Summertime, and the Wiffle Balling’s easy
Tomorrow is the first day of summer, which means in just a couple of weeks it will be the Fourth of July, the day on which my father always declared that the summer season was now making its rapid downhill slide into autumn and was almost over. (What is it with the Irish?)
Personally, I’ve decided not to completely give up on summer until the first ice rain and/or we turn back our clocks, gaining one lousy hour’s worth of sleep in exchange for pitch black-ness at 5 p.m. Grrrr….
But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
It’s SUMMERTIME, which means it’s time to celebrate things like watermelon, sun screen, and Wiffle Balls. The Wall Street Journal saw to that last one on Friday, paying tribute to the humble plastic ball and bat duo that has meant hours of entertainment and athletic derring-do since the 1950’s. Not to mention all that sibling bedevilment. Sibs who wouldn’t have even thought about clobbering that pesky younger sister or obnoxious older brother with a Louisville Slugger – okay: they might have considered it, but would never have gone through with it, even if completely and utterly provoked – had no problem playing family whack-a-mole using a plastic Wiffle Bat. After all, a cardinal rule of sibling torture is: First, do no harm. Or at least the sorts of harm that parents will really come down on. Not that I had any first-hand experience with Wiffle Bat attacks. Not I! Why our house when I was growing up was edenic, irenic, a veritable Peaceable Kingdom, a Quaker Meeting House. But I did hear occasional rumors of family life elsewhere that were less than Cleaverish, less than Donna Reedite. Families where the siblings actually went after one another. Tsk, tsk. Imagine the horror of getting whacked in the leg with a Whiffle Bat? Or having a Whiffle Ball pegged at said leg – bare to the shorts-line, since it was summer.
Ah, the Wiffle Ball.
Amazingly, Wiffle Ball’s are still made in the USA – in Connecticut, no less. By the third generation of Wiffle Ball makers in the Mullany family.
Wiffle Ball Inc. of Shelton, CT, has 15 employees – and “two injection-molding machines [that] hum along to produce thousands of Wiffle Balls every day.”
In fact, every single Wiffle Ball that will sail across backyards this summer was produced here. Just like every single Wiffle Ball that has sailed across backyards since the factory opened in 1959. (Source: WSJ article linked above.)
Over the course of time, the Mullanys have pretty much stuck to their knitting. The ball doesn’t change; the bat doesn’t change; and, if memory serves, the packaging doesn’t appear to have changed since I would have first seen these babies on offer at the Zayre’s in the Webster Square Plaza sometime in the late 1950’s. The color of the bat, by the way, is trademarked: no one else can produce bright yellow plastic bats. Take that, China trade!
Over fifty years in business, despite no advertising and a product – ball cum bat - that retails for less than four bucks. (What must it have cost, say, in 1960, when it was probably a May birthday gift for my brother Tom? A dollar? Seventy-nine cents?)
Beyond the Made in America thang, you have to love the Wiffle Ball story.
In 1953, David Mullany was unemployed, but left the house each morning as if going to his job so that his family would think he was working. What they didn’t know was that they were all living off of a cashed in insurance policy.
Watching his son (also a David) and friends playing baseball, and trying to master throwing a curve, David the Father and David the Son put their heads together and, after a bit of experimenting, came up with a Wiffle Ball design that worked.
Trying to hit the Wiffle Ball is another matter, altogether.
Somehow, hitting a plastic ball with a plastic bat is a lot more difficult than hitting a baseball with a wooden bat (at least as hurled by pitchers when I was a kid. At least if you wanted the ball to move more than a couple of feet. Frankly, the best batting sensation when I was a kid was hitting a golf ball with a wooden bat. Those puppies could fly.)
Anyway, I never actually liked playing Wiffle Ball.
Not that I was much good at baseball, but at Wiffle Ball I sucked colossally.
Plus, at least in our house, where toys did have a supreme tendency to get grody, Wiffle Balls and Wiffle Bats all ended up scarred and pilly.
Still, there was something about having a pristine, straight from Zayre’s, Wiffle Ball in your hand. Smooth, brighter than white.
Kinda makes me want to get me to The Connecticut Store and buy me a ball and bat combo.
But what would I do with it, exactly, except look at it and not-so-nostalgically recall how it felt to have a Whiffle Ball whipped at a bare leg?
Certainly, I’d get much more use out of a Wiffle Ball cap. But I need another ball cap like I need another hole in my head. Which I don’t. And if I’m going to get another ball cap – and, frankly, I probably am – it should be a Boston Bruins cap, providing I can find one in a style and color I like. (Why, oh why, do the Bruins have to have that crappy black and gold color scheme. What would have been wrong with purple and white?) But while I hem and haw over a Bruins cap appropriate to my position as a front-running bandwagon fan, there is something goofily likeable about the Wiffle caps, is there not?
Goofy likability aside, if I’m going to buy anything at the Connecticut Store, it should probably be a Tuna-Mate. Connecticut invented, Connecticut made, the Tuna-Mate is used for draining tuna cans. Talk about a must-have for tuna lovers. No more sharp-edged tuna can cover slit cuts on your fingers, no more tuna-finger mess and smell.
I know, I know, it’s not an iconic product like the Wiffle Ball. And they probably don’t sell millions of them each year. But is this a New England product or what? Practical, humble, unglamorous…If nothing else, it made me crave a tuna sandwich. I must away…
As for the impending summer season, I’ve got just three words: Play (Wiffle) Ball!