When a Young Man's Fancy Turns to Whiffleball
Gin and Bear It
It's spring and that means the start of a new season. Every year about this time, Mother Nature makes her big trade. She gives up two or three feet of snow (first round drift choices) for green grass and an undisclosed amount of rain.
When the temperatures soar into the 50s for the first time, the same thing is on everyone's mind. In the Quincy House dining hall signals are flashed, a word is muttered, and rumors begin to fly.
Soon two or three roommates tentatively organize a team, make-shift uniforms are pulled out of the closet, and suddenly a stubby guy with a stubby beard announces, "Opening Day, today at 3:30." It's another season of Whiffleball!
Whifflers find they have to adapt to unusual conditions around Harvard because of cyclical changes of spring. Every year about this time, just when the turf should take on a green hue and provide limitless acreage for whiffleball diamonds, traditions intervene.
Sooner than you can lay down foul lines, unleashed dogs patrol the Yard dropping obstacles all over your potential basepaths. Before you can chalk in the coaching boxes, B & G fences off all the sod at Harvard into polygons, triangles, and other high school subjects.
Although B & G's dominion does not include all of Cambridge, our fair city has discovered an effective means of stifling the spread of Whiffleball. Construction workers perform their own rites of spring each year when they rip up the bank of the Charles River in time to suffocate joggers and sundry athletes who dare to brave the dust and fumes of Memorial Drive.
Today most Harvard Whiffleball is played in three locations near the River Houses. The most pious ballplayers take to the asphalt of St. Paul's Church parking lot behind Quincy House, where a lengthy chain-link fence provides a suitable outfield wall and balls rolling underneath cars are ground rule doubles.
Another familiar field is the Eliot Quad. There are no artificial barriers to provide automatic round-trippers, but the natural interference created by the numerous trees and the slope of the land makes Whiffleball outfielders play shots with the finesse of a pro golfer.
Of course, the greatest site is undoubtedly Lowell Park. This famed plot of land facing Mt. Auburn Street in front of Lowell House has provided thrills for Claverly bleacher bums for years. The diamond itself fits neatly into the surrounding with a spectacular setting for home runs. The right field wall is constructed of two wooden tiers, three-feet high, allowing outfielders a chance to rob hitters of four-baggers by snaring balls clearing the fence.
Straightaway center field requires a prodigious drive, offering bushes to frustrate fielders, as runners go for extra bases. The left field wall is a three-story building of final-club heritage. Along the left field line, a 10-foot high link fence prevents all but towering shots from landing in the nearby club's garden.
The roster of last week's opening day teams read like a copy of the minutes of a B'nai B'rith meeting. The garishly outfitted squad of Scheft, Scheft, and Stern, who appeared in red and white thermal underwear, defeated Goldberg, Ginsberg, and Shohet, who comprised the fashionable Blue team.
However, the following day, the blue squad picked up free agent Bob Grady and walloped the Reds as Dan Goldberg blasted an unprecedented three consecutive home runs.
Most of the aforementioned fields are available during daylight hours, so head over to Cahaly's to pick up those fabled plastic bats and balls and tell them Sixto Lezcano sent you.