With the 10th season of HRL Twin Cities wiffleball about to begin (or, as we like to call it, Season X), we’re taking a look back at the thirteen players who have been a part of every HRL season since 2004, and asked them their thoughts on what the league has meant to them, what brought them on board, and if they think the league has another 10 year run left in it.
It is safe to say that among others, these 13 guys have played a huge role in the humble beginnings of the league and had a hand in shaping it into what it is today. Let’s look back at the eight original teams, seven of which had at least one member who is still in the league today...
K-Mart and Nelson, Twins: A rare feat indeed, K-Mart and Nelson have been teammates from the word ‘go’, winning a championship together in the inaugural 2004 season. While they have seen teammates come and go and have never come close to regaining that championship form, these two have been the anchor of the Twins, and likely will be until their livers finally wave the white flag of surrender.
Shirls and Nine, Phillies/Padres/Phillies/Padres: Going together like beer and sunshiny days, Shirls and Nine have weathered multiple team name back ‘n forths and have been the steady hands behind a franchise that always stays competitive, made jam band music part of the wiffle mainstream, pioneering wiffle boomboxes, grab-bag booze and chill times every game night. There’s no reason to believe this dynamic duo will be parting ways or leaving our midst anytime soon.
Sanchez, Chops and Rocket, Braves: While Rocket currently captains the Yankees squad out in Eagan, he was originally a member of the Braves. Chops and Sanchez have been there since the beginning, consistently putting up huge numbers year in and year out as the Braves are always in the mix come playoff time, getting to the World Series in 2007. A team that rarely makes big roster moves, they are as steady as the day is long and will be putting solid Braves teams out there for years to come. Rocket, meanwhile, is a loyal teammate and friend to everyone around the league, the kind of guy who brings great balance to the whole picture. Digging out grounders and making diving catches while laughing at the beer drooling down your chin, Rocket certainly won’t be away from the HRL landscape any day soon.
J-Ski, M-Ski and CX, Expos: This trio of fun loving guys was a last minute entry as our 8th and final team in that first season, and have since cemented themselves as a universally loved fixture in the league. While their desire and effort to be a winning club comes and goes with the wind (despite they fact they’re among the more talented players in the league), the fact that they outfun almost everyone on a weekly basis truly makes them HRL poster children. While “adult” responsibility has really kicked in for these guys, leaving them away from the wiffle rinks more than they might like, there’s little chance we won’t be seeing these fine gents around the parks.
Cheezy, A’s: This lanky, highly touted defensive wizard was part of the original, slapped-together, free agent mishmash known as the A’s. Even though the chemistry among them was odd at times, Cheezy was a steady hand in helping guide the team to a World Series appearance in that first year. When the team dissolved shortly after, Cheezy was eagerly picked up by the Braves and later traded to the Padillies, where he’s been sharing dugout benches with the likes of Shirls and Nine ever since. One of the most laid back, fun, free-spirited guys you’ll ever meet, he may not put up big numbers, but he’s always keeping guys on their toes with mad DJ skills, witty banter, and infinite amounts of rink cred. As long as the flesh is willing, Cheezy will be a fixture for many years to come.
Hendi, Brewers: With Joey Law and Westy by his side, Hendi helped make the original Brew Crew a team with all the right ingredients—competitive, fun, and always with beer in hand. An anchor of the Brewers until Joey Law’s departure from the league after 2008, Hendi re-named the team to Astros and later bounced to the Twins, where he’s currently throwing his trademark “pussy fart” pitch and taking hacks alongside K-mart and Nelson. While Hendi has toned down the party-boy aspect of things, he’s still consistently a big threat at the plate and always competitive on the hill, and will surely be a key member of the Twins for as long as he’s around.
