[MAW] 2019 Winter Classic: All Nighter Tournament Recap
A wild ending to a tie game caps off a memorable Winter Classic
PALMYRA, Pa. - It was almost surreal. Tournaments aren’t supposed to end with the sun rising but this one did.
At just about 7:00 AM on the dot, sunlight began to shine through the semi-transparent dome ceiling at In the Net in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Throughout the overnight tournament, players and spectators could be overheard trying to discern the exact time of night. The tournament began at 10:00 PM on Saturday – long after the sun set for the day – and inside the cold dome the hours seemed to run together. The only thing separating 11 PM on Saturday from 4 AM on Sunday was the dwindling field of teams. The rising sun shining through the ceiling broke up the monotony of the night and marked the passage of time for the first time all tournament. To the sleep-deprived players and onlookers, the light seemed almost like a mirage.
Adding to the surreal scene of the championship game was the undeniable feeling that the game was destined to be a stalemate. Ties are usually – fortunately – avoided in tournament wiffleball and Mid Atlantic had – fortunately – avoided such a fate through its first two seasons. But this tournament felt different. The championship game felt different. When Adderall or Nothing took the lead in the first on a triple and wild pitch (followed by a single), it never felt like they were in control. When the Fingerballs tied the game in the bottom of the 5th and final regulation inning thanks to a leadoff triple and clutch single, it seemed almost expected. Although the tournament was ahead of schedule most of the night, a 90 minute 8-inning total base semi-final between Adderall and the Blue Kamaikazes threw a wrench into things. Now that the championship was also closing in on the 90-minute mark and had already surpassed the pre-announced 7:15 curfew for starting a new inning, a tie felt almost expected.
A final inning was negotiated with the facility and if neither team scored, the tournament would end with co-champions (the two clubs had already agreed pre-game to split up the $800 first place cash prize). Adderall went down silently in the top half of the inning and the first two Fingerballs went down quickly in the bottom half of the frame. The inevitable tie was two strikes away when Ben Stant stepped to the plate.
Stant took a smooth and controlled hack at the second pitch he saw – a hanging drop pitch – and just like that, a tie no longer seemed so inevitable. In fact, it seemed impossible. Stant struck the ball too well for it to stay in the in the park. It sounded like a home run and more importantly, it looked like a home run. The Fingerballs knew it. Stant immediately started celebrating and was quickly joined on the field by his teammates. None of the Fingerballs even watched the ball the first second or two it was in the air. They knew where it was heading.
Then in an instant Stant stopped celebrating and he turned his attention towards the ball. His teammates did the same. It was as if they all collectively and suddenly realized what was about to happen before it happened. What they saw when they looked up was Tim McElrath racing from center field at full speed towards Jordan Robles, who was racing over equally as hurried from left. The two players barely avoided collision but the wall – and a phone/tripod just beyond it – were not as lucky. Tim reached out and grabbed the ball, knocking over a section of the fence and the camera in the process. The Fingerballs looked on in stunned disbelief. Ryan McElrath sighed in relief followed with an understated fist pump.
An outcome that appeared inevitable 30 seconds ago and then impossible 5 seconds ago was now officially reality. The 2019 Winter Classic had ended in a 1-1 extra inning tie. Despite the inconclusive finish, Fingerballs’ captain Chris Sarnowski would later call the game “the best I’ve ever been a part of.”
It was a strange but wonderfully fitting end to a noteworthy, at times odd, but always entertaining Mid Atlantic Winter Classic tournament. A lot happened that night of February 9th and 10th while most were sound asleep. Here are just some of the noteworthy occurrences.
And that happened . . .
A long wait and a tough break for the Lemon Heads
In a format designed to award teams for strong early play while also providing every team in the field with multiple chances to play themselves into the final 8, there was an unintended negative consequence for the Jersey Lemon Heads. After winning their first two games of the day to secure a top three spot in the final 8, the Lemon Heads waited several hours for their next opponent to be decided. By the time they took the field against the National Wifflers, Johnny Costa wasn’t the same pitcher he was earlier in the tournament, perhaps a result from the layoff in between games. His command was not quite there and the Lemons exited the tournament far earlier than they hoped. It was another tough break for a team that – for the past year – is seemingly always fighting to get over that final hump. As always – and to their credit – the Lemons remained measured after the tough defeat and it still remains only a matter of time before they pick up that signature tournament win.
