PROVINCETOWN — What do you get when a group of Provincetown locals have Tuesdays off in the middle of the summer of the pandemic, when social distance is required? A Wiffle ball league.
It all started when Sean Gardner and Rebecca Orchant, who own the Pop+Dutch sandwich shop on Commercial Street, decided they needed a day off. In a normal summer, the shop would be open seven days a week. But this year, Gardner said, he had almost no staff, with only one full-time and one part-time employee. So, the couple designated Tuesday as a day to recover and regroup.
“It turned out a bunch of our friends had Tuesdays off,” Gardner said.
He had also discovered “a weird handful of bats and balls” while cleaning up the shop’s basement — remnants of a former product line, he guessed.
Soon, the sandwich shop owners and friends started a Tuesday routine, heading over to Motta Field to play their own version of Wiffle ball.
A Wiffle ball is an actual patented toy plastic baseball that comes with its own yellow plastic bat. The ball has slots cut open in it, so that if you hold and throw the ball a certain way you can make it curve and twist in the air.
The usual game is played essentially the same way as baseball, and with the lightweight equipment and slow-motion, lilting ball trajectories, it has long been a summer backyard or beach game for kids.
Because of the virus, Gardner said his group made its own rules to try and stay safe and distanced while playing. In their version, every player is in it for herself — there are no teams. That means if you get a hit, you can run as many bases as you want to, even crossing home plate more than once, if you aren’t thrown out. In order to be thrown out, the runner has to actually be hit by the ball, thrown by a fielder. This rule was designed so that players would not get too close to each other or touch each other, as would normally happen in tagging someone out.
There are no strikeouts, and foul balls are fair play, so batters have lots of chances to run. Each base that the batter reaches safely accounts for one point, and the first batter to score 10 points, or reach 10 bases, wins.
So, in theory, a batter could reach 10 bases on one hit, if she is able to avoid being thrown out. Otherwise, she could reach 10 points in a cumulative score after multiple at-bats.
“It made it so anyone could win at any time,” Gardner explained.
But winners are not allowed to rest on their laurels. Once a player reaches 10 points, every other player has a chance to beat the winner. Players rotate around the field after each at-bat.
“It’s just a wonderful way to spend time with friends I wouldn’t otherwise be able to spend time with,” said Tess Knowles-Thompson, who is a gardener living year-round in Provincetown (and who wrote about geese in last week’s Independent).
The 30-year-old said she was introduced to the games early this summer by her boyfriend, Ben, and soon became a regular participant.
“We call it our ‘league,’ ” she said.
The Tuesday games brought together people of various ages and athletic abilities. The group needs at least five people to play, but, Gardner said, they routinely get anywhere from 8 to 15 people to play each week.
“There’s so much social anxiety with trying to hang out with people now,” Gardner said. “Being spaced out on a field made it more comfortable.”
Provincetown photographer Mischa Richter, who is 48, said he was probably the oldest person to show up at the games. Richter said he grew up playing organized sports at Motta Field, and he and his son frequent the field to play games now.
Motta Field is Provincetown’s only sports field and sits in a perfect spot on Winslow Street with the Pilgrim Monument towering overhead. The space is large enough to fit a soccer field and baseball diamond.
It makes Richter happy to see the field being used by a new generation.
“That field seems empty so much,” he said. “When I grew up here, it used to be full of kids that always played there. A lot of the Wiffle ball people are of this younger year-round generation, so it’s cool that they’re doing that.”
Knowles-Thompson and Gardner both said friends who came to the Cape this summer were skeptical about joining the games because they weren’t confident in their athleticism.
“Technically, I don’t think any of us were great,” Gardner said.
“That’s part of the joy of the game,” Knowles-Thompson said. “Anyone can play.”
The games are still happening on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. until sundown.