Truck, Royals: The founding father of the league, he was the lone consistent on a Royals team that saw tons of roster changes (including Rocket from 2006-2009), but always had a competitive team out there. Once deemed unhittable (before the rest of the league quickly figured out how to hit a wiffleball), he’s always been a slightly above-average hitter, and can occasionally show flashes of his old form on the mound. In search of more relaxed and less competitive climes, he took two years off as league commissioner and jumped on board the Mets bandwagon for three seasons before signing on to the Blue Jays for a new adventure in Hopkins, and is back at the helm of the Commish chair.
We were fortunate to be able to have a discussion with several of these old school veterans on a variety of subjects.
How did you first hear about the league?
M-Ski: Pioneer press article. We were one of the last teams to join, if not the last. Believe it or not we were not always the feared band of hustling talent we are now. We couldn't win a game at first... We were scrubs; which is why we chose the Expos as our name. Until J-Ski figured out how to throw a floating riser. Then it all started to come together.
Nelson: My chubby and unathletic friends told tales of a sport where I could take advantage of my God-given talent: Drinking.
Shirls: Pioneer Press Article about Trucker.
Sanchez: Chops and my roommate Kevin saw the article in the Pioneer Press and he tossed it our way knowing that we used to play our own form of wiffles back in Iowa. From there we contacted Truck, went to a couple of the “practices,” and then got placed on the team that became the Braves.
K-Mart: Jon (a former teammate from the first couple seasons) heard Truck on KFAN talking about a league he wanted to set up. He emailed Edgar, Nelson and I and we all jumped on board.
Chops: Nick Consoer, who was my roommate at the time, told me about it. I can’t remember if he heard Truck on the radio or read something about the possibility of a wiffleball league forming.
Hendi: Joe Lawrence asked if I’d be interested in joining a wiffle ball league with him and Jim West.
CX: The Skis.
Cheezy: I first heard about the league from a girlfriend who saw Truck's interview in the Pioneer Press, shared it with me and said, “This sounds like you.” My response may not have been, “Fucking A Right that sounds like me,” but I suspect it was close. Truck, you had me at hello.
J-Ski: My older brother saw a front page news article with some guy named Pat “Truck” from Boston. The picture said it all, and the article provided the specifics. My brother and current teammate M-Ski called me up and said…Let’s just do it.” We were the last team to join the league back in 2004. The rest is Xstory!!!
What were your first impressions on joining the league?
M-Ski: From day one I felt simply giddy and Xcited. I knew we were on the brink of something big. Right off the bat I got a sense of a place where a bunch of misfits could get together and truly be part of something ridiculous and wonderful.
Nelson: Wow K-Mart sucks!!! And why does Mike P’s wife keep trying to parley a threesome?
Shirls: This is too good to be true.
Sanchez: My first impression was a general fear of Rocket until I found out that this dude sitting in the car next to me was going to be on my team and is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Wiffle-related it was more of a transition. Wondering how we’d make this work morphed into being impressed with the set-up of “wiffle-rinks” and organized scheduling. I was also a little freaked out by Mike P…
K-Mart: Edgar and I chuckle when we think of our first impressions of the league. He and I made the trip down from Brooklyn Center to Eagan one Saturday to check out a practice that Truck had organized. I remember us pulling into the parking lot of Rahn Park and seeing Truck, 911 and Mikey P. taking cuts on the field. Edgar looked at me and said we should turn around and leave. I convinced him that we should at least check it out and give it a try since we drove all the way down there. As they say, the rest is history.
Chops: It was a blast from the beginning. We were obviously working out some kinks, but playing what is basically a kids game with a bunch of guys who basically had a common love of baseball is a good start to building a large circle of friends and having a good time doing it.
Hendi: I didn’t have high expectations. I thought it would be like the drunken scrimmages in a parking lot that I was use to. I was pleasantly surprised with the organization of the league and of course the web site was awesome.
CX: Loved it immediately. I had been playing wiffles all my life and always loved it. I was pumped to be able to keep playing. Then, as I got more familiar with the people and the culture, my love grew.
