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The fifth season is upon us, but one unfamiliar with league history may not know that it’s the fourth season of the glorious rivalry that is Eagan vs. Hopkins. When the league expanded and divided itself among the two cities before the league’s second season in 2005, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

theman01
The Man, as a rookie in 2005, sure was an arrogant ass. My, how things have changed!

What was originally seen as a convenient way to accommodate more new participants in the league with a location on the western part of the Cities very quickly evolved into a wiffleball rivalry both wonderful and strange. But more wonderful than strange.

Players that spent the first part of the season beating on each other in their respective cities would come together as teammates for All-Star Night. Nobody could have predicted the true city pride that would emerge on both sides after the league split, it’s been an amazing thing to see.

Mind you, it’s been a healthy rivalry, and one that’s really kept the league vibrant, interesting and alive. As cool as it is to have seen city pride infused in all the All-Star Night events and even the hype leading up to it, it’s even cooler to see guys who slugged it out together in that first season, when we all played together in the same rink-- often times All-Star Night is the first time all year these old-timers get to see each other to revel in all the wiffle glory. Always nice to see CX and Cheezy yukking it up, for example, maybe talking about that 1st round playoff series they had against each other back in ‘04 on the very same field they’re watching the Noob-Star Game on. As a commish, seeing stuff like that just makes me smile and it’s then that I know that this league is one of the coolest things I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of. I hope to make more memories such as those this summer!

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Speaking of the West Side, we’ll take a look at our nine combatants from Hopkins (all returning!) and see how things stack up.

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Hopkins East:
One of the things I really loved about how the random team draw worked in Hopkins was that no team, not ONE, ended up with a team that was in their division the year before. The teams got completely shuffled-- and there’s something to love about each division. In the East-- with all apologies to the PADRES!, you’ve got what has to be considered the new major HRL rivalry: The Braves and the Red Sox. The last 3 Hopkins Finals have been between these two teams, and last year’s series was as storybook as any wiffle fan could hope for-- it gets no better than this. And then, those hapless A’s get tossed in there, almost as an afterthought. My god I love this division.

bravesBraves:
2008 roster: With the Pearl Necklace departed to some desolate western state, the three-man core of the defending Hopkins champs added a potential stud in the form of “Ben Box”, a cool fella who made an appearance at the late fall wiffle combine and apparently impressed GM Sanchez enough to offer him a roster spot. To borrow a phrase from The Man, let’s not hope he’s “that fourth guy who sucks.”

About the team: What can you say about these guys that hasn’t already been said? An HRL Original Franchise, the core of Chops and Sanchez have been together since the league’s inception and together are about as fearsome a wiffle duo as you’ll find in these here parts. Factor in Edgar, a former member of the league’s first champs, the ‘04 Twins, and you’ve got all the credits you need for your Ph.D in Wiffle Asskickery. Often misunderstood as a club that’s all business all the time in the rink, they have a long history of winning in the regular season, finally getting over the playoff hump last season and playing in their first World Series. It should also be noted they have an extensive line of wiffle attire and regalia that would look great on everyone in the entire family. Suit up and join the Braves Relay Team today!

What to expect: They’re the Kings of the Regular Season and have won their division every year. However, with a new in-division rival that can match them pitch for pitch, they will be challenged for the division title this time around. There will be no runaway division winner here. Should the Braves falter and NOT win the division, expect them to cop the Wild Card. Also, expect the usual insane amount of run scoring from this obscenely potent offense.

red-soxRed Sox:
2008 roster: Sadly, legendary wiffler Washman will be hanging it up this season, to be replaced by an as-yet unnamed noob. The rest of the crew is said to be returning intact, including new dad Lil’ Randall, and also keep an eye out in the latter part of the season for Baby Tugboat! Toot Toot, bitches!

About the team: There’s never a dull moment when the Red Sox show up to play. They present their own nasty wiffle duo in the form of The Man and Tugboat, who led the team to an HRL title in 2006 when they put together an amazing 38-7 mark (including playoffs). They sort of played a little more laid back last season, but still won their division and played an amazing series in the Hopkins Finals before falling to the Braves. Overall, these guys are really loose, and even if they’re beating you, will outdrink you and outfun you. And if you’re not watching closely, Dr. Jesus will lay the wood to your wife if you happened to bring her along that night. And that, my friends, is Red Sox F*cking Wiffleball.