A Walk Off for #1738 puts the Kamikazes at #1
With an express pass to the final eight – not to mention a top three seed – at stake, the Blue Kamikazes faced off against the National Wifflers in both teams’ second game of the night. Both teams were 1-0 which meant that the winner would grab one of the top 3 seeds in the final 8 while the losing team would have to play at least one more game to try to advance. The game entered the bottom of the fourth inning deadlocked. Facing Tom Gannon of the National Wifflers, the Kamikazes’ Anthony LaValley launched an opposite field home run to end the game. The home run proved huge for the Kamikazes. Not only did it give them the win and a top three seed, but by winning the game outright in regulation rather than extra innings or on total bases, the Blue Kamikazes picked up a big tiebreaker over their fellow 2-0 teams and took the #1 seed in the final 8. Although that distinction came with a long wait, it allowed the Kamikazes to face a worn out York Yaks in the first round of the final 8 and enter the semi-finals with a nearly fresh K-Von. LaValley’s walk off proved to be as well-timed as it was clutch. (Video highlight)
Gino garners some attention
Late in the tournament with his team steamrolling towards the finals, the Fingerballs’ Chris Sarnowski passed by. Rather than discuss his team or anything of that nature, Red smiled wildly and asked:
“Man, how great was Gino?!?”
There was no answer needed to that rhetorical question.
Playing for the National Wifflers in this event, sophomore player Gino Joseph turned heads with the way he pitched his team passed You Enjoy Myself and the Lemon Heads on the way to a final four berth. With a combination of stuff, command, and poise that rivaled all but a few of his peers on this particular night, Gino threw nine huge shutout innings in playoff caliber situations. In just three MAW tournaments, the young righty from Pittsburgh has transformed himself from a raw pitcher with obvious potential into a player that opposing hitters are taking notice of. Although Gino and the National Wifflers were eventually stopped by Sarno and the Fingerballs in the semi’s, Gino’s continued ascension was a key conversation point among players and tournament organizers. Gino’s strong tournament was especially satisfying to see for Sarno, who has taken a personal interest in the development of his fellow Pittsburgh area wiffler. (Video Highlight)
A long weekend
It goes without saying that any night when you don’t go to sleep is a long one, so it would be appropriate to note that it was a long Saturday night for every player in the tournament. Few players, however, had as long a weekend and Saturday night as Adderall’s Jordan Robles. Robles arrived to the tournament about 15 minutes after the scheduled 10:00 PM start time, having spent all of Saturday (and Friday) coaching at wrestling tournaments before rushing to make the 3 ½ hour drive to Hershey. In the early hours of the morning, Robles took the ball against the Dragons in the quarterfinals. Showing off his midseason stuff, Jordan pitched his team passed their difficult opponents into the semi’s.This time Jordan squared off against Palisades’ Padres teammate, K-Von, in what ended up being an eight-inning scoreless total base affair. By the end of the game, the usually unflappable Robles was noticeably limping as he walked off the rubber to fetch the ball after each pitch – a likely side effect of his long and hectic day. While all of that would enervate most of us, Jordan continued to battle at the plate and in the field in the championship game looking no worse for wear. If Tim McElrath hadn’t beaten him to the punch by a couple of steps, you can bet Jordan would have been the one crashing through the fence in an attempt to catch the final out of the tournament. All-in-all, just another night at the office for one of game’s best. (Video Highlight)
Dragons vs. Longballs is a showcase of two big arms
If there was one first round match up that jumped off the page, it was the 10:45 PM game on Saturday night that pitted the 2018 Palisades Minor League champions, the Dragons, versus 2018 MAW Championship Tournament 3rd place finishers, the Longballs. Given the similar experience and talent levels on both teams, the first time match up was intriguing even without knowing he pitching matchup. That matchup – the Longballs’ Tommy Loftus taking on the Dragons’ Vinny Lea – proved to be the real treat. Lea and Loftus possess monster arms and top notch stuff which they each showed off throughout the game. Tommy arrived on the scene in 2017 in the NWLA Tournament but missed most of 2018 after back surgery. For his part, Lea had a tremendous season in the Palisades minors and regular league in 2018 pitching for the Dragons and Palisades Royals, respectively. As expected, the game was scoreless through five innings with both pitchers racking up the K’s. In the end, Lea won the battle by limiting the number of walks while Loftus scattered six in a 0-0 game decided on total bases 6-3. We can’t wait to see to these two pitchers – and these two teams – battle it out again hopefully in the very near future! (Video Highlight - Lea | Video Highlight - Loftus)
Battle of the Best
Two of 2018’s best – and if you go by The Drop 100, the two best – went head-to-head in the championship of 2019’s first major tournament. Both Ryan McElrath and Ty Wegerzn entered the title game of the Winter Classic completely fresh – well, as fresh as one can be after having hit and fielded for eight hours overnight – setting the stage for a classic pitching matchup. It was Ryan’s work with the bat that got this heavyweight battle underway, when he tripled as the leadoff batter in the top of the first and later scored on a wild pitch. Ty – the 2018 Palisades MVP and Fast Plastic Texas Open MVP – more than settled in from there while Ryan weaved in and out of trouble throughout the middle innings. Ryan – The Drop’s 2018 Player of the Year– seemingly had the game in hand until a fifth inning rally climaxed with a Kevin Norris line drive single to tie things at one. Both pitchers made it through the final two innings unscathed, although Ryan had a little help from his brother in the least at bat of the game.