Cheezy: We were clearly a rag tag fugitive fleet at the first “tryout” I attended. I forget who was there at Rahn Park. Truck for sure. Mathis as well I believe. If Jamie wasn't injured by that time I'm sure he was well on his way. Without Truck providing structure and clearly communicating expectations and what the rules were, I'm sure we would have wandered off in various directions chasing shiny objects and folded quickly.
J-Ski: Absolutely awesome! A bunch of older guys looking to relive the past while enjoying old and new friendships, and also enjoying the fact that we were at least 21 years old.
Fondest memory from that first season?
M-Ski: Sky Hill. Period. Sunsets, still evenings, and vehicle headlights for night games.
Nelson: Being the first team to hoist the sacred Cup, or quality time with the Pirate.
Shirls: The Brewers team with Hendi, Westy and Joey Law. Nasbar Pieks hijinx are a close second. “Please...this mic does not cost $100”
Sanchez: That would probably be the Braves beating the Expos in our first ever game. The Expos were so distraught that they left after one game.
K-Mart: All of it. It’s really hard to pick just one memory. Aside from the obvious of winning The Cup, every part of the first season was so much fun. It exceeded any expectations I had for the league. Edgar and I talked wiffleball every waking moment that first summer. I fondly remember Peeks’ birthday at the Nasbar when he sang Whipping Post and then end zone spiked the mic on stage and told the DJ it was a 10 dollar Radio Shack mic when she yelled at him for trying to damage it.
Chops: I don’t know that any particular moment or night stands out, but forming friendships that have lasted a decade is probably the biggest thing. Also, looking back on some of the characters that were in the league that year that had short-lived HRL careers. A few of them have sort of become legends within our small group who knew them.
Hendi: Hitting a home run off Cota in the playoffs that landed on top of the backyard storage shed, it was a bomb and I let Cota know it my entire way around the bases.
CX: Hitting an HR off Truck in one of my first games, if not the first. Recall, at that time, Truck was thought to be unhittable, and the Skis had just recruited me to join the X. It gained me instant credibility with fellow league members. I have spent the last 10 years ensuring that not a shred of that credibility remains. That, or the A’s taking BP with golf-ball-sized wiffle balls. Effin’ Mathis. Now there’s a guy who took the games too seriously before we even knew they could be taken too seriously.
Cheezy: My favorite night was easily the night where we parked multiple cars on the field at Sky Hill to act as lights and we finished a Brewers/Expos game in almost total darkness. I helped the X as an autofielder against the Brewers and until that point I had been tied to Mathis, who gave me a ride to/from the rink and always left immediately after games ended. Having the opportunity to grab some brews, hang out after my game was over, and get to know folks was the start of me feeling like I “belonged” in the league. It was kind of like I had been on a few dates with the league and we hadn't consummated the relationship until that night. I may not have sexed the league Mutombo Style that night but I for sure made it to second base.
J-Ski: Too many mention, but one of the best and worst memories is the beginning of what would be a decade long rivalry with one of the worst teams in HRL…. the lowly Braves.
How has the league changed for the better since 2004? What has changed that you wish hadn’t?
M-Ski: I think we matured just a tad. We reluctantly struggled to become adults. But we managed; kind of.
Nelson: Pro-- Definitely the expansion of teams bringing joy in the hearts of more has-been athletes. Con-- The elimination of gloves in the field. I mean come on…I only have seven fingers!!!
Shirls: I think gloves are the answer to both questions.
Sanchez: The fact that we’ve grown up since 2004. In 10 years a lot happens to an individual as well as an organization like the HRL. Instead of growing stagnant with age, the HRL has done its best to grow. From expansion to the occasional new team I think it has kept the league fresh.
K-Mart: I think the organization of the league gets better every year. We started in one rink without lights and often played by the light of the headlights on our cars to playing in two cities on four different rinks. The website has evolved leaps and bounds compared to the first year as well. I do miss the camaraderie from the first season. After every league night, everybody from all four teams would head to the Nasbar or LaFondas and close the place down.
