Ultimate Uncles vs. Nuclear Nephews: A Special 30th Anniversary Retrospective of the Famous Wiffleball Clash

The World Series. The Super Bowl. The Daytona 500.

Every major sport has its own seminal event(s).

On July 2, 1989, the Walker Wiffleball League, still in its infancy, featured its own monumental contest:

The Ultimate Uncles vs. The Nuclear Nephews.

It was an epic game that addressed challenges from both sides head-on and cemented bragging rights for decades to come. The scene was buzzing. An electric atmosphere on the grounds of what would become Hank Gathers Memorial Stadium was theretofore unheard of in wiffleball – highlighted by a live performance of our national anthem, two beer commercials, stunning video production, and shit-talking galore.

In this comprehensive, uncensored 30th Anniversary recap, we will take a close look at the game itself along with input and anecdotes directly from those who participated in the glory of that July day.

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 The History

A couple years back, we visited with Chris Walker, founder of the WWL (you can view that interview here), to talk about his highly organized 3 on 3 league that featured an authentic mini-stadium, full recordkeeping, night games, and bold player nicknames like ‘Doobie” and “Buttpick” among others.

Although the league was just getting started in 1989, many felt that it needed a special event to really commemorate and celebrate the simplistic joys of wiffleball and summertime.

And settle some scores.

Rumblings of such a game were rampant for over a year, before the gauntlet was officially thrown down and agreed upon. Details are little sketchy, but the actual deal may have been struck during a family Christmas gathering in 1988. (Whether or not the discussion about the game stemmed from a certain gag-gifted toilet plunger is debatable to this day.)

“It may have been brought about at a recent family engagement,” recalls Nuclear Nephews outfielder Shawn Trusty. “It was mutually agreed upon and the Fourth of July seemed the perfect fit.”

Teams were then chosen, and the stage was set for the game as part of the upcoming Fourth of July Weekend festivities.

Ultimate Uncles vs. Nuclear Nephews: The Game

The Ultimate Uncles consisted of a grizzly mix of veteran talent. Trickster twirler William “Rollie” Walker took the bump, flanked by fleetfooted outfielders Larry Walker and Shoeless Paul “Thor” Mackey.

The younger, piss and vinegar-filled Nuclear Nephews, never ones to miss an opportunity to make a statement, countered as an elite trio. The Trusty brothers – Brian and Shawn – along with league founder Chris Walker comprised a team chock full of speed, power, and attitude.

Ok let’s face it. They were being dicks.

A perfect summer day greeted the attendees at the David Avenue grounds. As the holiday festivities that included a cookout, swimming and beer drinking gave way to an afternoon haze, the game was set to start. Opening ceremonies commenced, as Rollie Walker thrilled the throng with a stirring, Hendrix-esque rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. Rollin and Rose Walker each threw out ceremonial first pitches, and the teams were ready to square off – save for a preordained delay whilst the Nephews cockily dashed off to the clubhouse to don their faux-Boston Red Sox uniforms.

Umpire John Trusty and cameraman/commentator Bruce Darin, himself a legendary third baseman in his day, rounded out the gameday crew.

The ground rules were explained well ahead of time, but it didn’t take long for some tempers to flare over misunderstandings regarding the provided statutes.

Umpire Trusty wasn’t about to deal with any quibbling over the rules, though.

Prior to first pitch he loudly and proudly delivered his simple edict (which was also printed on the back of his shirt): “When the ump says you’re out, you’re fucking OUT!”

“I didn’t want any questions or bullshit. I would rather have sat around and drank beers all day but fuck it.” John Trusty said.

Starting pitcher for the Nuclear Nephews, Brian Trusty, was incensed from the jump.

“I hated the way the Uncles ignored the rules, even though we gave them copies hours before the game,” he said.

Rumors that the physical copies of the rules given to the Uncles were defiantly used as kindling for the grill went largely unsubstantiated, but it nonetheless seemed to fuel a different fire – that of the game.

