I’m composing this week’s column in a bit of a daze because I just returned from my annual pilgrimage to Fight Club.
What is Fight Club, you ask? Well, I can’t tell you that, because the first rule is that you don’t talk about Fight Club. But I can tell you what it’s not: It’s not a half-brilliant, half-moronic movie with Brad Pitt and Ed Norton. It’s not a cult, a gang, or a club. It’s not a drum circle. It’s not the Bohemian Grove (although there are bohemians and there is a grove). It’s not organized crime or organized religion (though it is organized — and very well — by a certain local businessman). And’s it certainly not just an excuse to drink, smoke, and eat meat for a couple days. No, Fight Club isn’t easily understood, but I can tell you one thing: Every man who walks away from Fight Club thinks of himself as the winner.
But enough about that. I’m here today to honor one of America’s great underappreciated games. I’m talking about a game that is played in backyards and corner parks across the USA, a game of the people, a game that is the humble cousin of our national pastime. The game I’m talking about is wiffle ball. I came under fire in some quarters for ragging on baseball in my last column, so I would now like to sing the praises of this scaled-down, user-friendly version.
Baseball is, to be truthful, a fun game to play, but it’s awfully hard, in more ways than one. First off, it’s hard to get organized, because you need 18 players and a nice grass field. And of course the ball itself is hard and travels at a high rate of speed, so you need a lot of protective equipment like gloves (expensive), helmets (unwieldy), and possibly cups (uncomfortable). And finally the game is just plain hard — you know, difficult — and filled with opportunities to make game-changing mistakes that will not be soon forgotten by one’s teammates (at least one local columnist has a tragic high-school baseball experience of which he still will not speak). So not many people actually play it.
In wiffle ball, on the other hand, the only equipment you need is the ball, the bat, a little three-dimensional space, and some number of human beings. You can set up the field however you like. You can pick and choose which rules to use. You can take out your aggressions by hitting people with the ball. You can use “ghost runners” to occupy bases. You can swagger, spit, style, and profile just like you would in a “real” baseball game. You can play with a beer in one hand, if that’s something you enjoy doing. And you can participate whether you’re young, middle-aged, over the hill, out of shape, or just plain uncoordinated. This makes it an excellent choice for picnics, camping trips, and other family-style activities.
And best of all, because the name of the game is “wiffle ball,” you can’t take it too seriously. Nobody’s life is going to be ruined by a mistake they made in wiffle ball.
So when baseball goes away later this summer in yet another dispute over owners’ megaprofits versus players’ enormous salaries, let’s all play wiffle ball instead. In the immortal words of Allen Toussaint, it will make this land a better land than the world in which we live.