Chops: No gloves is probably a change for the better. I’d say the level of play is exponentially higher than it was then. Not that the top-level is that much different, but there are few teams (and surprisingly few players) that aren’t at least competitive. I feel like the league in its current state isn’t nearly as close-knit as we were back then. This is mostly due to just sheer numbers and having teams in two cities rather than one unified spot. In ’04, basically half of the league and a few onlookers from other teams just there to watch and hang out would be at the rink on game night. Obviously, this isn’t the case anymore.
Hendi: More teams and two cities is better. I wish every team didn’t make the playoffs. When you had to win to make the playoffs people actually competed during the regular season.
CX: The league has changed in a million ways for the better in the last decade – advent and expansion of W4W, the playoffs, all-star night, winter meeting. All these things have contributed to more fun on the field, but also – most importantly – fostered friendships and relationships off the field. As to the second question, It would be awesome if we were still all in Eagan. I’m a bit sentimental.
Cheezy: We know the league was 50% bigger and 25% more fun in 2005. We've all definitely gotten older with more responsibilities. We're smarter than we were to start with. Can't argue that outlawing gloves wasn't a positive, although I miss trading gloves in between innings as teams go from offense to defense. League play has actually gotten better and worse, if that makes sense. The more-skilled teams are ridiculously good compared with some of the first-year teams. The less-skilled teams seem less competitive than some of the first-year teams. I roll with the punches and wouldn't change a thing.
J-Ski: The league has gotten better in many ways. More new faces and more friendships. The most important part is the memories keep on building up. Just when you think you’ve seen it all on a Wiffle field…something or someone will happen or come along that defies every day logic. As far as something I wish didn’t change is the league strayed a bit from the 100% fun to the 50/50% fun/seriousness. Getting older (age wise) was another thing that I wish didn’t change. And I loved how the team name Expos has taken on a life of its own over the years.
What are your favorite aspects of the league?
M-Ski: Being with the people in the league. Aside from attending AA meetings ;) I've never felt more welcome and appreciated just for simply being there. I love playing ball with my brother; something I may not ever have been able to do as an adult had the league not happened. Even though I've cut back from my involvement in the league, I know that even if I were to never play in another game, I know I'll always be a part of it.
Nelson: Owning Tugboat every time I bat!
Shirls: The dimensions/rules are perfect. The game play is so perfect. I love the camaraderie. I love the schtick. I love the website that has all our history. I love the new friends it has brought on board Team Shirley
Sanchez: Yellow bats, running the bases, and playing in the rinks. I think it sets the HRL apart from a lot of the other leagues around the country. If the league had been set up in the wedge format on grass lawns I don’t know that we would have made it to 10 years.
K-Mart: I like that everybody in the league is friends with each other. Unlike softball where each team goes their separate ways, we hang out post game and often do things outside of league nights. Our charity efforts have increased over the years and I’m proud to be a part of that. From my team perspective, I love how unstructured and laid back it is compared to softball. My team has always enjoyed razzing each other more than the competition. “Keep the suck to a minimum” has always been the team motto.
Chops: Both the social aspect of getting to know so many good dudes from diverse backgrounds and who have diverse skillsets. Being able to post a “does anyone have a recommendation for tree removal (or pick your random task / service)” and getting a few referrals from someone you know is invaluable. Especially for transplants who don’t have long time friends or family in the area. The actual wiffleball is pretty fun too.
Hendi: The website with historical stats is great. W4W is always a fun day.
CX: Best buddies, beers, laughs. Bat tosses.
Cheezy: Hanging out with good peeps and having fun, downing some adult beverages, and watching the sun go down. That's some good shit for anyone to have in their life right there.
J-Ski: Friends. Lawn Chairs. Beers. Everyone acting like they’re 12 years old. Dogs. Memories. Old and new stories. The website. topics of where the keys are or not bringing glass to the fields. The sounds of plastic on plastic/skin/cameras.
What story (or stories) do you find yourself re-telling people about the league?
