AS EVERY clear-thinking American knows, wiffleball remains our greatest backyard game, better than badminton or horseshoes or any of those other sissy sports where the athletes (boy, that's a reach) don't even bleed.
Wiffleball is for anyone who doesn't mind slamming into thswing set and blowing out a knee in order to reach a scorching two-hopper up the middle.
It's for anyone who thinks 15 stitches and a jagged scar acrosthe forehead is a small price to pay for diving headfirst into the Weber grill to spear a line drive.
If you're one of these crybabies who gets unnerved by prolongeblackout spells caused by a violent collision with a maple tree while tracking a fly ball, find yourself some other backyard sport.
Stick to Frisbee, where you toss the little disc and your Labradoretriever (probably named Gus; I know your type, dude) chases after it and you give him a big hug (awwww) when he brings it back -- ignoring the fact that it's now covered with slobber.
Or take up shuffleboard, where you push the little black thing (what is it, a puck?) down one side of the court and everybody takes a 15-minute nap before trudging to the other side.
But if you're the type who doesn't whine every time aorthopedist stares at your X-rays and recommends surgery -- and let's face it, that's what they have anesthesia for -- maybe you have the rare blend of courage and emotional instability needed to play this game.
The beauty of wiffleball is that it can be fun for the entire family -or it can lead to vicious arguments, sulking and an overall air of tension, as is more likely the case.
I was reminded of this during a recent game when I was pitchinand my wife stepped hesitantly to the plate in the first inning.
"Remember, she just had a baby a few weeks ago," shouted oufriend Eileen.
"She's got a bat in her hands, doesn't she?" I snarled. "What am supposed to do, let a nursing mother park one on me?"
So that sort of set the tone for the next nine innings. It was prettclear we wouldn't all be linking arms and singing "We Are the World" when this thing was all over.
Anyway, I started my wife out with two fastballs -- WHAMWHAM! -- that she missed by a mile. Then I threw her a curveball that broke somewhere out near the tool shed, a pitch she waved at weakly for strike three.
Naturally, she didn't take this gracefully, tossing the bat idisgust and mumbling something to her teammates about how "he didn't have to make it curve like that."
Yeah, right. And Nolan Ryan doesn't have to strike out all thosopposing batters. He just does it to be mean! Hell, he should just lob the ball in underhand and let them smack it into the next area code!
We went through much the same song and dance in the seconinning when it was my daughter's turn to bat.
"Remember, she's only 5," my wife called out.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," I said. "If this is getting too rough, why don'we all go inside and have tea and those tiny watercress sandwiches and see what's on 'Masterpiece Theater?' "
That quieted the other team for a few minutes, allowing me tsend three fastballs whizzing past my daughter. The last one was strictly Blur City. She almost screwed herself into the ground swinging at it, which of course earned me some more dirty looks.
This might seem cold-hearted, but my feeling on the subject ithis: She's young, she'll get over it. Twenty years from now, I don't think she'll be reaching for the Kleenex and sobbing to a therapist that daddy once smoked her on three 80-mph heaters. Of course, some of the bleeding hearts who play with us claim it's unseemly for a grown man to be whipping fastballs past some dazed little kid.
OK. Point taken. But life isn't fair, either. I got a parking ticket thother day even though I put enough money in the meter. Turned out the meter was broken. Is that fair? No. But you don't see me whining about it or changing into combat fatigues and grabbing a rifle and climbing onto the roof of an office building.
Did I mention that the essential beauty of wiffleball is thaeveryone -- men, women and children -- can play the game? I should mention that.
Although some people take it a little too seriously, if you ask me.