Category Archives: Opinion Pieces

Thanks for the Memories…


IMG_5106From the Desk of the Commissioner:

Hard to believe that after 20 years of Shangri La’ Wiffleball, we have concluded the final chapter.  This is meant to be an epilogue after the last-ever SLW Classic on Bernard J. Alblinger Field.

With Wifflegeddon (a.k.a. SLW 20) in the books, it is very strange to think that our group will never descend on Lakefront Stadium again.  Sadly, “The Mayor” wasn’t able to see the grand finale.  No doubt his spirit was present throughout and as we wrapped up on June 23, 2013.

Some quick-hitters on Wifflegeddon:

  • The tournament format has seen multiple iterations, but none better than the winner-take-all post-season event that we debuted this year (thanks Jed).
  • Thursday night’s screening of Twenty Weekends at Lakefront was better live with the entire group than I think Tank or I could have ever imagined.  A still evening, great sound system and a top-notch viewing experience next to the lake was a perfect crescendo leading into the curtain call for the Shangri La’ Classic.2013-06-20 21.50.55
  • The farewell effort by Tenacious E Friday night was absolutely magical on several levels.  While Wanted Dead or Alive was the pinnacle of the performance, Stu’s Song, Fall to Pieces, Tribute, The Gambler and even Call Me Maybe provided some entertainment variety not previously experienced by wifflers.  IMG_5083
  • The camaraderie in 2013 left me reflecting on all the previous years of late nights, amazing stories, long-lasting phrases and inside jokes we’ve created more than ever.
  • The effort by the family and wifflers on-site (and leading up to the event) for one final time was incredible.

Many have experienced SLW over the lengthy history of the event.  We’ve had one-timers along side twenty-year veterans, friends who have become family and a core group that have had experiences that will never be forgotten.  Although the memories are countless, the lore created on the hallowed ground of Shangri La’ will no doubt live on forever.

I was fortunate to have take the reigns of a very unique tradition started by Geoff Hixson & Spence Hasler in 1998.  The pieces were in place to build SLW into something that, I believe, has become bigger than anyone ever expected.  With the guidance of my brother and along with the support of Dee Dee, Jim and Char, we worked to bring in as many people who wanted to be involved “under the tent” to share ideas, create new avenues of communication, contribute unique talents  and get to where we ultimately ended up.  No one will dispute that the advances allowed for renewed or expanded interest in the annual Shangri La’ Classic.

The entire event has been well documented and rehashed on multiple occasions.  We have all come a long way since the inaugural tournament in 1994.  Years have passed and we’ve grown from kids to young adults to family men.  Things have changed, but the core group of SLW has not.

For all of the memories this event produced, here is a snapshot of the ones I will miss the most:

  • Driving in the first night from the airport and seeing the family for the first time.
  • The “record scratch” feeling when our large and loud crew rolls into the Little Nugget.
  • Anticipation for the true start of the event after the annual Old/Young Game when Home Run Derby begins.
  • The stillness of the evenings every night at SL in the moments where we break from the nonsense.
  • Friends and family around for every waking moment all in one place for a couple of days.
  • Overly serious conversations intermingled with fantastically absurd exchanges.
  • The smell, the sounds and the ambiance of the land around Cabin 12 at Shangri La’.
  • The willingness to help out by all involved when needed.
  • The stories and dynamite drop-ins.
  • The sadness when we reach the latter part of the final day and the end is near.

Seemingly so much hyperbole in the text I’ve written above.  That being said, I sincerely mean ALL of it to the degree which I expressed it in print.

Although not as clean as the Green Day version of “Good Riddance” so appropriately performed by Tenacious E on Friday night, I most definitely hope you all did not have a bad time.  In fact, I trust you had a superb time.

We could not have done this without you.  Alexander Graham Bell was the one who said “When one door closes, another opens.”  I hope that quote means something when I say stay tuned for the next generation of Shangri La’ Wiffleball in the coming years.

