It is very rare to have a week go by at the Palsiades WBL where we don’t get an email asking for advice on how to get the author’s soon to be wiffleball league up and running. We are usually pretty quick to respond and for the most part never hear from this would-be commissioner again. There are a few cases where we have kept in touch and watched a league grow from afar but I’d say roughly 95% of these proposed leagues never take off, and that is simply because there is a lot more to starting a league than just making a website and hoping people will show up.
So Palisades has devised a list of what you need to do to get you and your league moving in the right direction.
1) Buy the equipment. 50 balls, four or five bats, a strike zone, backstop, a piece of carpet for the mound and a set of bases will get you started. If you or someone you know is handy and can build the zone and backstop you’re looking at maybe $200 to get you through your first season. There is no better motivation to get your league going than a few hundred dollars of unused wiffle equipment in your garage. You should also get your hands on a scorebook or print out your own scoresheets. One of the most important things you can do in Year One is keep stats.
2) Stats. This is something that will make or break you in Year One. Do the stats for every single game. Stats are one of the best ways to keep players coming back. Early on when we only had a handful of players I would tabulate the numbers with a quick recap and send them out in an email to all the players. That alone was enough to get players coming back because most players think they can improve on their numbers, and who doesn’t want to lead the league in home runs, wins or batting average?
3) Do not charge players for the first season. It’s highly unlikely you are going to be the next Bud Selig right out of the gate. No matter what you are going to make mistakes, things are going to go off the rails and players are going to quit during your first season. Not only will a free league attract more players, it will leave room to make mistakes and maybe even make radical changes mid-season without any of your players getting too upset. Season One is about learning on the job and finding your way, not making money.
4) Do not play in your backyard. Unless you’ve built a $50,000 mini MLB replica stadium you are not allowed to host games at your house or anyone else’s. We went from 12 players to 25 in a matter of weeks just by moving our games to a public place. You might think that the increased visibility created this surge, well yes and no. Many of the new players that joined at this time already knew about Palisades and told us that it felt like they were intruding until we relocated to the public park.
5) Somewhere in the town you live there is the perfect wiffle field and most likely it isn’t being used for anything else. Go to Google Maps and get an aerial view of your town and the surrounding area. Find every park, every school and then physically scout them out. What you are looking for is a 100′ x 100′ flat and level piece of lawn preferably with a fence that you can utilize as your outfield fence. We found a lot of great places early on and and we were such a small league that we could just set up and play a few games without any permission/insurance/permits. Occasionally we had to scramble for an alternate field because our go-to field was being used so find yourself a backup/emergency field too.
6) Recruit, recruit, recruit. Recruiting is the most important job of a first, second or third year Commissioner. If everyone you know doesn’t know you are running a wiffleball league, you are not Commish material. Being the Commish requires some serious wiffle passion. So share it with everyone you know. I’m talking classmates, co-workers, friends, relatives, neighbors, they all have to know and should be reminded often of this new wiffle league you launching. There should even be a point where your family and friends sit you down and have a wiffle intervention. When they are finished apologize, thank them for their concern and tell them this, “You’ll never hear me talk about wiffle again, if you find me a player for my league.” This of course is a lie, you will continue to badger them until you get to 40 or 50 players, but they may just buy it and help you spread the word.
7) Don’t worry about teams Year One. Once you get four or five players that agree to play just get them to show up and start playing. After the first game choose new teams and play another game. We found that a great way to choose captains was to have everyone throw one pitch from mound to zone the first two players to hit the zone picked the teams. Constantly jumbling up the teams is a three-pronged attack. First, it doesn’t matter who shows up on any given game day, draft new teams. If a few players have to leave after game one that’s okay because you are going to draft new teams for game two. When new players show up they can be inserted into the lineup or they can wait for the next game. Second, everyone gets a chance to be a part of a winner. Our first year we had something like 30 different variations of teams. By the end of the year we had been teammates with every player in the league. This is a great way for everyone to meet each other. Third, it sets a tone that it’s not so bad to team up with new people. The single best thing we ever did to increase the competitiveness at Palisades was eliminate the same people teaming up year after year. Other league’s may have storied rivalries but I’ll tell you this right now: There is no better matchup in wiffleball than when two ex-teammates meet for the first time as pitcher and batter.
8) Don’t choose your format let it choose you. The biggest mistake most leagues make is thinking they are something they are not. There are way too many leagues out there where one team is playing fast pitch and the rest of their league is playing medium pitch, I call this Fake-Fast wiffleball. Some tell-tale signs of a fake-fast league are at the end of a league’s season every team has played a different amount of games or even worse, a league with an undefeated team with the rest of the league at .500. This happens when one team is stacked and the rest of the league is just there to support it by having them continually win the championship every year as well as all the awards. Fake-fast leagues suffer from stagnation and generally will stop growing beyond friends and relatives. They also never get sponsored.
The idea early on is to be inclusive and see where it takes you. Get as many players as you can Year One and no matter what, make it medium pitch. Get the better pitchers to throw at a reasonable speed during the season. Ideally there should be no pitchers with sub-two ERA’s. Nothing turns off a recruit more than going 0-for-10 on their first day. After that they aren’t coming back.
If you find that pitchers continue to exceed the speed limits, promise a fast pitch championship series at the end of the season if they obey the regular season speed restriction. If that series ends up being the best part of the year and you have four or five pitchers that can chuck you probably have the makings of a fast pitch league. Just remember, if you go fast you have to spread the talent around. There is nothing worse than a fake-fast league.
9) Schedule games on the same day. As a new Commissioner you have to be there every game, this is so much easier to do if games are played on a Saturday or Sunday as opposed to a weeknight schedule. If weeknights are your only option you will have your work cut out for you. More people are available on the weekends and as your league grows weekends are much more attractive to players willing to drive 30-50 miles to play wiffleball.
10) Play often year one, consistency is key. If you can play every single Sunday from mid-April until early October, do it. Having games every weekend is so helpful to early growth. If the league is playing every Sunday at noon word gets around and after a few weeks random people will just show up. Over scheduling Year One also opens up the league to people who wouldn’t have otherwise joined your league. They may wake up one Sunday morning with nothing to do and think, aren’t those guys playing wiffle today?
11) Don’t waste people’s time. Always be at the field at least a half hour before the first pitch, better yet make it an hour if you can. There is always plenty to do, set up, garbage patrol, field maintenance. Being organized is how you will keep players over the long haul. If they know their games are going to start on time, they will be on time.
12) Don’t bother with a traditional website. Five years ago a website was mandatory, today not so much. Facebook will get the job done, invite your friends, post a schedule and hopefully you can drum up some interest. I am continually amazed at the leagues that put so much effort into a website. In the 5+ years of running Palisades I can’t remember anyone telling me that our website was the reason they joined.
13) Take care of your field. As Commissioner it is very important that wherever you play you keep it spotless. Bring a garbage bag to your field every time you play. One of the easiest ways to lose a field is to leave garbage behind. Even if it wasn’t your garbage to begin with clean it up.