HUNTINGTON - One of the major differences between Wiffle Ball and baseball is that the Wiffle Ball itself, which is made of hollow plastic with holes perforating the surface, can catch wind easily, sending it flying in unpredictable directions.
That's part of the fun for the couple dozen men and one woman involved in Huntington's Wiffle Ball League. Six teams - The Pink Penguins, Terrorhawks, Holy Balls, Beaver Fever, Welfare Warriors and Maroon - make up the only league left in the state after ones in Wheeling, Flatwoods and Hurricane disbanded.
Josh Smith of South Charleston was the league commissioner in Hurricane but let it fade out after 10 years. The sport was often compromised because there were only two fields available, and they were often overtaken by softball, T-ball or other sports.
"Wiffle Ball isn't very popular in West Virginia. It's mainly a New England and Midwest sport, where the populations are heavier," Smith said. "It was invented in 1953 in Connecticut - so it tended to stay around there for the most part - in suburban areas. Not in very rural or urban areas. So it's very difficult to get it here because in this state - you have Charleston and Huntington, but it's not somewhere like Philadelphia. But it's a good middle."
Huntington, he said, has more interest and resources to maintain a Wiffle Ball league. That influenced his decision to start up the league just last year.
"There's not enough people in Hurricane for this to work. Most of my friends were down here. There are lots of people here, and it's one of the biggest metros in the state," said Smith, 26. "My friend and co-commissioner Greg Sowards showed me this park, and I said this was perfect."
The league plays at St. Cloud Commons community park in Huntington. Two games are played simultaneously three times each Tuesday evening: 5:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Adults from ages 18 to 62 swing shiny, yellow bats and round the bases for 12 weeks during the summer.
Smith said each team captain helps guide a team of about three to five people total. Smith and Sowards each contributed about $200 to get the league started, and each person contributes $25 to go toward the balls, bats, rope, fencing, Web address - huntingtonwiffle.blogspot.com - and tripods for the cameras.
"When we first started last year, I knew everybody in some way or another," Smith said. "But now, there are probably half I didn't know before they joined the league ... We put up some fliers and word of mouth, and I started getting emails."
Their reasons for joining vary.
Smith has played baseball for eight years when he was a kid. When he was 13 years old and a shortstop, he was practicing with his brother. Another player tried to steal second base, and the ball was thrown a little too high.
"I looked up, saw the sun, and got hit in the face. Lost about a pint of blood," Smith said. "Something I took for granted was not being afraid of the ball. I couldn't shake it. I played for two more years and rode the bench because I kept having some sort of flashback to getting hit in the face."
Wiffle Ball allows Smith to still enjoy the sport without the trauma he experienced previously.
"I've been hit in the face a lot, and it doesn't hurt," he said laughing.
Other team members simply like the thrill of a sport that harkens back to their younger days - but with less risk for injury on worn bones.
Another guy runs a Huntington kickball league and loves "off the wall sports," Smith said.