What to expect: Whispers in and around the league offices are that the Red Sox are “trying” this season. Could the Braves being in the same division be all the motivation they need? Even if they are... “trying”... the Braves can and will hang with them. If the Sox don;t win the division, they’ll be first in line for the Wild Card. Don’t be shocked to see a Braves-Sox matchup in the Hopkins Finals for the fourth straight year. Nick? Chops? Same car, you’re going home?

athleticsA’s:
2008 roster: Ever a model of consistency, word is this crop of deviants will all return for another round of wiffle punshment in 2008.

About the team: These goofballs are the Mets or Cardinals of Hopkins. Everyone loves to play these guys, and it’s not only because of the easy ‘W’. No, in fact, to a man, they just plain rule. In the annals of HRL history as the first team to bring a keg to the rink, they are in fact as close to a crew of ‘Zen’ wifflers as you’ll find. Led by the marginally improving and always hilarious Jason “Scarecrow” Hall-- these guys aren’t world beaters, and they just could care less. So next time you see the gold and green jerseys making their way into the rink, bow, bitches: you’re among wiffle royalty!

What to expect: These dudes have a formula that works: They won 5 in ‘05, 6 in ‘06, and 7 in ‘07. I’m going out on a limb and predicting 9 wins. I know, I’m rocking the boat. I hope the A’s read this and know that I have high expectations for them this year!

Hopkins Central:
What I absolutely love about this divsion is you’ve got probably the best mix of fun and competition of any division in the league. All three teams can bring the pain but can also let it loose and have a great time as well. Brewers, Padres and White Sex? Sign me up for the Hopkins Central Fan Club!!!

brewersBrewers:
2008 roster: Ok, you’ve got Joe. You’ve got Hendi. Like the Braves, this has been the backbone of the franchise since the HRL began in 2004. The cast has changed every year around them, however, and it’s almost odd to look back and see that they’ve had players on their roster like Westy, Lumbercorn and Costa. This year, it’s rumored The Hammer will return, but ‘07 Sultan of Suck C-Bass is gone. In a late free-agent move, the team acquired All-Star defensive player Erik “H8R” Ganales from the now-defunct Diamondbacks.

About the team: One look at the beer mug on the logo tells you everything you need to know, and it speaks to the genius of league vice-commish Joe that he brought in a sober cab for his team in the offseason. One of the Original Franchises of the HRL, this team’s M.O. hasn’t changed since day one even though their roster has seen more changes than an Elton John concert. That said, these guys are streaky. When the play as well as they are capable of, they can beat anyone-- the very nearly stole the division away from the Twins last year. On the flipside, when they’re bad, they are REAL bad. Regardless, it’s a good time guarantee when the Crew is in the rink.

What to expect: If I could vent here-- just once I’d like to see these bastards use the logo I made for them on their shirts! Come on, it’s one of the coolest ones EVER!! Okay... that said, given the division they are in, on paper they may not be the best team, but if they get hot, can definitely compete, so I’d absolutely give them a fighting chance here.

padresPadres:
2008 roster: No team improved more via free agency than the PADRES! this offseason. In a sleazy backroom deal reminiscent of Art Modell moving the Colts from Baltimore at midnight, the Fathers lured away the Brothers Silverstein from the Giants (f/k/a Rangers). A bold move indeed, but one that needed to be made when legendary wiffle folk hero Westy rode off into the sunset after last season.

About the team: The new additions really improve this club, (which, with the core of Shirls and Nine since their inception in ‘04 as the Phillies was an Original Franchise): Silver adds a new dimension on defense rivaled by few, if any (he was All-Star MVP and Sticky Paw winner last season). Combined with defensive guru Cheezy, this team has Wiff Gem potential written all over it. Silver’s brother The Kid is a lefty hurler with a nasty array of pitches, that when combined with the pitching talents of Shirls and Nine, will make this team a pitching heavy combo that will do some damage. No longer just a team of fan-friendly outspoken baseball-loving left-leaning tree huggers, you can make a case for these guys to be one of the best crews in Hopkins.