Until then and from the bottom of my heart, thanks to all SLW contributors for all you have done from 1994 until the end.

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The Ladies of SLW; the Straws That Stir the Drink


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By SLW Senior Writer, Kevin Walsh

As another SLW Classic has arrived, thoughts inevitably drift to visions of being crowned tournament champion, wondering whether or not Tenacious E will return or kick-starting the seventh captain discussion, if only to watch grown men debate as if the outcome will earn the victor 72 virgins upon death.

These uncertainties are allowed because the majority of the weekend participants have no worries other than making it to the lake before the commish finds a reason to ban them. For this, we can thank the Ladies of SLW. No perverts, not the ones from Jo-Jins, but instead the ones who make sure none of the sizeable stomachs goes unfilled – Char Pope and DeeDee Hixson.

“There is no way this event happens without the tireless and thankless job of preparation by the sisters,” said SLWAA President Geoff Hixson. “Even though they enjoy the weekend and have gotten really efficient, they still spend a ton of time while we are playing or acting like idiots prepping, cleaning and generally keeping things moving.”

“Dee Dee and Char are Shangri La’ Wiffleball.” Said Commissioner Jaime Hixson. “They have allowed us to continue this nonsense for nearly 20 years. Not only do they do a ton of work in the weeks leading up to the event, they work endlessly at the event and make sure that us wifflers have all we need to stay nourished and hydrated and that everyone has a place to sleep.”

That effort and the resulting spread has drawn rave reviews from participants since the event’s inception, with no higher authority than the Voice of SLW, Jason ‘Dude’ Morgan, weighing in:

“We love the ladies,” Dude said. “They are essentially the Martha Washington’s of wiffleball. A fine poet once said ‘behind every good man there is a woman’, and that woman was Martha Washington, man, and everyday George would come home and she would have a big fat bowl waiting for him, man, when he came in the door.” Well Char and DeeDee are the Martha Washington’s and we’re all George and inside our bowls are breakfast sandwiches and other bounties of high-caloric meals.”

Char and DeeDee are able to enjoy the fruits of their efforts from the moment the first car pulls up.

“My favorite part of the weekend is when everybody starts to arrive,” DeeDee said. “I always feel so happy and proud to greet all the fine men who are good friends of Geoff and Jaime.”

“The old saying ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ can be used to describe wiffleball weekend,” Char said. “Jaime has added a new flair now and then and that must be working as 19 years is a long time for a bunch of guys to look forward to a weekend.”

For the men who are arriving, being greeted by a hug from Char and DeeDee signals the start of one of the most anticipated weekends of the year. It’s a weekend that has become an annual tradition and continues to draw guys back from all over the country- unless of course your fiancé drags you to weddings every other year.

That camaraderie was cemented years ago by the patriarch of SLW, the Mayor, Bernard Alblinger, a man whose name is synonymous with the SLW Classic. B.J.A. is the man who guided the transformation from weekend pickup game to a braggin’ rights event to a much anticipated reunion. His influence and legacy can be seen not only on the stadium marquee, but also more importantly in the memories garnered over the years.

“The memories of my Dad looking forward to wiffleball weekend so much stands out most in my mind when this time of year comes around,” said Char. “He really enjoyed seeing everybody get together and have fun. As everyone knows B.J. was all about fun!!!!!!”

Continued DeeDee, “My best memories are of dad and how much he enjoyed the weekend. The way he would get excited when the plans were being made before the event, how much he enjoyed seeing all the guys from year-to-year, and the conversations after the weekend was over.”

“He always made the comment what a nice bunch of guys called Geoff and Jaime friends and I feel proud to know that my sons have established friendships with such fine men, who enjoy coming together year after year for a fun weekend.”

It is no doubt that the Mayor was and is equally proud of the impact his daughters have had on the annual festivities.