M-Ski: I usually simply describe the layout of the fields, and how it encourages all four teams playing to sit together in one area during games. This is unique to the league and makes for a nice time. Also, Taint Bar, fish fries, Boone’s Farm, CX's impressive urination time, All Star/ Fun Star games, Wifflin' For Wishes, Slop, Luche Libre masks and other shenanigans, washers, winter meetings, beer holders on the base path, the X's 100% hustle policy, pounding that ball into the ground, the sound of pitching the ball into the board, man-hugs and bat tosses all come up in conversation.
Nelson: At Pace’s going away party, Dee telling me that I better do Twisted Sister karaoke justice and the S!*% storm that ensued. Pork Buoy’s lack of bladder control at Lindee’s and the night that would never end… Cota’s prorated lap dance in Iowa! There’s things that happen on the field too, I think.
Shirls: I tell the story of our showdown with the Indians on Fathers Day where Eck and I hung zeroes for quite some time. People don’t believe me when I tell them how fast and straight he could throw a wiffle ball. I still don’t really understand it. But it was fun.
Sanchez: 10 years worth of memories and most my stories have to do with K-Mart. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad… Too many or long to write down for sure, but ask me sometime about: Finding K-Mart under Edgar’s car after a Winter Meeting… K-Mart’s escape from Chops’ and my apartment one time after a night of drinking…(I believe this one includes him trying to poop in Chops’ closet later on that night). “WHO DOES THIS???” Closing Time out on the balcony. I also met my wife to be through Bork – and I met Bork through the HRL. That story might be too touchy-feely for this group though…
K-Mart: To name a few, Peeks’ birthday, my team’s run through the playoffs the first season, Nelson’s evening trying to break his car out of the impound lot, our trips to Iowa and all the media coverage we’ve received over the years.
Chops: The first rule of Fight Club is we do not talk about Fight Club. All kidding aside, it’s sort of hard to talk about wiffleball with people outside the league. It’s something you really have to experience (or at least witness) to understand. Lots of rules explanations. Whenever people hear I play in a competitive adult wiffleball league, there are always rules questions and an explantion of how we use hockey rinks to play. Yellow bats. Real Wiffle® balls. It’s really not exciting unless you get involved, but people are always very curious about it. Then, if they see the website, they never talk to me again because they know that they could never approach our level of nerddom.
Hendi: How the pussy fart pitch got its name. Mike P’s wife said something about her pussy farts while we were having a beer after a night of wiffles.
CX: To those outside the league: “The Lean” (perfected by M-Ski, performed while “fielding” and holding a beer). Pretty much says it all
Cheezy: Oh boy. There are some good ones but I typically need to have a few drinks first before I go into any details. Most of the stories are non-Wiffleball related. The story of K-Mart hiding under his car in the parking lot in the first year at the pub crawl. Nine's face at the Nasbar afterparty for All Star Night during, I think, the second year. Bortke having a Spalding Smails moment at one of the All Star night afterparty outings and needing a ride home from me … pronto. Lots and lots of good times.
J-Ski: None in particular. The league has turned into somewhat of a myth. Stories float around of the ball that hasn’t landed yet. The guy who jumped 15 feet into the air to snare a home run. The old guy who while sprinting to first dives head first causing the pitcher to throw the ball under him. The guy who ran to third unnecessarily while the game winning run was about to score. The imaginary “what if” stories like a bus with a bachelorette party pulling up to the rink that was lost. Wondering what happened to the girl who lived out in right field at Sky Hill. Thinking maybe, just maybe she still lives there and will walk the dog just one more time.
How do you explain what the HRL is to someone not familiar with wiffle ball or with the league?
M-Ski: I have always used CX's description comparing it to softball. It's something you look forward to, and never dread. Often one doesn't feel like playing in a softball game. But we always look forward to playing wiffle ball.
Nelson: It’s like a church that you drink, smoke and talk smack at.
