As any teen boy who’s aching to be the next Mickey Mantle or Albert Pujols but sadly realizes the closest he’ll ever get to the playing field of a big-league ballpark is expensive box seats, the sight of a yellow plastic bat and a cheap hole-filled ball is a shortcut to short-lived stardom.
Or maybe not so short-lived. Jimmy Kimmel, who played the game both at his cousin Sal’s house growing up in New York and Las Vegas from age 9, extended the dream.
When Kimmel moved to Vegas, it was too hot to play outside, so he formed his own indoor Wiffle Ball league.
“I had a teacher from junior high who would open the gym for me at 7 in the morning,” Kimmel recollects proudly. “Some people get up that early to play golf, but not me. We played the national anthem and everything. We’d spend the whole weekend in there.”
Most Wiffle Ball players have their own arsenal of pitches in which the ball flight would change a half-dozen times before reaching home plate. Kimmel, however, was more of a baseball purist, saying he would use a ball with less holes, which would create straighter throws and with greater accuracy.
“Plus,” he adds, “fielding is underrated, and with the other ball too much luck is involved.”
He did have a “crazy changeup,” in which he’d throw it as soft as possible, and would fool all hitters. “They would swing three times by the time it got to the plate.”
When he didn’t have the gym available, he’d play at Sal’s house, improvising the ground rules. Anything that landed on or over the roof was a home run.
“I don’t play that much anymore,” says Kimmel, whose ABC latenight show has been growing in popularity ever since it premiered in 2003 (right after the Super Bowl). “It’s one of those things where people will say nothing about it, but if you bring it to their attention, they tell you they love it.”