Hanover Buddies Planning a Unique Wiffle Ball Field
Alex Dodds, of Hanover, pitches to Max Woods, of New London, while they practice Wiffle ball at Hanover’s Thompson Terrace baseball field yesterday. The two, who have played in Wiffle ball leagues for six years, are raising money to build what they call a “ballpark of America” for games. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Max Woods, left, and Alex Dodds have been friends since their Hanover High School days. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Hanover — Since its inception in the 1950s, Wiffle ball has helped people feel like big-league stars in their back yards.
Now, Alex Dodds and Max Woods are seeking support for a rooftop homer of an idea.
Devotees of the game since elementary school, the best friends and 2011 Hanover High classmates are embarking on a fundraising campaign to construct the “Ballpark of America,” a proposed Wiffle ball field that would feature scaled-replica versions of unique characteristics from Major League Baseball fields around the country.
The ivy-covered walls of Chicago’s Wrigley Field? Yes, sir. The big apple from the New York Mets’ Citi Field? You betcha. Fenway Park’s Green Monster? Naturally. They’re all part of a growing list of attributes that so far includes one feature from 23 of the majors’ parks.
Other items fancied for the project include the Liberty Bell from Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, the giant crown from Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City and the rock-formation “A” from Angels Stadium of Anaheim.
“I just remember walking into Fenway Park for the first time and seeing the Green Monster, and how surreal and cool it was,” said Dodds, who recently completed his sophomore year at Endicott College. “I think everyone remembers seeing those things for the first time, whether it’s going to your first game with your dad or whoever you were with. We just thought it would be awesome to have those things at a Wiffle ball park.”
Like most big ideas conjured up by best buds, this one came while Dodds and Woods were immersed in whimsical banter. Hanging out at a rope swing over the Connecticut River on the first of this month, the notion sprouted.
“We were basically just joking around, and somehow the conversation turned into this really creative discussion about what we would have at a Wiffle ball field,” Dodds said. “We didn’t really take it seriously at first, but we let it resonate and sit for awhile and we realized that if we talked to the right people and get the fundraising together, this would be a really cool idea. The next time we got together, we decided we’re going to go for it.”
The pair spent hours researching characteristics of MLB parks, not wanting to add anything arbitrary in order to represent all 30 stadiums. Only items that a large volume of fans truly appreciate make the cut.
The pair planned out the dimensions: 92 feet to the left-field foul pole, 110 to the right-field pole, 130 feet to dead center, 48 feet from the pitcher’s mound to home plate.
They designed a logo and a website, www.ballparkofamerica.webs.com, featuring project goals, a place for forum discussions and a link where supporters can donate.
While Dodds and Woods figured an ambitious project like this would be costly, they were surprised at the figure estimated by Dodds’ cousin, Cody, who has a background in business.
“He told us we were going to have to raise $300,000,” said Dodds, his jaw still at half-droop. “Just in materials and renting equipment, it’s really expensive, let alone if we have to buy land to build it on.
“But (Cody) also encouraged us to go forward with the idea. He said if he had the money, he’d invest in a project like this because it has so much potential to benefit the community.”
Aside from hosting recreation league play, Dodds and Woods plan to use the future park to hold charitable tournaments. They’ve already got the first beneficiary picked out — the Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to cancer research and familial assistance.
The field would also be a stellar suitor for a town Wiffle ball league the pair hopes would spawn. They’re already involved in an informal three-team league that plays Sundays at Garipay Field, with each five-player team sporting its own T-shirts and Dodds doing the honors of keeping track of league standings.
It’s hardly a new concept for Dodds, who said he probably first wielded one of the game’s classic yellow bats bat at age 2 and invited friends to his front yard for games throughout childhood. By the eighth grade, nice weather meant tournament time at the Dodds home.
“Around 2007, we started doing one-on-one games and keeping track of our records. There were just three of us in junior high, but about six during high school.” Dodds recalled.
Much to the consternation of Alex’ parents, Dick and Melissa Dodds, their home was also the boys’ punching bag.
“Hitting the side of the house was a single, the roof was a double, the gutter was a triple and hitting it over the house was a home run,” said Alex Dodds. “We switched to the (thicker) black bats, which are much more easy to get hits with than the skinny yellow ones, and we just sort of grew out of the front yard. The house was getting marked up and there were some broken windows. Eventually, my mom said, ‘OK, you’ve got to find somewhere else to play.’ “
While Garipay has ample space, Dodds, Woods and company would love their envisioned Ballpark of America to be a future permanent home for the sport.
In their first major fundraiser associated with the project, the pair is staging a two-day tournament on July 13-14 at Storrs Pond Recreation Area, with a home run derby and teams of three. With enough participation, there’ll be two age groups and a round-robin format.
In addition to putting the $15 entry fee per player toward the project, Dodds and Woods hope the gathering might spur connections with fellow Wiffle ball enthusiasts. The more people involved with the project, the more potential to gather donations.
“We’ve got the website, we’re on social media, but a lot of it is going to be word-of-mouth, too,” Alex Dodds said. “It’s a matter of talking to the right people who believe in this as much as we do.”
Siding and windows everywhere could be spared.
Jared Pendak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3306.
This article has been amended to correct an earlier error.
The Wiffle ball field proposed by Alex Dodds and Max Woods would include a distance of 110 feet from home plate to the right field foul pole. The length was described incorrectly in an earlier version of this story.