“Obviously, since they are my mother and aunt respectively, I’m very close to both,” Geoff said. “I think they both claim most of the regulars as family after all these years. Everyone who has spent more than a few years has developed a nice relationship with both Dee Dee and Charlene. Many thanks to both ladies for years of commitment to the greatest Summer outdoor activity ever!”

“Let’s be honest,” Dude said. “Without them we would either A) all be dead from lack of nutrition and over consumption of alcohol or B) stuck eating jerky and Doritos in the hot sun.”

“Char and DeeDee’s selflessness is unparalleled and we couldn’t’ do it without them,” the commish said. “As a side bonus, they are also beloved by everyone and are a joy to have around throughout the course of the weekend. They certainly got the fun-loving attribute from the Mayor himself.”

Wifflegeddon?

In addition to the breakfast sandwiches and cheesy dogs, it is the chase for the championship that dominates conversations throughout podcasts and late into the Friday night before the event. It is a pursuit that has seen the Hixson boys come agonizingly close but narrowly miss. One can only wonder what will happen should Geoff and Jaime square off in the final game.

“I have been watching the championship games for the last few years and seeing neither one of them claim victory. Their comments have always been ‘I had a great time’ so knowing this I would be rooting for both of them,” DeeDee said. “Geoff is one of the most gracious second place finishers in the game and Jaime is so worried about everybody else having a good time a win would make him feel bad for Geoff. So, whatever the outcome of the final game, I would still have two champions.”

While Char would just be happy one of them wins, Geoff Hixson sees a different scenario play out from his mother – possibly due to the feeling that Jaime has been and always will be the favorite son. “In an All-Hixson final, Dee Dee would claim to hope for a tie. Reality is her baby would rate a notch above her first born. She knows the elder will be ok no matter what. She worries about the youngest.”

According to Dude, things may get a bit shakier, “Frankly I’m a little concerned with talk of Wiffle-geddon, those darn Mayans and their calendar ending, dogs and cats living together and it all merging into a Hixson vs. Hixson showdown. It makes my head hurt, but the wiffleball gods although fair can sometimes have a sick sense of humor. I’m calling it now Geoff and Jaime end up on the same team and lose the last game in extras due to an odd wind current. At that point the Hixson clan burns the entire house, field, area and we all move on with our lives as the ashes blow into the water never to be discussed again.

Whatever the case, an always-memorable weekend remains so because of the dedication of so many, none more important than the women who allow so many men to return to boys for a short time each summer.

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Booze and Ball 2


Back at it on Sunday, July 3. This years retrospective is of 2010. Most of the listeners/readers will recall most of what I’m recalling but here it is, none the less as another stream. Spent the day at the pool so I’m in perfect shape to review.

Now another thing to note is that the commish is here tonight, and was none too pleased with my non-AP style of writing in “booze and ball 1.”

We open with game one with Sip on the handicam. Not a bad effort by Sip – probably hung over and pissed about filming. Although I’m sure he is skipping ahead in time as there are large chunks missing from the game. Luckily not a “bannable” offense as neither Hixson is playing.

Tollbooth Willies hard luck begins early, but they are the closest thing to a uniformed team in the history of the event, sporting the sleeveless button-up Farm & Fleet shirts.

Park looks pretty good in the 9 a.m. light.

Rookie Derek Mayfield with his first SLW home run.

Dude with the webgem of game one with a layout out from the mound.

Game two features Seph Lietz on the cam with the same time-lapse video issues. Could there be a time – space continuum issue in left field?

Game two also features the north vs south/brother vs brother Hixson Battle Royale.

Untimely errors mark the undoing of the younger Hixson’s “Yellow Bat Fury”.

The Nazi commissioner is killing me with updated edits as I review this game – Jesus.

It appears to be getting hot, especially for the commish as his team is taking on water fast…..

I’m still fat and it will prove costly later in the day.

Commish says the base umpires aren’t vocal enough – I say “who cares, it’s 11-0.”

Kudos to the camera men – this is boring and I’m playing.