As the game began, it was clear that any ignorance or breaking of the rules wouldn’t matter. The Nephews set the tone early and exploded for seven runs in the first inning. Rollie Walker struggled to get outs, as the three-pronged attack from the Nephews was just too heavy. His effort ended after four innings, surrendering 18 earned runs on 19 hits.

Facing a large 18-2 deficit, it seemed the Uncles were doomed. Defensive struggles added to their uphill battle, despite the perceived outfield prowess of the L. Walker-Mackey duo.

Like the hull in Red Beckman’s boat, there were just too many holes.

Yet somehow, the light turned on and the Ultimates began to stage a furious charge.

Either their beer was getting warm, or they started to figure Brian Trusty’s pitches out, but the Uncles roared back with four runs in the fifth and five more in the sixth. Led by Mackey’s seven home run, eleven RBI barrage, (often one-handed, with a koozie’d Bud Light occupying the other), the score was now an interesting 23-11 heading to the seventh. In WWL games, even a 12-run lead was never safe.

The Uncles had officially boarded the comeback train.

“Uncle Paul was a great softball player in his day. He had a swing that generated a lot of power. His softball abilities transferred to the wiffleball field and he hit some bombs!” Shawn Trusty recounts.

Southpaw Larry Walker, on in relief for the Uncles since the fifth, had his struggles but kept the game from getting too far out of reach for the time being. The Nephews’ bats came back to life in the bottom of the seventh however, putting a five-spot on the board to once again establish comfort with a 28-11 lead.

Trusty’s day on the hill ended after 7.2 innings, having surrendered 21 hits and 12 runs. Chris Walker took the mound for the final 1.2 innings and completely shut down the Uncles; his unique submarine delivery an utter bafflement to the weary and buzzed veteran squad.

The late surge ended, and the miraculous comeback attempt was squeezed.

When the final out was recorded, the Nuclear Nephews were the 28-13 victors.

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Original box score from the game. Credit to Chris Walker.

 

Fast-forward thirty years, and with some effort, we were able to gather an esteemed panel comprised of those who made this game happen – the players and officials.

In this special no-holds-barred, tell-all segment, sparks fly.

Buckle up.

 

Alright, let’s cut the shit. How did the idea for this game really come about?

Chris Walker: My memory is fucked but we played 27 games of wiffleball in ’88 where we kept stats, so the league was operating by then. I really don’t know who is responsible for this, but I definitely would like to thank them because the fact that we did it and have video to document it is almost as cool as feeding squirrels.

Shawn Trusty: I don’t recall. It might’ve been brought about at a recent family engagement. Christmas probably.

Rollie Walker: We were challenged.

What was the process for team selection?

Shawn: Team representation was agreed upon quickly. 3 on 3 was the standard.

Chris: My guess is my dad and Uncle Larry were automatic because of the Walker name and they needed a third. Uncle Paul was the best player available. I suppose we could’ve let them bat four or five by adding Uncle John and Uncle Bruce and we could’ve had Angela and Kevin play on our team, but that was never discussed.

Rollie: We were challenged and just picked the team. You can’t have four against three, and it was at my house, so I was going to play!

Nephews – what was your strategy going into this game?

Shawn: We knew we were the better team and it was just a matter of us playing ball. The only chance the Uncles had is if one of us got injured.

Chris: Brian took it seriously and so the rest of us followed suit.

Shawn: I was and still am a very competitive person. When I’m in the midst of an athletic competition, I compete physically and verbally.

Why the Boston Red Sox-inspired uniforms?

Shawn: We had to pick an AL team as each of us were fans of the Cubs or Cardinals and all hated the Mets. We decided on the Red Sox because of players we liked. The Cleveland Indians were also considered.

Brian Trusty: Our Red Sox jersey numbers were based on their outfield of Mike Greenwell (39: me), Ellis Burks (12: Chris) and Dwight Evans (24: Shawn).

How were the umpire and cameraman chosen?

Chris: I’d like to know that as well. Like I said, I’m hazy on this being 30 years ago and really just being a 17-year old wiseass at the time.

Shawn: The roles had to be filled and there were two logical spots for the remaining uncles who weren’t playing.

John Trusty: (Shrugs). I had to do what I had to do. So fuck it.

