City Games, Part 4
Baseballs and city neighborhoods don’t mix. Windows loom; shattered glass and lost allowances are just a line drive away. We didn’t even think of playing hardball in my backyard on River Avenue in Providence. But we didn’t have to – we had Wiffle ball.
In 1953, in Fairfield, Connecticut, David Mullany came home and found his 12-year-old son trying to throw curves with a small plastic golf ball, to no avail. Mullany, once a left-handed pitcher in college, had an idea. He took plastic orbs that were used to package cosmetics and began cutting holes of various sizes and shapes in them, eventually arriving at an eight-slot design that made the orb curve and rise and sink when thrown. The Wiffle ball was born.
Mullany’s invention transformed our confining Providence backyard into baseball heaven. With Wiffle ball and bat, we could swing as hard as Harmon Killebrew and not worry about destruction. As the packaging exclaimed, "BAT IT! BOUNCE IT! SAFE ANYWHERE!" We rapped liners off the den windows for doubles, dinged the dormer of my bedroom for triples, sent shots over the chain link fence and onto our neighbor's roof for home runs. When a Wiffle ball cracked, masking tape prolonged its life. And when balls were beyond repair, we ran up to the five-and-ten on Chalkstone Avenue to get a new one. There was nothing better than pitching with a brand new Wiffle ball.
My best friend Chris and I played more than 60 one-on-one games during the summer of 1970. The Yankees (me) won the regular season, but the Orioles (Chris) took the World Series. After the seventh game, we ran into the locker room (the garage) and celebrated. I poured champagne (soda) over Chris’s head.
A grainy Super 8mm film from 1967 plays in my mind: I see my father in Bermuda shorts, cigarette in one hand, Wiffle ball in the other. He pitches to me, and I hit a hard liner off his calf. “Ow!” he cries, grabbing his leg. Then he grins at me in approval.
And now a video plays from 1997: I am in the backyard on Peirce Street in East Greenwich, throwing a pitch to my four-year-old son Evan. I watch as the Wiffle ball, like the arc of my life, bends to his eager swing.