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Hard to believe we’re about to embark on the fifth season of this glorious league, and look how far we’ve come since that time. Why it seems like only yesterday when little-known wifflers first toted their jeans and baseball gloves into the rinks for the first time, while cautiously sipping their Miller Lites with an eye out for the local fuzz and the other eye out for other oddities like Cota throwing too hard or being hit on by Mike P’s wife. Ahh, the infancy... the innocence.

peeks01
Almost makes one long for the old days, doesn’t it?

So much has changed since that fateful summer of 2004, but alas, the premise has not. Different now is WHO we’re drinking and wiffling with, but never WHY we drink and wiffle. For, as great as it ever was to see an M-Ski leaned up against a rink wall, beer in hand, we’ll be sure to see the same wonderful sight in 2008. For every The Pirate or Peeks who leaves our wonderful group comes a Spaz or Hal with their own unique quirks that make the HRL the incredible evolving melting pot of oddity that it is.

The dynamic is ever-changing, but why we do what we do inside those rinks will always endure. And with that, the fifth season is sure to be nothing less than another summer of memories made to last a lifetime.

***

Let’s take a look at our field of 18 for this year’s perforated plastic competition. I’ll attempt to break down each club as we go, based on the exciting new team alignments concocted from the random draw at this past January’s annual glug-fest, the Winter Meeting. First, the Eagan side, with the Hopkins side to come:

***

The “New-ris” Division (Eagan East):
The draw left two of the three original Norris clubs intact-- the Expos and Mets. The Cardinals, incidentally the most “vocal” against the draw to begin with, got realigned. The third club in this division was supposed to be the D’Backs, but due to major roster uncertainty, the team spot was put up for grabs. Five hopeful teams submitted rosters to me, and after a random draw, Alex and Eric Valen’s squad won the team spot, and are welcomed back into the fold as the Angels.

metsMets:
2008 roster: Original Met Brett “Legs” Legler is hanging up the ol’ spikes, ironically due to some leg problems that as we understand it require some surgical intervention. The Mets have brought in fresh meat to replace Legs in ‘08, and we’re assured that he’s right on par with the rest of the team as far as skill level. This no doubt makes the X smile.

About the team: If you don’t know the Mets by now, here’s their modis operandi for the uninitiated: Drink beer, laugh, take a few hacks, play sweet tunes on the ol’ CD boombox, more than likely lose the game but try not to get mercied, occasionally snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, drink, and laugh some more. They do indeed repeat as desired. They are not a playoff team, have never played one on TV, and don’t pretend to be one. They are, in fact, a self-contained Fun-Star squad.

What to expect: Maybe 10 to 15 wins, they’re quite possibly the team with the biggest lack of pitching in Eagan. Yo is good for a .300, 15, 50 type of season depending if the rest of the jerkoffs around him can get on base. With Caz and Jabrone roaming the outfield, you can expect to solve this puzzle by buying alot of vowels, namely “E’s”. As has been said, they’re not out to win The Cup at this point, and that’s not a negative by any stretch. The HRL needs squads like these guys to remind us all why we play this awesome game to begin with, and I’m sure we can expect more great times, CD tunes, laughs and blooper-reel fodder from the Mets in ‘08.

exposExpos:
2008 roster: Sounds like Hartski really was a short-term solution for the X last year, which sucks, because he really did help carry the team from perennial first-round exiteers to very nearly playing for The Cup last season. His crazy legs and sweet pitching arsenal will be missed as word has it he’ll be over in Iraq in ‘08. The X replaces him with “Super K” a fella who did appear in one game last year in a sort of emergency-addition role for the X.

About the team: What’s not to love about these guys? One of the few Original Franchises (dating back to 2004), the Expos have their own unique persona that is best described by the following phrase from M-Ski in early 2005: “It is simple. I am not complex. I am a nice guy. I wasn't gifted with that trash talking gene. So I simply kick ass nicely.” They’ve become one of the all-time great teams in league history, yet they’re one of the teams that go about pummeling you with class, humility, and always... ALWAYS a free pass into their welcoming cooler. Game week knowing you’re playing the X.... you may as well call it X-Mas. It’s that sweet, folks.