The gameday atmosphere was extravagant, complete with an incredible rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner and not one but two beer commercials.

Chris: My dad always had something planned. How else would he have had the guitar, wig, and attire?

Brian: Grandpa [Rollin Walker] doing the Bob Uecker Miller Lite commercial was awesome.

Bruce Darin: Anything involving Pop that day was great.

Shawn: That might’ve been the 20th anniversary homage to Hendrix at Woodstock. Guitar supplied by the umpire. Grandpa impersonating Bob Uecker’s commercial was an awesome part of the day where he did his own thing, going way out into the field.

Rollie: It’s baseball so you got to have the Star-Spangled Banner to start a game. I just thought the Jimi Hendrix recording would be what I’d play. I had a wig and a guitar, so I improvised. Just acting goofy.

Rick Zelko’s “Miller Man” ad put Budweiser’s iconic “Bud Man” to shame, with him slamming a cold High Life and simply instructing viewers to go buy it.

Shawn: I like Rick and always have, and that commercial was hilarious. He was having a good time that day.

Chris: It was legendary and spontaneous which is Rick in a nutshell. I can watch that again and again (laughs).

The Miller Man commercial in all its glory can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvFgbx9jXVI

 Uncles – how did you plan to defend against the Nephews’ powerful bats, especially with a shoeless Paul Mackey roaming the outfield? Was that a hindrance at all?

Larry Walker: I tried to cover as much ground as possible. I was probably the speediest defender.

Paul Mackey: (Shrugs) I was faster than Larry because I was shoeless.

The Nephews started the game with a blistering seven-run first frame and never looked back. Talk about that initial assault.

Chris: We dominated. Those guys are fags (laughs.)

Shawn: Hard hit balls and aggressive baserunning were the keys.

Larry: Our outfield was speedy, but I didn’t expect the Nephews to come out with so much passion. Shit, I was just drinking beer at a picnic.

The Nephews plated runs in every inning but the eighth when Mackey came on in relief. Did you call off the dogs by then or was he legitimately fooling you?

Shawn: By that point he was feeling pretty good. We weren’t trying to slam more runs on the board. I’ll give Uncle Paul credit for that scoreless inning, but had he started the game, the final score wouldn’t have been any different.

Chris: No clue. He may have been mad because I was bragging about trying to buy Red’s boat.

Shoeless Paul did some serious swatting for the Uncles, with 7 of his 9 hits being home runs – many while holding a beer. What made him so tough to get out?

Brian: I could not get Uncle Paul out no matter what I threw him (laughs).

Paul: I was a tough out with my patented one beer/one-handed swing.

Chris: He had great shoeless footwork and the power became prodigious as the liquid gold continued to flow. He was a dominant softball player in those days too.

Paul: I was putting on a show for Bob Uecker in the front row (laughs).

Chris, you ended the game in relief with 1.2 innings pitched of no-hit, shutout ball, a rare feat in the WWL.

Chris: Basically, Uncle Paul was hammered by that time and my dad and Uncle Larry were probably tired and had just kind of given up. Everyone was ready to go eat potato salad.

Cameraman/commentator Bruce Darin had some salty takes throughout the game about both teams and the umpiring. What did that add to the narrative of this epic game?

Bruce: I mean, you have to have commentary to keep things interesting.

John: He did his job and I did mine. Fuck it.

Chris: It adds more than I think anyone realizes. It baffles me when I think of how it all happened but being unable to recall why it all happened that way, know what I mean? The commentator certainly wasn’t biased. Everyone was open game to his criticisms.

Shawn: The commentary was…weak. It reeked of a guy projecting his odd humor that was dripping with irony. But it was still great (laughs).

The comparison of Darin’s cinematography and gameday production to that of the legendary Arnie Harris was high praise.

Chris: Complete and utter bullshit, but it sounded good and funny at the time though (laughs). But he completed the job and I am extremely grateful that he was able to do it.

Bruce: I learned a lot from watching Cubs games on WGN in those days.

The commentator was also a big proponent of the squeeze play, which was an interesting idea given the short basepaths. Was that even allowed per league rules? Could strategy get as granular as regular baseball?

