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Paper for plastic: Young Batavians bring business acumen to Wiffle ball field

Published: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 5:34 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 8:44 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Recent Batavia High School graduate Ryan Pawlowski (left) and Batavia senior Andrew Martinez have organized a Wiffle ball league and created a field adjacent to Pawlowski's home.

BATAVIA – Backyard competition meets Wall Street aspiration at The Wifflot, a Wiffle ball field near Batavia where a CEO and CFO collaborate before and after each day's final out.

In a mere four summers, recent Batavia graduate Ryan Pawlowski and Batavia senior Andrew Martinez have transformed a patch of land on the Pawlowski family property into a well-coiffed destination at 2S833 Hart Road.

"Every single day, there's people honking, stopping by to take pictures," Pawlowski said. "Pretty much everything you could think of, because they're trying to get a piece of the action, I think."

That last part suggests money, which certainly is on the lips and minds of these entrepreneurs. While there still are elements of pickup sports fantasy, The Wifflot's brain trust wants more than to simply get the guys together. How about a brand?

Thirteen of the 15 panels of The Wifflot's green mesh outfield fence feature messages from local advertisers, who enjoyed free rates this season but likely will face an increase in 2014. Rosati's Pizza in Batavia boasts displays beyond the left field fence and behind home plate. The field also is available for rent on weekends, and the operation is online at www.thewifflot.com.

Entering this week, Martinez said, The Wifflot already had attracted 503 fans to its 10-team league of nearby middle- and high-schoolers this month. That's up from 237 through all of June 2012.

Fans pay $1 per game, $5 per four-game session or $25 for a season ticket, while players are subject to a $20 entrance fee for each 30-game regular season and playoffs. In turn, Pawlowski and Martinez took about $1,500 of revenue and put it into creating what Martinez called "a Major-League feel."

That includes outfield decks, signage, a pair of hand-operated scoreboards and foul poles measuring 35 feet high.

"We took that concept and we put it into Wiffle ball, and I feel like a lot of people are enjoying that idea, because you really don't see that on an everyday basis," Martinez said. "That's one of the amazing things that Ryan and I have created. It took us at least two years to get where we want to be. We're not 100 percent there, but we are getting better."

Pawlowski's mother, Debbie, can attest. She keeps her distance, but still has advised the boys about the merits of buying Wiffle balls in bulk, carrying small bills to make concession change and being mindful of policing foul language in a busy subdivision setting.

Although she's another business-minded family member – beginning in mid-July, she sells sweet corn, onions, cucumbers and other produce out of the family's pole barn – Debbie Pawlowski more often plays the role of proud mother.

Ultimately, her son and his friends built a community rallying point without much parental guidance.

"They originally started it out just the few of them hanging out and then decided, 'Hey, you know, there's more people interested. Why not furn it into a league?' " Debbie Pawlowski said. "Now they're wanting to create into a business. I mean, they love it. I just wish I could get them more motivated to do other things."

A handful of regulars juggle summer jobs with games, which usually are held from 1:15 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Batavia senior Mitch Kavalec is one, but The Wifflot's visibility makes him a celebrity at work, too.

The leading vote-getter for the American League in the upcoming July 4 All-Star Game (Pawlowski and Martinez are Nos. 2 and 3 in the National), Kavalec welcomes Wiffle chatter from co-workers at The Holmstad retirement community, where he's a dishwasher.

To Pawlowski and Martinez, Kavalec deserves the publicity. He's the one, after all, who hatched the idea of a Wiffle ball haven somewhere in the boys' hometown a few years ago. A carefree place reminiscent of The Wifflot's namesake, the diamond in the film "The Sandlot."

"It's just a nice place to hang out and it's spacious, unlike a lot of places in Batavia," Kavalec said. "Batavia is pretty cramped on, and this place is spacious, and it's just overall fun to have fun and play Wiffle ball."

The bells and whistles of The Wifflot only augment that.

It's one thing to pretend to bat for the Cubs, as two boys did during an informal session Tuesday afternoon. It's another to have a PA system and walk-up music. That's a creature comfort of players here, too.

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