Shirls: Sometimes I just say I play in a baseball league because it is too hard to explain. But more often I just tell it how it is - the most fun a grown man should be allowed to have.
Sanchez: Luckily most people are at least somewhat familiar with wiffleball, or at least they know what the equipment looks like from having passed by it in department stores. The short summation is that we’re a league of grown men playing a child’s sport. I like to think that the HRL is a little bigger than that though. The HRL is kind of like a clubhouse / lodge where we play wiffleball occasionally, but socialize frequently.
K-Mart: Most people I talk to about it know what wiffle ball is when I describe “a ball with the holes in it and the long yellow bat.” They generally find it hard to believe that there is an actual league to play it though. I’ll give them the website and describe it to them and generally they are either really impressed or amused that adults actually do that.
Chops: I feel like everyone is familiar with wiffleball. People just have a bit of a hard time believing how seriously we take it. By that, I mean, organizing a set schedule for about 20 weeks a year with game nights twice a week for 120 adults who have jobs, families, etc. And that we keep stats for every game and have this insanely good website to track all of it. It’s quite an undertaking and a big commitment when you look at it that way, so hats off to everyone who donates time to make it happen.
Hendi: I tell them to go to hrltwincities.com.
CX: Sometimes I just say I play softball because it’s easier. If I deem the person worthy, I give them the full story – severed hockey rink, lawn chairs, beers in the outfield, lack of running. I sum up by saying it’s the only recreational activity I’ve ever been involved with that I actually look forward to, rather than dread. Have you ever noticed how many people dread softball night and look for ways to get out of it? I was one of those people until the HRL came along.
Cheezy: People initially go, “That sounds like silly and fun. Like kickball. How do I join?” Then I try to explain, “Ummmm … it's a competitive Wiffle ball league. People are throwing the ball in the 60s from 40 feet away with movement.” And they go, “What? Really? Can you throw the ball that hard? I don't believe it.” And I tell them, “Welllll … I personally can't throw a Wiffle ball that hard. But there are guys in the league who can hit the upper 80s and lower 90s with a Wiffle ball. 60 mph is our speed limit for pitches.” Their jaws usually drop and they don't talk about joining the league after that. Kickball, bitches.
J-Ski: I’ve tried many times. Mostly people don’t get it or take me seriously. I usually start off by saying that we’re a bunch of grown ups that get to act like kids once a week, and also get to enjoy the benefits of being 21+. In the end, I basically say that it’s the funnest thing ever and usually leave it at that.
Do you think the league has another 10 years left in it?
M-Ski: Without a doubt. I have a feeling the X are on our last legs as a team. But the HRL is here to stay. It will always be a part of me whether I'm playing it or not.
Nelson: Is a frog’s ass water tight?
Shirls: Sure - it will adapt a bit in those 10 years but I see no reason why it can’t continue.
Sanchez: I’d like to think so, but at some point all good things come to an end. The leadership of any group is a key factor on that group’s longevity and I believe the HRL is no exception. As long as we have a dedicated and focused leader(s) the league should be able to continue on in some form. Will it be a 20 team / 2-city league? Maybe not, but I bet there will at least be a presence in the form of W4W and the HRL Extreme Team: Polar Division.
K-Mart: I think the league has many years left in it as long as there are people to make the machine run. There is a ton of work that goes into making the league successful, with the brunt of it falling on Truck’s shoulders, but also work on the website (Dee) as well as field set up and even things like entering game stats after each series. If there are people willing to put the time and effort in, this league has a chance to go for years.
Chops: I would think so. It’s a Wiffle® world and we’re all just livin’ in it.
Hendi: I do, although we may have to have a senior citizen division with 30 foot bases and max pitching speed of 25 mph.
CX: Yes. Whether or not the 10-year vets have another decade left in them is another story. But, this league has got such momentum, it would surely survive being passed down to the neXt generation.
J-Ski: Hell yeah!!!!
Cheezy: Absolutely. I'm not sure I have another ten years left in me but time will tell. I'm old.