Bruce: I learned a lot from listening to Bob Uecker, too.

Shawn: Impossible for a squeeze play when all runners had to keep their foot on the base.

Chris: It would have to be a safety squeeze since you couldn’t run until contact was made. I think Doobie tried to squeeze in Buttpick from third once, but it was disallowed.

Why the hell wasn’t there ever a rematch?

Chris: I’ve always wondered why we didn’t do it (shrugs).

Shawn: Considering the shape we are in we’d probably lose a rematch.

Author’s note: I’d play this time.

 

Well, there it is folks. One tremendous ballgame many moons ago, and for three decades some of the goofy jabs have stuck around like a fart in a space suit. You may recall that Apollo Creed once told Rocky Balboa there wasn’t going to be a rematch.

But we all know how that turned out…

 

Special thanks to all who participated, and to Chris Walker for providing the official box score, and recent special edition interview content with William “Rollie” Walker, which can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHFX4yFOBjc

 

 

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The Greatest College Baseball Game Ever Played

Game seven of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians may go down as the greatest major league baseball game, or at least greatest game seven, of all time. The two thousand-plus inning exhibition game between the Cubs and all-stars from the Iowa Baseball Confederacy in 1908 in W.P. Kinsella’s The Iowa Baseball Confederacy is doubtless the greatest fictional baseball game of all time.

So what about the best game ever in college ball? Well, there certainly is one.

New Haven, Connecticut. Yale Field. May 21, 1981. NCAA Northeast Regional, first round.

Future MLB star hurlers Ron Darling of Yale, and St. John’s’ Frank Viola would square off in a pitchers duel reminiscent of  many deadball-era gems of several decades prior. Many of the game’s 2,000 spectators hung around the ballpark for the second game of the NCAA Regional doubleheader, hoping for a better contest than the earlier 10-2 drubbing of Central Michigan at the hands of Maine. They had no idea what they were in for.

Darling and Viola were deadlocked in a scoreless game in the ninth inning. Moreover, Darling had yet to give up a hit and no runner had reached third base. As the game entered extra innings, both pitchers’ pitch counts were skryocketing into the 170’s, but it had no effect on either arm. St. John’s catcher Don Giordano marveled at the movement that Darling had on his pitches all game long. “An unbelievable slider that broke like nothing any of us were accustomed to seeing,” Giordano said.

Yale managed to scatter several runners throughout the game, but Viola, dominant in his own right for the Redmen, held them scoreless. Darling was just a tick better however, taking his no-hit sensation into the 12th inning.

Stephen Scafa led off the top of the 12th for St. John’s and managed to muscle a soft liner off his hands into left field, ending the no-hitter by Darling. Everyone at the ballpark, including, in a great show of sportsmanship, the entire St. John’s team, gave Darling a standing ovation. “I’ll never forget this as long as I live: The St. John’s team came up to the top step of the dugout and gave me a standing ovation,” Darling said during a 30th-anniversary of the game in 2011. Even in the midst of a great battle, monumental moments are respected by those who respect the game.

The speedy Scafa, always a base-stealing threat, immediately swiped second.

Giordana then reached on an error by Yale shortstop Bob Brooke to put runners at the corners. Thomas Covino came in to pinch-run, and the Redmen called a double-steal on the very next pitch. Darling stumbled coming off the mound and thus could not cut off the throw, which went to second. Scafa froze at third while Covina got caught in a rundown. At the moment the ball was thrown to first, Scafa broke for home, sliding in safely to give St. John’s a 1-0 lead they would not relinquish.

Yale was unable to score in the bottom of the 12th against St. John’s closer Eric Stamphl and the game ended.

In a performance that would make Walter Johnson proud, Darling went the distance in the 1-0 loss, allowing just one hit and striking out 16. Viola twirled a gem of his own, scattering seven hits over 11 scoreless innings. The fans at Yale Field that day saw the greatest college baseball game ever played. A timeless pitchers duel that lasted three extra frames and was decided on a gutsy (and brilliant), display of smallball at the most opportune time.

