By, Bryan Benware
I came into this league a complete outsider. The only people I new my rookie year were Sam Skibbe and his little brother Gus. That’s what I knew. That’s who I knew. And honestly, I didn’t know Gus that well by that point. Sam and I were friends in college and sang in some A Cappella group. We didn’t have the same major; weren’t apart of the same fraternity; didn’t play intermural sports together.
So, when Sam asked me to play in the SWBL when I moved to St. Louis, I thought “Yeah, why not? I have nothing else to do other than my anniversary. I’ll play wiffleball...”
Little did I know what I was walking into. Here was a group of 30 plus guys who had been friends since probably diapers and had created this league of eight teams playing some serious wiffleball while not taking themselves too seriously. Almost everyone had a history with each other, including their families, and you could instantly see the bond and comradery that permeated the entire league. While everyone wanted to win, the friendships were far more important than that beautiful trophy.
Now I was lucky enough to play with Sam and Brett Spencer my first year and that helped with introductions to other figures like Chris Meador, Scott Pohle, and Peter Leicht. I’m an outgoing person and have always been able to talk to pretty much anyone, but you could tell that I was not someone who grew up with the rest of the league. I needed to be a part of this. Had to be in. Everyone was friendly, competitive, and most of all genuine. It was infectious.
Sam asked me back the next year to continue to play with the Cardinals. I made it my goal to talk to as many people as I could. I met more awesome folks such as Spencer Bogad, Blake Spencer, Kevin Wiethuchter, Jackson Crosley, and many more. But right as I was finding a place in this league, the Cardinals were disbanded. Up to that point I hadn’t done enough to warrant another team signing me to their roster (not that I’ve really done that since come to think of it). I thought my wiffleball days were over and I was heartbroken. Over wiffleball. No not wiffleball, over the league. The thought of no longer attending the SWBL weekend with all the great people I had met was painful.
Everyone knows this league is hard to get into. We’ve had players register year after year who never get drafted. You must know someone within the league and have a connection to the SWBL before even being considered to be invited. That’s part of the reason the league has been a success for nearly two decades. Now the friendships in the league are strong, but the bonds amongst the players within each franchise are much stronger. Every team has its core that has been in place for years, so the chances of an outsider joining are extremely slim. I was determined to extend my SWBL career in any way possible. The only option I could find was to start my own franchise and luckily the front office granted my wish. I was determined to make the most of it.
But getting people to join the Astros would be even harder than I realized. I’ve reached out to specific free agents over the years such as John Leicht, Will Rath, Kyle Cornell, and Jimmy Stout. But I soon found out that I was still an outsider. The bonds that these players had with their teams were just too strong for them to consider mine, even if I offered the world to them from a Captain’s point of view. I would have to recruit from outside the league. I began recruiting players on the National scene such as Zach Artim, Mark Belles, and Stephen Farkas. We would be a team of outsiders, but our main goal would be to compete. And I feel those efforts have made way for others to come into the league that may not have had the chance previously. Players like Tyler Flakne, Jimmy Cole, and the sweethearts of the league the SWBL Diamondbacks. While I don’t feel I’m solely responsible for the additions of these players, I have to believe that what I started may have changed the mindset of the leaders of our league. Maybe that will be my legacy.
The league has had plenty of dumpster fire teams in its history and I do not intend the Astros to be among them. But its been an uphill climb from the beginning. We’ll see what the future holds for the Astros, but I’m excited about the prospect. For the first time in our five-year history, we have the same core of players returning. We were also finally able to lure an SWBL veteran from another team for the first time, though sadly he cannot make it this year. I’ve put a lot of work into my team and do not take my Captain responsibilities lightly and I think that has earned the respect of much of the league.
I no longer consider myself an outsider. The SWBL is a part of my life now and the friendships I’ve made go beyond the weekend. Thank you so much for welcoming me in. What the chaos of this year has taught me is to not take anything for granted. 2020 has been nothing but a whirlwind of changes and a constant fear of the unknown. The point for this article is to highlight to the people have been around the SWBL for most of your lives what a unique and wonderful thing you have. Your friendships stretch as far back as you can remember. The support you get from your loved ones is invaluable. The League is something you can count on to be there no matter what you are going through. It gives you a reason to see some of the most important people in your lives, even if it is only for four days each year. It’s a community that is devoted to one another and provides a simplicity in an otherwise complicated world. Maybe an outsider’s perspective will help you see the full scope of what you have created.