It’s a whiffle ball field of dreams in Valley City
By Jeff Kolpack
Forum News Service
VALLEY CITY — There’s a neighbor’s backyard beyond the outfield fence, not a field of corn so the Wiffle Ball World Series is not something for the big screen just yet. Don’t expect Kevin Costner to play the role of one of the founding members like he did in “Field of Dreams,” a movie in which a baseball diamond was built in an Iowa cornfield.
But there’s a sense of celebration every summer in the backyard of Bob and Joni Bergan, and it has everything to do with that child in everybody.
“We’re in our 20s, early 30s and some in our 40s — all have that little kid at heart and that is what this event is meant to do,” said Trevor Christiansen. “To bring back that nostalgia when we were little kids playing whiffle ball in the backyard.”
Christiansen, Chad Bergan and Pat Bresnahan, all friends, aren’t shy about putting some action into their words. It started five years ago with eight teams and a white outfield fence.
What it has transformed into is a testament to imagination. The 9 a.m. opening ceremonies on Saturday started with the six-man color guard from the local AMVETS. A man on an electric guitar played the national anthem as several people unrolled a large American flag that covered almost half the field.
Moments after the anthem, and almost on perfect cue, Dan Fitzner, one of the players, did a fly-by in a helicopter that would challenge the low altitude flying of the Blue Angels. Fitzner is a former Air Force pilot.
“He cuts it a little close,” Christiansen said with a smile.
The scoreboard in center field is large and the outfield fence, which is actually a portable fence Valley City State used for softball, has advertising banners from a few select businesses. It’s mostly for show since there’s probably not much in the line of sponsorships with the exception of Herd & Horns Bar & Grill in Fargo, which donated gift certificates for the winning team.
The left-field wall has an added height component to mimic a Fenway Park feel. Why? With mostly right-handed hitters in the tournament, the founders wanted to make it tougher on them. As if the large willow tree just off the painted left-field foul line isn’t tough enough to maneuver for the pull hitter, but that’s another issue.
There have been so many arguments on what to do when the ball hits that tree that nobody really knows what the correct rule is.
“When we designed the yard, we left half of it open so they could play ball,” Bob Bergan said. “I’ve always said we’re raising kids, not grass.”
That being said, Bob and Joni had the grass looking immaculate on tourney day. After a long day of ball (last year’s tournament concluded about 1:30 a.m. thanks to portable lights), it probably won’t be the case on Sunday. Especially after a heavy rain on Friday night left the conditions a little damp on Saturday morning.
“Just their willingness to let us tear this place up,” Bresnahan said.
The tournament “committee” went to two fields this year in hopes that the title game won’t go so late. A basic field was set up in the front yard near the road.
The basics of whiffle ball include three-man teams, six-inning games, two outs to an inning and outs can be recorded by throwing the ball at the runner or the base. Teams are required to use the same bat, which is the same one that has been used all five years.
“And it is very dented and bent,” said Cole Jirik, one of a few former North Dakota State football players who are on a team. “You have to turn it the right direction so you can find the barrel. If you can figure it out, you can hit some home runs.”
The 16-team tourney is an invite-only, for now. The founders think the logistics of making it bigger could be too much. Each team plays two round-robin games and then the tourney goes into a single-elimination format.
“The semis and finals, you wouldn’t believe how competitive it gets,” Bob Bergan said.
One look at the field would probably tell you otherwise. It’s a whiffle ball field of dreams.