It was the greatest spectacle of sport and strategy at the NCAA level, and 36 years later has yet to be outdone. It may never be.

‘Tis a strange and wonderful game, that baseball…

Sources: http://www.nationalpastime.com

A Draft Day Adventure

Lost in a world of fantasy, look what you’ve done to me.”

Yeah, that was a nod to a sizable hit song from 1982, remember? No? What about the Canadian rock band Triumph, who wrote it? Geez, what about the mega hit “Fantasy” by Aldo Nova? How about…crap, never mind. You may have known somewhere in the far recesses of your subconscious mind that these songs existed, but their details were very sketchy, at best. Basically, you don’t remember these songs any more than I remembered just how to play fantasy baseball.

You can imagine then, that I was a little concerned heading into last weekend’s draft, feeling like a mechanic from the 1970’s who started working on cars again in 2017 after a long time away. Sure, cars still have four wheels and an engine, but what makes them actually go is radically different from what he remembers.

This 2017 season is not my first foray into the world of fantasy baseball per se, but it is my first jaunt into this modern age of the game. You see, the last time I delved into this universe, the internet didn’t quite exist and you had to mail in your draft picks and lineups. Yes, that mail. So, here we are today and after some weeks of not-too-strenuous convincing and courting by a group of friends whom I share a mutual passion not only for baseball but specifically the Cubs with, I joined their league. Mind you, this is a league that is some 16 years old, give or take a foggy year or two at it’s inception during those joyous college years. Yep, this is me: Don’t try and join a startup league with fellow noob’s (as legions of basement-dwelling World of Warcrafters might call me), or a basic online league like I participated in, sort of, once before. Nope, just join a full 12-team keeper league full of veteran, extremely smart, analytical players. It’s going to be fun they said.

I started my prep with no singular direction, and outlined a list of players at each position without too much intricate research. I honestly had neither the time, nor the die-hard inclination. As a league rookie, I first got to participate in a mini-expansion draft with a fellow new team to the league and, actually, I think I did OK here. Selecting from a short list of available players who weren’t kept from last season, I managed to snag Johnathan Lucroy, Adrian Beltre, Brandon Crawford and Javier Baez. Not a bad start.

Draft day arrived and I was filled with excitement and anticipation, but also a modicum of fear as I didn’t want to completely Lewis Skolnick myself in front of a room full of long-time players. The auction rounds came and went, and my initial goal was to try and spread the wealth a bit to get a decent number of good players. Five buys later, mission accomplished. It was then that things began to trend in a direction that was less than upward, but not entirely to the trajectory of the Titanic‘s ultimate buoyancy in the North Atlantic, either. When it was all said and done, I took a look at my roster, feeling pretty OK about my performance. While I didn’t get remotely close to every player I had targeted (who does?), I still felt I had a roster of players who could deliver consistency in multiple categories. On second look however, I noticed two overarching themes:

Youth.

Health.

I don’t have a lot of either on my roster.

I do seem to have a good amount of power with guys like Lucroy, Beltre, Mark Trumbo, Giancarlo Stanton, Wil Myers, and Mr. Do-It-All Charlie Blackmon (easily my best pick of the draft.) Then comes a bench with what ended up being multiple catchers, but whom can also DH, a semi-surprising 22nd-round pickup with Josh Bell, and Kansas City utility man Whit Merrifield, who sounds like an Alpha Beta pledge at Adams College if ever there was one.

While the position players may be adequate, the pitching staff is cause for concern. Anchored by three injury/loss-of-stuff risks with Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Zack Greinke. A couple mid-level starters with James Paxton and Gio Gonzales round things out with Sam Dyson and Kyle Barraclough (whom I admittedly drafted about 12% due to his name), in the mix as well. Draft snafu #2 happened nearly too late of course, when I realized somewhere around the 19th round that I had no true closer, and all the big guns were long off my board. I had to settle, for now, on Huston Street, who promptly began suffering from some sort of ailment (again.) Not a great sign. But sort of fitting, in a way. I’m the dumbass who overlooked that spot on my roster.

What’s the point of all of this you ask?

