Season X: A Look Back: WIFFLE in Rinks?
One of the distinctive features of the HRL:TC has been the use of ice rinks (AKA WIFFLE rinks) in league play. The idea for rink play originated over ten years ago when two league members (Joe and Westy) debated about the best place to play their unique version of the game. The allure of the rinks was the availability in the summertime, the correct dimensions for WIFFLE play, and scalable outfield walls. After becoming founding members of the HRL:TC league in 2004, Westy and Joe brought the WIFFLE rink idea with them, and the rest is WIFFLE history.
The use of WIFFLE rinks has had its high and low points. Despite the abundance of rinks in Minnesota, quality WIFFLE rinks are difficult to locate as their primary purpose is to house ice, not WIFFLEs. As a result, any grass or vegetation growth is usually accidental and the rinks are not well maintained by the city that houses them. The dual purpose of the rinks continues to plague the league. Due to the late snow this season, Hopkins Parks and Rec officials were not able to remove the rocks that were added to the rinks to aid in ice formation, leaving the Hopkins central field a unplayable mess.
Don’t try for the ‘Paw unless you’re willing to pay for it for years to come.
The abuse the rinks take in the WIFFLE offseason have resulted in difficult terrain in several of the rinks often resulting in poor fielding or even potentially dangerous situations when sliding or diving is required. Garnering the HRL’s Sticky Paw Award for fielding prowess often requires one to sacrifice their shins knees, and elbows in pursuit of the prize.
Since rinks are designed to hold water, flooding can result in pools of water leading to reschedules or relocating games. This is especially troublesome in parks which feature rinks near the bottom of a hill.
If Mother Nature cooperates, a properly manicured and maintained WIFFLE rink offers the finest WIFFLE experience known to man. Each year, the HRL’s groundskeepers working with city officials to prepare these fields for play. Working scoreboards, foul poles, and even flags have adorned rinks throughout the years.
Rinks We Know (and sometimes even love):
Here is a look around the city at some of the rinks that the HRL has called home.
Sky Hill Park, Eagan
The league has benefited from having one of the premier rinks in the city located at Sky Hill Park in Eagan. After experimentation using a several different Eagan rinks, the HRL found its home in Sky Hill #1. During its heyday, Sky Hill housed every HRL team and many still consider this rink to be the birthplace of the league. Some of the league’s finest (and not so fine) moments occurred in this rink. Located in the corner of the park, wifflers were able to enjoy a warm summer night away from distractions while enjoying the picturesque sunsets from on top of the hill. Unfortunately, in one of the saddest events in HRL history, Sky Hill #1 was demolished to make way to a paved rink. The rink now hosts cricket games.
Fortunately, Sky Hill had a twin rink located nearby and although the rink did not offer the same feel as the original, it allowed the WIFFLE tradition to continue at the Hill. Now that the view from the top of the hill had been obscured, the orientation of the fields were flipped to prevent the once glorious (but now annoying)sunsets from blinding hitters . The field typically hits the sweet spot of grass growth with ground cover not growing too quickly, not too full of weeds, and with a parking lot nearby is easy to maintain.
Pilot Knob, Eagan
What was once considered the alternate rink in Eagan, the Knob has was upgraded to a primary rink featuring two series a night and has even played host to the HRL’s wifflepalooza. Rocks are not a problem here as the field has the most dense ground cover of any of the rinks although its location near swampland results in buggy night. The lights are on a timer which is the least forgiving of all rinks, occasionally resulting in suspended games.
Oakes Park, Hopkins
After the expansion to Hopkins, Oakes Park became a workhouse rink hosting the majority of WIFFLE games. The field is nestled in a quiet park within neighborhood. Grass was plentiful but the rink was susceptible to flooding making the park more appropriate as a supplemental field. Hopkins officials allowed the HRL to pain the rink walls resulting in the most stadium-like appearance the league has ever seen. An obscure piece of HRL trivia: Oakes Park hosted the first HRL championship between the Twins and the A’s.
Harley Field, Hopkins
Harley Field, located in Harley Park, Hopkins was home to the HRL before the move to Central. The rink was placed at the bottom of a hill which provided stadium seating for fans and curious spectators to view the WIFFLE action. Fortunately, the league did not have many fans or spectators back then since the frequent flooding prompting a move to a dryer location.
Central Park, Hopkins
Home to Wifflin’ for Wishes, Central Park is the jewel of Hopkins rinks. Like Valley, the ground has more of an “infield” style resulting in interesting bounces for ground balls. The rink is located near a firehouse which in addition to providing assurance that the rink is safe from fire, offers the added benefit of occasional spectators from the balcony.
Valley Park, Hopkins
Despite occasional gang-related activity in the area, Valley Park has been a stable secondary rink for WIFFLE games for many years. The field has much less growth than Eagan fields resulting in faster ground balls. This results in more errors and more balls reaching the wall.
Since the inception of the league, WIFFLE rinks have provided a distinctive home field feel for the HRL:TC. As the league grows, and the number of rinks increases, the league is constantly seeking out new rinks to call home. The future of WIFFLE rinks is bright.
*Westy has contributed to the HRL website as a featured columnist since season 1. He won the coveted Wiffy award as National Columnist of the Year in 2006. Since then, he has unsuccessfully attempted to regain his former glory.