If you've never been to the Rome Braves' annual Sliding Into Christmas Wiffleball Showcase, then please put it on your calendar for next November.
The event is a hoot and it's for a great cause.
I played in my third one this past weekend and if y'all wanna see some well known locals running around like chickens with their heads cut off, then the Wiffleball Showcase is the place to be.
Here's how it works. The Braves invite a bunch of well known community members to participate in the event at Miracle Field next to State Mutual Stadium. Companies and individuals make donations to the event on behalf of those participants and teams are formed.
I've been honored to be asked to participate for the three years the event has been going on and it's been a hilarious experience every time.
Some of the local celebs who were there this year included Ronnie and Rhonda Wallace, Toni Hannah, Jason Anderson, Rich Lampkin, Jerome Poole, Kelly Floyd, Robert Smyth, Micah Duke, Nelle Reagan, Otis Raybon, Craig McDaniel, and my arch rival Brad Reeder.
We were put on three different teams. The team managers were Randy Ingle, Rocket Wheeler and Dustin Evans.
Each team played against the others for several innings but while we tried to be competitive, we couldn't help but have fun. Ronnie Wallace was diving in the outfield trying to catch grounders while Robert Smyth talked smack to the opposing team while sprinting around the bases.
But while Rhonda Wallace was unintentionally walked every at-bat and while Brad Reeder hit a pop fly every time he stepped up to the plate, the star of the show had to be Brian Bridges. For the third year in a row the Director of Scouting for the Atlanta Braves has been the Wiffleball Showcase's umpire and let me tell you, he is a sight to behold.
Brian, with the help of some liquid refreshment, keeps players and spectators alike completely entertained with his on-field antics. At any point in the game he might throw out a manager or have a hilarious on-field argument with someone. He's so good that he even calls strikes and fouls before they happen. But every now and again an enterprising manager or even the former Rome Braves General Manager Mike Dunn would run onto the field and openly bribe Bridges with cash or beer. Bridges would then immediately reverse his last call which may or may not decide the inning or even the game.
The entire time, Jimmy Jones would offer play by play commentary of the action as well as player interviews on the field for everyone to hear. It made for non-stop laughs.
Oh, I just remembered that one cool part about the showcase was that the DIGS Just As I Am Choir was asked to sing the National Anthem before the event began and they did a fantastic job. If you've never heard them perform, make an effort to do so. They are a very special choir comprised of adults with developmental disorders and they bring energy and enthusiasm to all their performances.
As the games progressed, the shenanigans only increased. The liquid refreshment being offered only added to that. There were mock fights and line drives, home runs and pinch hitters. Rome News-Tribune publisher Otis Raybon discovered that doing a little dance on the pitcher's mound before each pitch increased his chances of striking out the next batter.
My team — Rocket's 18 Wheelers — got to the final game, but didn't win because our short stop, Brad Reeder, is a terrible wiffleball player. We lost to Robert "Cheater Pants" Smyth and Randy's Rascals. But it really didn't matter. Everyone had a great time.
And at the end of the game, Brian Bridges called everyone onto the field and said some wonderful things about former Rome Braves GM Mike Dunn who's leaving Rome, having been named VP of Florida Operations. Mike took the opportunity to tell the crowd goodbye and I have to admit it was a little emotional. I don't know Mike personally but it seems that he leaves some pretty big shoes to fill and a lot of people are going to miss him.
All this took place in around three hours and it was all for a great cause. The money collected from the event is used by the Rome Braves to make sure needy families and seniors in the community have a better Christmas.
I encourage the Rome community to support this great event next year with donations or just your attendance. I promise you won't be disappointed.
And I hope to see my arch nemesis, City Manager Sammy Rich, on the roster next year. Bless his heart, he has the athletic ability of a wet mop but the man's got star power and I can't deny that. He'd draw a crowd for sure. He'll have fans out there cheering him on every time he strikes out.
Severo Avila is Features Editor for the Rome News-Tribune.