None, really. I just wanted to write something, I haven’t written about fantasy baseball before, and figured I’d throw this yarn of shameless self-deprecation out in the universe and open the floor to mocking, laughter and sneers. Hopefully it works out and I can maintain something above the level of animal excrement for the season.

But I’ll keep an eye on that waiver wire too.

It Takes a Great Game 7 To End the Greatest Drought

Of course it just had to happen this way.

There they were, in the 5th inning of Game 7 in one of the best World Series of all time, with a fairly comfortable 5-1 lead and things were looking rather bright for the Cubs.

Then terror struck.

Beginning with Joe Maddon pulling starter Kyle Hendricks with two outs in the fifth at only 63 pitches and after Hendricks assumed cruising status, the domino effect rippled through Progressive Field in Cleveland. Almost immediately, the tides began to turn. A rare throwing error from David Ross and a wild pitch from Jon Lester plated two and we have a ballgame. Ross then lit up the scoreboard in the top of the 6th with a solo home run to make the game 6-3 and a little sigh of relief for the Cubs. Lester would settle in and toss three solid innings in relief before giving way to Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the 8th.

Then terror struck again.

Chapman, already depleted from overuse the previous two games was tasked with getting the final four outs. A single by Jose Ramirez and a double by Brandon Guyer brought the score to 6-4. The next batter, Rajai Davis, drilled a strong 2-2 fastball into the left field bleachers. Game tied at 6. Oh my. Lead gone, new ballgame, and several innings of extremely questionable moves by heretofore headstrong skipper Joe Maddon. The collective angst from Cubs fans was palpable. “Is this really happening? And now of all times?”

After both teams were blanked in the ninth, it was another “but of course!” moment, and only fitting that this game go to extra innings. Right then, it was time for perhaps a little divine intervention: A rain delay. A short one that only lasted 17 minutes, but it provided enough time for the Cubs to be ushered into a small weightroom near their clubhouse and given a rousing lecture by, of all people, Jason Heyward. For anyone questioning his worth on the team, at least for the amount he is being paid, and if his defense and baserunning weren’t enough, he justified it right then and there. It turned out to be exactly what the club needed to hear and at precisely the right moment. A leadoff single by Kyle Schwarber led to a brilliant tag up by pinch runner Albert Almora, Jr. on a deep Kris Bryant flyball, a hustle play that is up to Dave Roberts’ stolen base levels of importance. Cleveland intentionally walked Anthony Rizzo, and World Series MVP Ben Zobrist doubled home Almora Jr. to reclaim the lead. Another intentional walk to Addison Russell brought up pinch hitter hero Miguel Montero who promptly singled home Rizzo to extend the lead to 8-6. The Cubs had retaken control of the game even quicker than they’d lost it, something that fans got used to seeing all season long, leading to the team mantra, “We Never Quit.”

But you guessed it, this was far from over.

Reliever Carl Edwards, Jr got the first two quick outs in the bottom of the 10th but then walked Brandon Guyer to bring up Rajai Davis again, who singled Guyer home to cut the lead to 8-7. With two outs and a man on  first, Mike Montgomery entered the game to get the final out. He did, on a Michael Martinez chopper to Kris Bryant, who, smiling the whole time, gunned the ball to Anthony Rizzo for the final out, taking 108 years worth of championship drought with it. Thank you, boys!

The whole spectacle was just fitting in typical Cubs’ fashion, having to scare the crap out of the fans one last time before making history. But it makes sense to do it this way. With a four run lead entering the late innings, the game could’ve gone somewhat vanilla. But instead, some headscratching strategic decisions led to a dramatic game-tying homer, followed by a rain delay, extra innings, an offensive explosion, lead change, another two-out rally and then lastly the historic final out. Why not? The end result was what many are calling the greatest baseball game ever played. Again, fitting to end it this way.

