t feel like a league site, it felt like a blog. The stats pages were still static, and took a while to update, but we were making progress. It was during this version of the website that we completely rebuilt the back end of the stats program. Starting in 2012 a SQL programmer and PHP code writer named Matt Schiros built the PWL back end from scratch. Taking the data we got from our weekly scoring software, and turning it into dynamically served pages and profiles. We also had a lot of work to do to get the OLD stats into good shape. We had game by game stats for batting, but we had to go back and re-export all the pitching and fielding stats, which we only stored at the season level. It took a ton of time, but once the back end was working, and the stats were flowing, we knew we had to get it to look better. We had to start with the foundation…the DATA drove everything, but now it needed to look pretty. We did a design contest on 99designs, and there were two really great finalists. The version we have now, and a green, grass looking version that would have been great too. In the end, this one looked a little more like the website of a wiffleball league in the nations capitol.
In Spring 2013 we launched the current version, which took the powerful back end databases with a nice looking front end. We were shocked when shortly after the launch, in June of that year, our website was ranked nationally as the #4 website in the country. Yeah, totally wrong. The issue was rectified a few months later, when we were finally ranked #1. Since then, the WSEM site, which doesn’t even have its own domain, has been ranked #1 and we’re #2. We know better though. While we’ve always been light on non-game content, podcasts, and news stories, our bread and butter is our data. Game by game stats, complete game videos, and everything updated in real time from the fields as soon as each game is over. If there is a crowning achievement of this league, it’s a custom built website that every league would die to have.
2. Washington Post Feature
In 2019 the Washington Post did a feature series called “Our Lives Through Sport”. It gave football reporters, like Les Carpenter at the time, something to do when football season wasn’t happening. The third feature in the series was about the Potomac Wiffleball League. In addition to a long feature story that ran in the post, they sent a photographer, recorded a video version of the story, did an online Q and A, and even promoted it in their radio ads…“if you don’t get it, you don’t get it”. In short, it was an epic moment for the PWL.
The feature needed an angle, and Les wasn’t sure if he wanted to use the Blandsford Barnburners, a new team of 18 year olds from Manassas, or Tony Ragano, an “older” player. He chose Ragano, putting him on his path to winning National Wiffleball Character of the Year, twice. Obviously the Barnburners disappeared into obscurity. We even convinced Les to take some AB’s one week, he visited us three times, hopefully not violating his journalistic ethics by becoming part of the story he was covering.
1. Ball Shot
Even 26 years after Americas Funniest Home Videos debuted on television, we just can’t get enough of people getting hit in the balls. Certainly it’s happened many times in the PWL, possibly hundreds. It’s happened both before and after we recorded games. It will continue to happen as long as this game is played. But, timing is everything. Maybe it was the sound umpire Hal Ward made when hit. Maybe it’s that he was down for so long. Maybe, just maybe, it was a slow news day.
Whatever the reason, for a magical few days during the Spring 2014 Season, PWL was a global sensation, and Jim Shannon’s name was mentioned on SportsCenter. It was the “ball shot heard round the world”. And it all ended with Keith Olbermann calling us the World’s Worst in Sports. FIFA was #3…we were #1. FIFA.
Why not…let’s watch it again. Was it the most amazing or critical moment in the history of the league. Probably not. Was it the most notable…arguably yes.