All-in-all, the battle of two of the game’s best more than lived up to the hype. Given how evenly Ryan and Ty played relative to one another in 2018, it seems somewhat appropriate that their first meeting of 2019 would result in a draw.
Passing the torch?
Sandwiched between a couple of all-time greats on the You Enjoy Myself roster, it was easy to overlook Noah Silverman. After all, he came into the tournament with his only prior competitive experience coming at last year’s Winter Classic compared to the decades of competitive wiffs experience his two teammates (Lou Worthington and Mike Soltesz) had accumulated. But in the end it was the rookie that stood out over his more prolific teammates thanks to a quality night of pitching. After Salt took on the Fingerball’s in YEM’s opener, Noah took the ball the rest of the way. He picked up a win over the Mothmen and a total bases loss against the National Wifflers before dropping his team’s final game to the York Yaks. It was clear that his uncle (Lou) had been tutoring him. Noah showed off a solid riser – albeit without his uncle’s signature and inimitable submarine motion – and showed off the ability to retire quality hitters. A year after going an entire tournament without pitching, Noah’s rise to the ace of his team was notable. While he still has a long way to go to match the exploits of his two teammates, on this night at least he was the star. (Video Highlight)
How did that not get out?
There are few players in the game more – how do I put this gently? – “expressive” than Connor Young. Whether things are going right or wrong for Connor on the wiffleball field, all the players in the tournament – and some in neighboring counties – will hear about it. Such was the case in a crucial consolation bracket matchup between Connor’s team, Adderall or Nothing, and the Longballs a little after midnight on Sunday morning. With both pitchers – Connor for his team, Sean Bingnear for the Longballs – in full control, it was clear this big game between 1-1 teams would come down to a key hit. Connor thought he got just that when he lifted a Bingnear screwball into the air. First came the shouts of joy and the then the yells of disgust as Connor watched what he thought was a potential home run drift harmlessly into the outfield
Home run near misses would become a theme of the tournament.
A couple of games later, the Longballs found themselves on the other end of a ball that seemed destined to clear the outfield fence. With a runner on first base against Sarno and the Fingerballs, Colin Pollag got ahold of ball that sure sounded like a home run off the bat. Hit almost to straight away center, the ball came down just a couple of feet shy of the fence for a long (and loud) out. The run would have given the Longballs a 2-1 lead late in that quarterfinal game.
Of course, nobody felt the pain of a near-miss as frequently and as harshly this past weekend as Ben Stant. In the middle of the tournament championship game, the sweet-swinging lefty ripped a line drive down the right field line. The ball was hit so hard and far that it actually went around the foul pole, crossing past the fence in foul territory but landing in fair territory on the adjacent field. A few innings later – with the game and tournament down to its final batter – Ben clobbered a ball that looked and sounded as if it would clear the fence by a good ten feet. Instead the ball hung up in the air – as it had much of the day on that particular field – but still might have cleared the wall if not for Tim McElrath running into the fence to make a game saving grab. Hopefully for Stant, he is just getting all of his bad luck out of the way in February.