This was three nights ago. The victory parade and rally was yesterday, drawing an estimated 5.5 million people to the streets of Chicago in a glorious celebration over a century in the making. For Cubs fans, it’s not only a euphoric feeling of a championship long overdue, it’s vindication. It’s more than a feelgood win. It’s an F-U win. Countless generations have had to endure the ridicule, jabs (many unfriendly), and ridiculous counterarguments from people who’s only rationale was “just because.” Or, “It’s the Cubs, you just have to hate them.” Whatever. I even had one person proclaim, with honesty, that “rooting for the Cubs to lose is part of the American pastime. It’s hilarious when they choke.” Really dude? Well you can now take the Commissioner’s Trophy and stick it up your ass. All of you. 1908 is a historical fact. So is 1945, and that’s fine. But things like the goat, the black cat, Bartman, curses, choking, “when’s the last time you guys won the Series?” which always prompted the tiresome prophecies from Cubs fans of “wait til next year,” blah, blah blah, are all things that Cubs fans will never have to hear again. The haters have gone silent.

And that silence is very pleasantly deafening.

71 Years In the Making, a Dream Is Ready To Be Real

“…what do you become when you walk through that door in center field?”

“We sleep,” says Chick Gandil finally.

“And wait,” says Happy Felsch.

“And dream,” says Joe Jackson. “Oh, how we dream…”

And so have Cubs fans also dreamed long. For 71 years. Or actually, 108. Although the context of Jackson, Gandil and Felsch’s above remarks were fictional (from W.P. Kinsella’s amazing Shoeless Joe, from which Field of Dreams was based), their poignancy remains relevant here. For lifelong Cubs fans, we have waited. And dreamed. I cannot recall how many times as a kid, or even as recently as two days ago, I dreamed I’d one day hear the words “the Cubs have won the pennant!” from some official voice. A broadcaster, perhaps. Or a news anchor. Any voice other than the one in my own head.

And then it happened.

By virtue of Kyle Hendricks’ masterpiece and some thunderously received runs, the Cubs beat the Dodgers 5-0 in Game 6 of the NLCS to clinch their first pennant since 1945. Rejoice, hallelujah, amen. Fans of other teams, save for possibly the Cubs’ opponent in the World Series, cannot understand what it’s been like. Nor would we really want them to. It’s been part of what makes the Cubs “our” team. But alas, one of the very reasons the Cubs have been able to do what no Cubs team could in the past 71 years is because they simply didn’t care. Well, not about the past, anyway. Sure there is ridiculous talent and unique energy on this team that has become the unequivocal best in baseball, but where past teams may have allowed pressure to mount and the “oh here we go again!” feeling to creep in if things started going south, this team did not waver in such ways. And here they are in the World Series.

Boy, baseball sure is funny. The Cubs as we all know haven’t won a World Series since 1908. The Cleveland Indians haven’t won since 1948. That’s the two longest championship droughts in baseball, a combined 176 years. While Major League Baseball may have yearned for a Cubs-Red Sox date in the World Series, featuring endless narratives about the teams Theo Epstein built pitted against one another, one long losing streak snapped with the other in-progress, the two oldest ballparks, etc. they got the next best scenario: Two classic, old-time franchises with the longest and largest World Series snakebites.

As has been the case all playoffs for the Cubs, pitching will be the focal point. But Cleveland has ridden the coattails of their stalwart arms themselves, to impressive feats along with timely hitting to arrive in this series red hot and hungry. The matchups look pretty intriguing too: NLCS Co-MVP Jon Lester takes the bump for the Cubs in Game 1 in Cleveland, going against their ace Corey Kluber, an 18-game winner this season. Jake Arrieta gets the call for Game 2, allowing Kyle Hendricks to rest fully for Game 3. Arrieta takes on Trevor Bauer, while Hendricks will face Josh Tomlin back at Wrigley Field. Rugged veteran John Lackey will go in Game 4 for the Cubs and although no starter for that game has been announced yet by Indians skipper Terry Francona, there is a good possibility that Kluber could go again on short rest as he did in the ALCS.

