You’re never too old for Wiffle ball.
In fact, the Hess Field Wiffle Ball league is proving the game can get better with age, because you can afford uniform T-shirts, bases, an outfield fence and multiple balls and bats. There is even an electronic scoreboard, which league creator Chris Hess, 28, purchased for $1,200.
“That was my tax return right there,” he said. “Definitely worth it.”
Hess created the league in 2005 after a stroll through his Glenville neighborhood, where he discovered a field that had been set up. He was inspired to try something in his own backyard.
Eight years later, he oversees a 10-team league with fields in Glenville and Clifton Park. The league held its annual home run derby and all-star game Saturday afternoon in Clifton Park.
Hess said the league has come a long way since it started. Its beginnings were informal and laid back — except for the demand that statistics be kept. Even the field was much more amateur than it is today, with the Clifton Park field having a metal backstop and a fence made from netting.
“The very first field I had was with the orange construction fencing ... and I slowly upgraded as the years went by,” Hess said.
Anthony Auspelmyer, 20, like many of the players in the league, said he enjoys playing because it gives him a competitive outlet that hasn’t been available since he played high school sports. League members range in age from their teens up to their 50s.
He added that in some regards, the league is more challenging than any baseball league he played in. They run the bases and have players in the field like baseball, except the Wiffle ball is being thrown from about half the distance of a pitcher’s mound in baseball — and at comparable speeds. And pitchers like Hess can make the ball dance — rise, drop or curve as they see fit.
Nick Giordano, 32, of Albany, brings three years of high school pitching experience with him when he takes the mound. Before joining Hess’s league, he played in official Wiffle ball tournaments that take place around the country.
When people hear about the league, Giordano said, “At first they laugh.”
Then he educates them about the bang-bang plays at first and pitchers throwing in excess of 70 mph, and they’re impressed.
The league is part of a growing trend around the country, as there is a National Wiffle League Association, of which the Hess Field Wiffle Ball league is a member. The national organization oversees 56 leagues.
Hess said there is some variations in the leagues.
“We like to incorporate a little more defense and running, which separates us from some leagues,” he said.
They also have a wooden rectangle set up behind home plate that determines whether a pitch is a ball or strike. This removes some of the arbitrary calls from the game, with a pitch that hits the rectangle being called a strike and pitch that misses, a ball.
The uniform strike zone can be difficult on some players, with low strikes challenging for taller players and high strikes tougher for shorter players like Auspelmyer, who stands 5-foot-4.
“It is a little high on me ... but I’ve learned to live with it,” he said.
When Auspelmyer, who lives in Glenville, does get hold of a pitch, he can send the ball for a ride. He easily won the league’s home run derby Saturday.
“I’ve always had a lot of pop,” he said. “I guess being a short guy, it’s surprising ... but I swing pretty hard, harder than most of the guys.”
Find out more about the league at www.hessfieldwiffleball.com.