A harbinger for the Juggernauts?
The six members of the Juggernauts were split up two apiece across three different rosters last weekend, but all six generally performed well. Adam Milsted was the workhorse for the Bull-less Yaks, throwing in four of their five games and picking up a pair of victories. Four of the other Juggernauts – Tim and Ryan McElrath, Ben Stant, and captain Chris Sarnowski – competed against each other in the championship game. All four shined in that game, with Ryan scoring his team’s only run in addition to handling pitching duties, Ben Stant picked up one hit in between two almost-homeruns, Sarno scored his team’s only run via a leadoff triple, and Tim robbed Ben of a homerun to finish off the game. It wasn’t already obvious that the Juggernauts were going to be a force to deal with this summer but seeing all six players perform at a relatively high level this past weekend only served to drive that point home.
Cold and sleep deprived players competing indoors overnight? Seems like the perfect recipe for some strange wiffs. In that regard, the second annual Winter Classic did not disappoint. A re-started total bases game, an obscure rule coming into play, and a championship tie were just a few of the odd things that went down in the wee hours of the morning on February 10th.
After three and a half innings of scoreless wiffleball, the first stage game between the Shortballs and HBF Bad Boyz appeared to be settled on total bases with the Bad Boyz advancing 19-17. Not so fast. The teams left the field and another game got started, only for it to be discovered that the teams had initially erred on the total base count and that the Shortballs were actually ahead. In the interest of fairness, the game was restarted – after the game now taking place on Field #3 wrapped up – with the Bad Boyz batting in the bottom of the fourth. The Shortballs held on for the win, providing the Bad Boyz with a heartbreaking loss after they through they had the game won.
In the semi-final meeting with the Blue Kamikazes, Adderall had what they thought was a run scoring triple. Instead – thanks to an obscure holdover rule and some good positioning by outfielder Brett Delano – it was simply a long, no run double. According to the MAW rule book, a ball that hits the wall but is subsequently caught by a fielder before the ball hits the ground is ruled a double. That’s precisely what happened when Delano caught the ball in the air off the ricochet. The rule – which originated during a period of the game when double rules were different than today and was also implemented to mimic how a ball caught off the wall in baseball would be more likely to result in a double than a triple – caught all of the players off guard. When play resumed, K-Von worked out of the jam. The game would go six more scoreless innings and end up as an Adderall total base win.
Here and There
In the missed opportunity category, was there anything bigger than the Longballs loading the bases against Sarno and the Fingerballs in the quarterfinals but being unable to push even a single run across? With Loftus dealing in a close game, a run in that situation could have dramatically altered the remainder of the tournament . . . Notable by his absence was the Lemon Heads’ Ray Lutick. Ray had to miss the tournament due to college baseball commitments, but wasn’t exactly content with that decision. Ray twice hopped in his car to drive to Hershey only to think better of it on both occasions . . . With a plethora of pitching oriented games decided by total bases and one run, there was ample opportunity for a key bunt or two but alas, MAW remains bunt-less . . . Among the more interesting clothing choices were HBF’s Josh Camp pitching with the shorts/no shoes beach look without regard to the month/temperature and Ty Wegerzn occasionally disappearing completely behind his hoodie while stationed on defense . . . Dan Potter – who struggled mightily on the rubber last season in MAW but hasn’t abandoned hope of rediscovering his pitching abilities – took a step in the right direction Sunday morning by working a scoreless inning in relief while striking out two for the Yaks . . . No team was more disappointed in the outcome of their tournament than the Mothmen from Huntington, West Virginia. Down one player (and pitcher) due to a late scratch, the Mothmen never quite got out of the starting blocks but we hope to see a couple (or all of them) in the Mid Atlantic again later this year . . . Josh Pagano (Adderall) unfortunately had to leave the tournament during his team’s second game due to illness. WE hope Josh is feeling better and look forward to hopefully seeing him at full strength in the future.
Can you believe it? The 2019 MAW spring/summer season is just a tick over two months away! MAW returns to its home base - Shi Wiffleball Complex in York, PA - on Saturday April 20th for Opening Day 2019! Stayed turned for registration information for this tournament and all 2019 regular season tournaments coming very, very soon to midatlanticwiffle.com! We expect Opening Day to fill up quickly so don’t miss out!