Offensively the Cubs really found their stride again in the final three games of the NLCS after a too-lengthy stretch (including the NLDS) of some quiet bats. By way of one little bunt from Ben Zobrist in Game 4 of the NLCS, something clicked. For just about everyone that is. This is the Cubs team I saw all summer was the collective sigh among Cubs fans. What’s more, is that it’s looking like slugger Kyle Schwarber may join the active roster in a DH role for the Series. Not only would this be a terrific morale jolt for the Cubs, it provides them with a bat that has game-changing ability, even if he hasn’t faced big league arms in over 5 months. The fact that Schwarber could be ready to go after a dreadful knee injury in April is a testament to his work ethic and, perhaps intangibly, the right piece to the puzzle at the right time. Conversely in Cleveland, their aggressive baserunning and some very timely homers charged their playoff attack. Look for them to test Lester and Arrieta in particular, with the threat to steal or take extra bases. Cubs catchers and outfielders however can counter that threat, and the stellar infield defense will need to continue. Beyond those factors, the head to head chess match between two of the best managers in the game, Crazy Joe Maddon and Terry Francona, should be enjoyable to watch.

Whatever happens, one long title slump is about to end. It should be one for the ages to see how it happens.

Source: Shoeless Joe, W.P. Kinsella, 221.

The Professor Runs a Strict Class

Before the season began, my prognosis for Kyle Hendricks was simple: That he could be one of the most effective number five starters in all of baseball.

As of September 13, he’s one of the best starters in all of baseball, period.

“The Professor” as he has come to be known from his intensely cerebral preparation before each start, and surgical-like approach to every pitch, has been nothing short of stellar this season. In his most recent start, Hendricks took a no-hitter into the ninth inning in St. Louis, before having an 0-2 pitch blasted into the right field bleachers by Jeremy Hazelbaker. Though his date with baseball history was, for the time, postponed, the shine on yet another dominant performance was hardly dulled. It was his 20th consecutive start giving up three or fewer runs, adding to his MLB-low ERA of 2.03.

Far from a power arm, Hendricks employs scholastic tactics to outwit opposing hitters, with a a variety of speeds (though he rarely tops 90mph on his fastball), and precision locating. The result is a chess match which, more often than not, the Dartmouth alum wins.

Predictions be damned.

The whispers of Hendricks joining the Cy Young Award conversation have now become screams, and for good reason. In addition to his staggering ERA and constant ability to get his team deep into games, Hendricks’ latest win was the 30th of his career and 15th of the season, putting him squarely among the league leaders in that more-sexy-than-vital category. In all, it adds up to a brilliant season for the young right-hander, drawing him more and more comparisons to hall of famer Greg Maddux every day. While that is certainly high praise and a lot of hyperbole given that Maddux did Maddux things for 23 years while Hendricks is only in his third, the approach and execution are certainly comparable.

With a Central Division title nearly within the Cubs’ grasp, followed by the playoffs, it’s sure to be an exciting fall for The Professor and his class.

WWL: The Story of the Best Midwest Wiffleball League of All Time

Baseball is one of the few sports that can be enjoyed in almost countless versions. Whether it be with broomsticks and racquet balls in a neighborhood street or alley, foam-cushioned indoor balls in a gym or basement, spitballs and your bare hands in any convenient room (or classrooms as many of us got detentions for in our youth), numerous tabletop board games, video games, card games, or variations on a cell phone, there are multiple ways to enjoy America’s favorite pastime.

Arguably the most common however, is Wiffleball. The old backyard version of baseball has long been enjoyed among friends and families for decades, but some take it to a much higher, more competitive level. If you do a Google, or YouTube search, you’ll find many Wiffleball leagues nationwide, from officially sponsored leagues to private, backyard club-type organizations among friends. But one man had the foresight to start a trend, at least regionally, which later took off on a grand scale.

Image result for Wiffleball

In this special edition post, we will visit with Illinois resident Chris Walker, a longtime baseball umpire in the Midwest and founder of the former WWL, (Walker Wiffleball League,) which allowed family, friends, and then-current, up-and-coming, and former ballplayers a chance to shine on the diamond in Chris’s custom-built Wiffleball stadium, in a league complete with an official rulebook, compiled individual and season statistics, awards, and well, lots of amazing stories along the way, long before anyone else was doing it.

Stay tuned for the full interview and story!