What to expect: No use denying it, losing Hartski will hurt, unless J-Ski can revert to his pitching form of old. Poor J-Ski in ‘07 got slapped around on the mound like a hooker holding out a weekend’s worth of dough from her pimp, and since CX can’t pitch every game, there needs to be a “2” to make a 1-2 punch work. You know this team will hit, the key ingredient to me is how well will J-Ski pitch? Or can this new guy pitch? If they can get the pitching they need, they’ll run away with this division like they always do.

sm_sngelsAngels:
2008 roster: This band of relative noobs is the W4W squad featuring the father-son Valen tandem that graced HRL rinks as members of the Senators in 2005. Gusto has also taken refuge on this roster. Alex and Gusto also teamed up and made a World Series run with the Rockies in 2006. No clue about the others on the roster quite yet (brothers? Jay and Jon Briemhorst), but they’ll be among the very small amount of noobs surfacing in 2008.

About the team: Going on knowns, they’ll struggle on the mound but could hold their own at the plate, we do know Alex and his dad can swing the stick. The prowess of the noobs will go a long way in helping shape the fate of this franchise.

What to expect: It’s tough to say. Nobody expects them to challenge the Expos for the division, but battling the Mets for second fiddle can’t be considered unrealistic.

Eagan Central:
In quite possibly one of the most lopsided random draw results, the Tigers got put together with the Pirates (who they were in the Eagan West with the least 2 years), and the Cardinals. It’s like The Jesus getting locked in a room with two eight year olds, dude. I wonder who’s going to come out on top? Ew. Bad analogy, I know, but you’re getting my point here, no?

cardinalsCardinals:
2008 roster: The enigmatic Bombo rides off into the sunset and is replaced by W4W veteran and friend of Panther, J-Zilla. While we really don’t know what he’ll being to the wiffle table, we DO know he’s a cool cat who’s persona and sheer mass will no doubt get noticed. He loves Apfelkorn and Guitar Hero, so as far as we’re concerned, he’s HRL material. This will be the only change to the Cards’ roster for ‘08.

About the team: Much like the Mets, you pretty much know what you’re gunna get from these guys. If you’ve played against them even once, you get it. (You probably got a win, too, but that’s beside the point) If you could quantify sheer joy and fun whilst at the rinks and make standings out of it, the Cardinals would have won The Cup a time or two. This is not to say they don’t have skills, as team patriarchs and longtime pals The Steves do possess some admirable wiffle skill, especially in the pitching department. They’re just having too much fun to care if they’re beating you or not.

What to expect: Let’s be honest-- they’re not going to overrun the Tigers and win the division. But the divisional-barrel-scraping rivalry with fellow bottom feeders The Pirates could be epic in more ways than one. Some great DVD fodder could come out of those ballgames.

tigers1Tigers:
2008 roster: The team should be largely intact, but the new arrival of several baby Tegroes around the franchise may put a damper on the quad’s ability to field a robust roster on a regular basis at given points throughout the season. Throw in the fact that the Tegroes’ fearless leader, Seibs, is likely to miss the entire campaign with Tommy John surgery, and there’s some uncertainty there.

About the team: They’re intimidating guys until you get to know ‘em. They are all pretty big dudes with extensive collegiate athletic resumes, but then once you’ve played a game or two, you realize that they are hilarious guys and enjoy slamming down the brewskis as much as any club out there. In fact you could say they’ve really perfected that part of their craft, as you’ll often see these guys long after the rink lights are shut down for the night, finishing every last can of Gluek’s Ice in the parking lot. All this and I haven’t even mentioned these guys are one amazingly good wiffle team, as their three consecutive division titles will attest.

What to expect: With a division weaker than a can of Milwaukee’s Best and enough wiffle talent in the stable (reigning MVP Doc ring a bell?), this team should overcome the potential loss of Seibs and easily win 20 games again this year. And fear not wiffle fans, word on the street is we’ll still see Seibs at the rink, with sling, scoresheets and beers in hand.

piratesPirates:
2008 roster: The only difference between not hearing from the D’Backs all winter and not hearing from the Pirates all winter is that you know Ten’s got everything under control. The assumption is the team will return as it was in ‘07, only because we haven’t heard anything to the contrary.

About the team: You get these guys together and you’d swear they’re the six male models in the menswear section of the 1987-88 JCPenney catalog. They don’t look like a wiffle team. Then again, what is a wiffle team supposed to look like? Maybe I’m overthinking this one. This is a team that despite their history of losing, they’ve actually got some pretty good players on this team, and if taken lightly, can and will beat you.

