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News

''The Call''

By  John Liberty | Kalamazoo Gazette

KALAMAZOO — Willie Mays has “The Catch.” Babe Ruth has the “Called Shot.” Now, the Kalamazoo Wiffle League — don’t laugh — has “The Play,” or maybe, (with an assist from Major League Baseball umpire Bill Welke), more appropriately “The Call.” On Monday, a disputed play during a heated wiffle ball game — yes, the 16-team league with more than 100 players is real and rather serious — received some objective help from, of all people, a Major League Baseball umpire more than 2,000 miles away. “The Call” has pushed the events at Oshtemo Township Park to a much larger audience, courtesy of the Internet. As a proud member of the KWL, it also makes us about the coolest thing in the Wide World of Wiffle (take that, New York league). For all those recreational athletes and weekend warriors, this is about as intense as it gets. In terms of reaching a broader audience, this is the KWL’s “One Shining Moment,” but with much better backing music. For all the verbal jabs I’ve received from my father-in-law for playing wiffle ball as an adult, this adds a tangible level of legitimacy. Not that we in the KWL needed it, but it feels about as good as a walk-off homer (more on that later). When the two sides couldn’t resolve the play, Ryan Winfield, who was filming the game for the league’s website, joked that someone should call Tim Welke, a veteran MLB umpire who lives in Portage. His brother, Bill, is also a decorated Major League Baseball umpire and Western Michigan University graduate. One of the players, Steve Everett, was an athletic trainer at Marshall High School where Bill Welke’s nephew goes to school. Bill Welke gave Everett his business card during a conversation this winter and Everett “never cleaned out my wallet.” As a long shot, Everett called Welke, who was in San Diego prior to working at that night’s game between the Padres and Colorado Rockies. While the rest of the guys scurried to look up the rule on their smartphones, Everett worked his phone. ”We weren’t paying attention to Steve because we thought there’s no way he’s (Welke) going to pick up his phone ... I’m sure he had something more important to do,” Winfield said. Welke answered, put Everett on speaker phone and his crew made the call. The story recounting the home run-robbing catch (with video) was posted on the league’s website, www.kzoowiffleball.com. The sports news website Deadspin picked up the story Thursday afternoon and featured it for several hours. By Friday night, it had more than 26,000 views. It also picked up a little online love from the Sporting News. What made this was Welke’s generosity. I tried to contact Welke, but was unable to reach him by deadline. ”He’s a great guy. Real nice guy. Easygoing,” Everett said of Welke. “He’d do anything to help out the Marshall community ... He probably saw the 269 (area code on his cell) and thought it was someone from Marshall trying to get a hold of him.” Monday’s games had the league’s defending champion, Friars, against the league’s top-ranked team, the Industrials, which had taken Game 1 of the double-header in an extra-inning nail-biter. In Game 2, the teams were locked in a 6-3 game in the top of the sixth, the final inning. The league commissioner Brian Meyers, of the Industrials, was on the mound facing the Friars’ Kevin Marszalek, largely considered the most deadly bat in the league, think a mini-Albert Pujols. There were runners on first and second when Marszalek slammed a sure-fire dinger off Meyers. The annoyingly tall 6-foot-6 Everett jumped in the air, snagged the plastic and tumbled over the left-field fence, allegedly maintaining possession (full disclosure here, an Industrials loss would’ve helped my team in the standings, so I’m cynical to a fault). Was it an out or a home run? Both sides went back and forth. Players calmly argued their case. Smartphones slowly downloaded rule books. Everett talked. Welke listened. It’s not specified in the KWL rules, which meant the default judgment fell to the official MLB rules. Rule 6.05(a), on when a batter is out, somewhat addresses the issue and refers readers to Rule 7.04(c) on the status of the base runners. According to Welke & Co., it was an out, and the game ended 6-3 to the Industrials (the status of the base runners had no bearing on the outcome). It was generous of Welke to answer the call, then provide a ruling. The KWL, Everett and Welke also had no idea the Internet would scoop it up and run wild with “The Call.” Now, as I have a dog in this fight, I disagree with Welke and Co. on the basis that the fences in the KWL are shorter vertically than most in MLB (Fenway Park’s right field corner being one example of a short fence). So I called Fenway Park on Friday afternoon to see how they’d rule it if a player left his feet, caught a would-be home-run ball then fell into the stands (the park’s ground rules posted online doesn’t address this urgent question). The woman who answered the phone at Fenway said she thought it would be an out, but she wasn’t completely sure. I asked if I could talk to someone who knew and she said everyone was out of the office for the day. She referred me to the MLB offices. I called, but the offices had closed. So I’m left with Welke’s call. And considering he took the time out to make it, I’m not going to argue or question the outcome (we’ll address the issue at the league’s winter meetings). ”It’s probably one of my top wiffle ball achievements,” Everett said. And that’s heart of the thing. The Internet is nice. But when it’s not looking, KWL players will still be arguing over close plays and, in most cases, laughing about it later over beers. My father-in-law refused to take the KWL seriously until my wife and I convinced him to come to last year’s All-Star Game. He gets it now. Conveniently, this year’s All-Star Events will begin at 3:30 p.m. June 25 at Oshtemo Township Park. It’s open to the public. Everett, Meyers, Marszalek and myself will be there. If you have a sharp eye and no allegiances, we may need help with a call or two.