Swinging for the fences: Wiffle ball tournament gives all kids a chance to play ball
It may be named the Big Wiff, but it looks more like a home run.
The first-ever Big Wiff wiffle ball tournament, sponsored by Popsicle, will take place in south Washington County and eight other Miracle League fields throughout Minnesota on Saturday, Aug. 18. The event aims to raise money for the Miracle League of Minnesota, which helps give children with mental and/or physical challenges a chance to play baseball.
Kevin Thoresen is the founder and executive director of the Miracle League of Minnesota. He began the non-profit organization in 2006. A Prior Lake resident, Thoresen has worked with special-needs children since he was in high school. He also has a son with special needs.
"We're very excited," Thoresen said. "This is the first time we've ever done this. Just to get the opportunity to expose the Miracle League, our fields and our kids is a great opportunity. This is baseball, it's a little different version, but it will be good family fun."
This past June, The Jeff Hanson Woodbury Rotary Club East Metro Miracle Field -- built especially for children with disabilities -- opened at Bielenberg Sports Complex near East Ridge High School. The local field allows families from Woodbury, Cottage Grove and surrounding areas the opportunity to play ball closer to home.
In the Big Wiff, wiffle ball teams of three to five people will play in a round-robin tournament. The fun includes prizes for best team costumes, most money raised and tournament champions. Championship games for the winning teams will be held on Sunday, Aug. 19, at the Miracle League field in Blaine. The tournament champions will be awarded a trip for all team members to attend Spring Training in Fort Myers, Fla. Also, the team that raises the most pledges overall will win a trip to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
"I have thought about this for a longtime," Thoresen said. "I wanted to do an event that would feature the assets we have, which are our fields. It shows off our league and our kids and what we're all about."
There are more than 100 teams are set to participate in the tournament overall. Currently 16 teams are registered to play in the Woodbury tournament.
"For the first year we're happy with the turnout," Thoresen said.
Wiffle ball games are played a bit different than regular baseball or softball games. The fields are smaller - fences range from 85 to 130 feet from home plate and there is no base running. For the tournament, lines are made on the field signifying singles, doubles, triples and home runs. If a ball falls past the specific lines without being caught the batters end up with that type of hit. Players are then moved virtually along the base paths.
"With wiffle ball, you can only have three players in the field at a time," Thoresen said. "The fields are small and there's no base running. It's very simple - you're pitching, fielding and hitting. That's it."
The first Miracle League launched in Rockdale County, Georgia in 1997. In Minnesota, the first three specially designed Miracle League fields were in Lakeville, Minnetonka and Blaine in 2006. The East Metro Miracle League and field serves the east metro and western Wisconsin areas. The summer league runs from July through mid-August.
Monies raised by the tournament will benefit all nine Minnesota Miracle Leagues, as well as help to build a 10th field, so that "every child has the opportunity to play baseball." Those who aren't on a wiffle ball team can still make a donation by pledging to a team of their choice.
"The surface of the fields cost about $100,000," Thoresen said. "We'll use some of the funds raised to help build another field and some of the funds to help support the leagues."
Thoresen said this year is only the beginning.
"We'd like to blow this tournament up even bigger across the country. Our sponsors are loving what they're seeing and want to do more next year. So, that's a good thing."