What to expect: This team is extremely loaded now, and will give the White Sox and Brewers all they can handle. If I had to pick a division winner right now, I’d give the nod to the Padres over the Sox because of the key offseason additions. Regardless, I feel last year was sort of a fluke for them, I expect to see the Daddies right around that 20-win mark when all is said and done.

whitesoxWhite Sox:
2008 roster: The team added Brian “Camera Guy” Rohrbacher to the fold this year, and while I will miss his invaluable help in getting great Hopkins video footage, it’s hoped this guy will aid and abet this talented bunch for the year. Spaz, the team’s lifeblood and best player, bailed on them in the playoffs last year to go to school in Madison and it’s not known how much time he’ll miss this season for the same reason.

About the team: When replacing the Orioles last year, we could not have come up with a better new team to replace them. They’re competitive, yes, but it didn’t take too long for these guys to truly ‘get it’ and soon enough they blended right into the HRL landscape (see the 2007 HRL DVD if you need proof of that). That said, they really shook up the competitive landscape in Hopkins last year, which was needed because it had been the same 4 teams in the playoffs for 2 years in a row. Infusing these guys into the Hopkins mix really helped shake things up.

What to expect: It comes down to this: Will Spaz be around? If Spaz is missing for any extended period, it’s not looking good. Two Bat is a great player to be sure and he may be able to carry the team for a while, but the whole machine just runs better when Spaz is present. If he’s around, you’ve got a team that should contend for the division title.

Hopkins West:
Lastly, you have perennial playoff entry the Twins, being teamed with up-and-comers the Colt .45’s and the rebuilt Giants (formerly the Rangers). Could be anybody’s race if all the teams play up to potential!

colt45sColt 45’s:
2008 roster: We’re told the roster should be largely intact. It’s actually a very talented team who could do some great things if all goes well.

About the team: TT has taken this franchise under his wing and put together a really decent team that could do some damage. Despite a sub-500 record last year, All-Star DJ, Rob and Wole all presented some great pitching potential, as long as they learn to control the speed and as a result, can bring the walks down. If they can do that and continue to mash (which these guys can do very well), they could turn that 17-21 record from last year around and contend for the playoffs.

What to expect: A sexy dark horse pick in some wiffle circles, this team has all the talent it needs to contend, and it’s believed that after getting that one year under their belts, they will come out with just a little bit of veteran savvy and win their share of games. I say they’re a .500 club with the potential to do even better if they play their cards right.

indians3Giants:
2008 roster: The loss of franchise founder Silver and his brother The Kid to the Padres was a huge blow. However, the remaining brass led by Dr. K, Bliss and Hobbs turned the other cheek (literally!) and reinvented itself by changing their name from the Rangers to the Giants, and adding two new faces: TJ Woldum, son of team ace pitcher Hobbs, and JC Comito. The noobs are expected to contribute right away. Dutch returned to the club after briefly testing the free-agent market. It’s not known how often the former high-profile Dutch will be seen at the rink, as his playing time has decreased dramatically in recent seasons.

About the team: They took a potential negative and turned it on it’s head, basically reinventing the franchise, and they are pumped about it. With some sweet unis waiting to be unleashed, word out of HRL Spring Training is that these guys are ready to tear it up. Don’t feel bad about the loss of the Silversteins. They certainly don’t.

What to expect: Rumor has it the young Woldum is a phenom waiting to bust out. This is a division these guys could possibly contend in if everything falls into place. Silver’s defense and The Kid’s pitching will be missed, but these guys will find ways to fill the gaps and be very competitive.

twinsTwins:
2008 roster: JP left the team and signed a lucrative free agent deal with the Royals (plus Eagan was way closer for him), otherwise the team will trot out four guys this year. We have not heard at this point of any new additions to the Twins roster.

About the team: An HRL Original Franchise, the core of K-Mart and Nelson helped lead the team to the league’s first ever championship in ‘04. They’ve made the playoffs every year since, but have never gotten out of the first round. This team is always a fun time, and easily the most boisterous in the league. When they’re not loudly harassing the opposition, they can be found spending even more time loudly harassing each other. With a sense of humor like that combined with the team’s ability to put cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon away in bulk, the fact that these guys have been in the playoffs every season is really pretty amazing.

What to expect: K-Mart, Nelson, Balls and AC have enough skill and veteran savvy to overcome any self-inflicted brown bottle flu they may end up with, and they will... oh my, they will. Expect laughs to be high, and for the team to get right around that 20-win mark. They’ll be the favorites to win the division, but it’ll be fun to watch with two hungry up-and-coming rivals looking to knock them off their perch.

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