What to expect: They have to like no longer having to look up at both the Tigers AND the Royals within the division, and even though they’ve got the Cardinals as new neighbors, they may still be cellar-dwellers. It’s been said, but bears repeating: the Cards-Pirates divisional clashes will be great fun to watch this year. Ten’s a guy who can really pitch his ass off when he wants to, but whether it’s arm endurance or just not being much of a competitive guy, he’s yet to parlay that into a full season of excellence.

Eagan West:
The draw was unkind to everyone here, as three Eagan superpowers lock horns: The defending champion Reds, former champs the Indians, and perennial contenders the Royals. Every divisional battle will be a war. Going by the other divisions, it’s a virtual lock on paper that the wild-card team will come out of this division, and it’s a 100% certainty that when the curtain falls on the regular season, one spectacular team will be left without a date for the playoffs.

royalsRoyals:
2008 roster: Gone is part-time player Mikkis from last year, replaced by longtime Twins’ player Panther, who should add a much-needed bat to the lineup. In past years, roster continuity has not always been a strong suit of the team, but with the Truck-Rocket-Keith triad entering its third season together, and Hal and Vegas coming back, stability is no longer a concern for one of the league’s Original Franchises.

About the team: Evolution sometimes takes years, and the team’s slowly shed it’s image as an overcompetitive club who isn’t any fun. Being squeezed out of the playoff mix the last two years despite very successful seasons has taught the team a lesson in humility that will serve it well in the future. This is one of the most talented teams in the entire league, but also one of the most snakebitten.

What to expect: Loaded with pitching, hitting and defense, there’s no reason this team can’t contend for a division title despite the insane competition within. All three teams in the division will likely be 20-game winners, but the teams that win those big divisional games will be the ones toward the top of the heap at the end. The Firm is not in a horrible position no matter how they slice it: worst case? They finish with 20+ wins in last place and get squeezed out of the playoffs. Again. They’re used to it. Any other outcome is a bonus for these guys.

indians3Indians:
2008 roster: Aside from the list of 47 guys that’s bursting at the seams, there’s the usual list of oft-inebriated suspects that reads like an All-Star team: Coop, Molgs, T-Bag, Al, CJ, Bork? Yikes. The rest will no doubt be toiling away down in Mahoning Valley, but the major league roster is imperssive.

About the team: Just as likely to mix you a stiff Captain and Coke as they are to slap you upside the brain with scathing MB rhetoric, there’s never a dull moment when the Tribe rolls into town. They’re many things, but sober isn’t one of them. They’ll whup your ass and not even remember it the next day, that’s how good these guys are. With a generous sponsor that seems to annually hand these maniacs a blank check every spring, the cooler has been stocked for those balmy Mondays and Thursdays months in advance. Livers of all types, BEWARE.

What to expect: While one should never underestimate how pickled these guys usually are on any given game night, their wiffle skills are also not to be underestimated. It’s rumored that Al and CJ have had some injury trouble, but the medicinal effects of the Captain should dull/numb any pain and you should see some pretty awesome pitching as a result. Expect another great year from these guys, who you’d have to think will be bringing extra booze for those more intense divisional games.

reds4Reds:
2008 roster: We assume the newly-minted defending HRL champs will return with an unchanged roster. This spells trouble for any player in the opposing batters’ box. Zack should be around for a full season, and that should lessen the wear-and-tear on the other guys’ arms.

About the team: They’re known most for their pitching. They are quite simply the best at it, and it’s the main reason why they’re the champs. They’ve got three guys all capable of tossing shutouts and stymying even the best hitters. Hitting-wise, they made the transition from “looking for the walk” to simply being “selective but willing to hack”. Theis team’s a little different from most clubs. They don’t talk much smack, they play classy wiffles, and they’re not known to tie one on at the rinks. We’re working on these things with these guys, and slowly but surely, they’re coming around. Who know, maybe now that they’re champs, they’ll realize the pressure’s off and they’ll be wild and crazy at the rink. Stranger things have happened!

What to expect: Even in what’s got to be the toughest division ever put together, they’ve got to be the favorites. They are, after all, the champs. If the pitching holds up, and there’s not one reason to think it won’t, anything less than a division title has to be a disappointment, though I am sure they’ll take a wild-card spot if it means a shot at defending The Cup.

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