Sunday, July 7, 1991
By George O'Gorman-Trentonian
Surviving the bureaucratic red tape was the first battle. Winning out neighborhood graffiti writers was just as tough. Now that Mike Palinczar and his NJ Wiffle®Ball Association buddies have successfully completed their first season or organized league play they're ready to host the inaugural state tournament.
It’s takes place next weekend at the Patrick Pone Playground on Chestnut Ave. in South Trenton, the neighborhood Palinczar and his group turned into the Wiffle®Ball capital of the state. By then the Wiffle®Ball organizers hope their field of dreams will be the showplace they envisioned when they began refurbishing a litter- strewn park in March. After months of broken promises from city officials, lights that haven’t worked in six years are almost ready to showcase the nation’s first sanctioned Wiffle®Ball league.
I’ve devoted my summer getting the field ready. God knows how many hours it's been, says Fred Bastedo, a Mercer County CC student and ex-American Legion player. He and Palinczar teamed with buddies Chris Russell, Matt Brophy, Brian Russo and Steve Barkasy, and Palinczar's dad, Vic to build the diamond. They repainted cement bleachers to cover graffiti that ruined a previous painting, applied sealer to a blacktop surface, and put up outfield fence for a diamond that measures 80 feet down the line and 100 feet to center.
Neighborhood people watch games and enjoy themselves, said Bastedo. We’d get bigger crowds but people don’t know we're here. Kids who used to break bottles and write graffiti see older guys who like playing the game and now want to play Wiffle®Ball themselves. If we has a sponsor we’d be set.
I think it’s excellent, says Joe Capone, who owns Grand Cleaners adjacent to the park. The city should work with these guys to get the lights on. What Mike and Fred are doing is excellent. Kids have something to do now instead of break bottles.
With the help of East Ward councilman Anthony Conti the NJWA obtained a permit to use the park, and with money raised from entry fees of 22 league teams bought supplies. All it cost the city was three gallons of paint, said Palinczar. Still Wiffle®Ball organizers ran into some bureaucratic problems when the city did not fix the lights on time for the season opener. We rescheduled games on Sundays because we couldn’t play in the dark, said Palinczar. It was embarrassing for teams waiting to play. A local electrical contractor offered to fix the lights free, but was rebuffed by city officials. Last week PSE&G repaired faulty wiring.
Overall the NJWA’s first season was a success. P.A. All-Stars went 14-0, winning the National Division and overall playoffs. The Confederate Knights were second in the division and playoffs. Trenton Milkmen won the American Division, with the TSC Lions second. Those teams will be in the state tournament, along with teams from Irvington, Sea Isle City, Asbury Park and two from New York. The winner goes to Boston for the National Championship, a 50-team event offering a $10,000 purse.
Palinczar and Bastedo played in the National Tournament last year as Trenton Giants after learning of the event in a Sports Illustrated article. That's where they got the idea to start the NJ Wiffle®Ball League. Teams that didn't join are sorry now they missed out, said Palinczar. Next year we'll have more teams. Guys quit playing softball because they like playing this more. Jack Pepper, a softball veteran, was league MVP, hitting .585 and sharing the home run crown with nine. P.A. teammate Mike Elko, another ex-softballer, hit.583.
I’ve played Wiffle®Ball since I was a kid, says 20-year old Bastedo. I dreamed of a league like this, with statistics and everything. It's been great. Hopefully we’ll get bigger. Teams can enter the state tournament by calling Palinczar at 609-771-8057.