GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — An annual backyard wiffle ball tournament has grown over the last several years, drawing 200 kids to compete in a decked out diamond tucked away in the back of a residential neighborhood.
Mission Field is the site of the tournament, now in it's 6th year. It has been built and expanded over the years by Mark Augustyn, his family, and a number of neighborhood kids who regularly play the field.
“This is our backyard," Augustyn said Thursday, as he looked around at a baseball diamond surrounded by over 100 cheering kids and their families.
"The bats and balls stay out all year round, and the neighborhood comes in, plays all year round.”
This year saw 200 kids compete on 40 teams, for about 17 hours of play.
The whole tradition started with some neighbors living down the street from Augustyn, who he says ran an annual tournament in their backyard for about a decade.
"And we talked to them a couple years back and started running them in conjunction," he said Thursday.
"When theirs faded out, ours took over and kind of kept going, and kept the tradition going on the west side.
The matches are quick, and winning teams advance through 1 of 2 age-based brackets, with the winners of each group getting their names on the Ball of Fame— a large wiffle ball shaped sign prominently displayed next to the diamond.
“The kids, they take it serious. If you watch some of the games, they get really competitive,” Augustyn said.
But the 2-day tournament isn't all about fierce competition; camaraderie is everywhere you look. In recent years, the tournament has also become a way to help others.
“In the years past, we've collected bats and balls and gloves and other used baseball gear, and we ship it in a container down to Haiti for the little leagues," Augustyn said. "That's the only entry fee that we ask for".
Unfortunately COVID prevents them from sending used baseball gear this year, but spirits were high regardless. Everyone was visibly delighted to be out enjoying each others company at a wiffle ball diamond many of them helped build.
“They built the wall for the home run fence, they dug every hole, put all the concrete in, screwed all the boards together, and I helped him kind of do that. But they built it,” Augustyn said.
“So there's a lot of pride in the neighborhood. The kids, this is their field, this just happens to be in our backyard.”