Now the commish is filming and mad after his two runs of offense in game one. He and James E. have a nice chat about his fiancé drunk dialing, followed by Hixson Homstead projects and the farm report – fascinating TV.

Endsley is dispensing with the Crystal Seph Heads in workmanlike fashion in game three.

In the spirit of making everyone’s experience better, talk arises about playlists for the masses in 2011. Elder Hixson scoffs, citing the 2010 Maxim Mag’s iPod of the year.

I can’t wait to play with “skinny James Morton” in six days.

Also excited about opening up the third base line by moving the press box.

Forgot that Charlene thought Mayfield’s name was “Dennis”. Hilarious!

Just witnessed the lone HR from Jaime, which prompted him to remark that he will be miked up thus year by video savant, Jeff Cain. That should be great….

Hall of Famer Matt Warnes with two HR in the same game- never underestimate the streakiness.

Base umpires focus needs to include leaving the bag early in 2011 – Dave Cain?!

Dave Beethoven’s first appearance on the video …….and films! Thanks a lot, DB!

Stats will provide a great going forward bar. Everyone (who doesn’t have the video) cant remember shit. Which leads to inaccurate statements that include things like “there are only two great players.”

My idiot brother’s plans to end this “Christmas in July” should be met with extreme prejudice. The level of play is reached the best ever – based upon the hours of footage.

Lots of pageantry planned for this year. Keep an eye out!

Really looking forward to the return of “one-7” photography in 2011. We need to get the kid in the pictures this year.

Pandora for everyone will be the playlist on tournament day by order of the commissioner.

Thanks for reading through the second edition of booze and ball.

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Booze and Ball


Much like any big event build up in the modern world, there is always a stream blog highlighting the views and opinions of the viewer.

in 2011, Im spending time on games from years ago. Here is my historical two cents as I pour over old footage ramping up 1 week out of this years installment over a knob creek or two.

Tonights pick to recap is from 2003.

In 2003, we were all fat. Except Warnes, my brother, John Einhorn and the mayor.

My team consisted of Chris Meneley and Jen Pope. This is clearly before the “modern era” and no wonder I wasn’t winning in the old days- no offense to those mentioned.

In addition, it was the one pitcher and one fielder. This format sucks and accentuates the “company picknick” approach to the event.

Women are present, but not near as many as previous years.

The games are a focal point but not important to the crowd. Lots of heckling the games.

Field is in good shape, but not yet a stadium. First year of the “press box?”

John Lockhart playing. Athlete. I think he won HRD.

Of all the uniform talk, this is a shirtless and sleeveless haven year – see “company picknick ” reference. Guilty of Gun Show outerwear myself.

Still camera is boring in this format and not very crisp. Like looking through a dirty fishbowl.

Was this the end of the two day format? Has a pick up feel. Hasler must love 2003. Teams change from day 1-day 2.

Chris Meneley has nasty stuff in 03. Bad news is his mobility on the mound resembles David Wells.

8 mile must be recent as well as it is well represented on the soundtrack.

Chris Meneley walk off. His proudest moment in the history of SLW!

Tons of “down time” in 2003.

Jed Pope has a “Fernando Valenzuela” delivery in 2003. Hiding the ball makes him more effective……

Ryan Winne’s only appearance on the diamond? Makes sense, as he replaces Jen from previous day.

End of the film. All those thinking this era was “better” is a dope. I think “revisionist history” plays a big role in the nostalgia of the old days.

More to follow in the days to come!!!

One week from right now, those trying to win will figure a way to go to sleep.

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Thoughts from the SLW Alumni Association


By SLWAA President Geoff Hixson

SLWAA President Geoff Hixson

We are now one week from our annual pilgrimage to the hallowed ground of Shangri La’. This fact carries with it a nice list of things that make me smile.

We will have the most level playing field to date, thanks to Chief Scientist Seph Lietz. The league welcomes back 2010’s two rookies in Derek Mayfield and Luke Kirby. We will mark the return of the prodigal son, Kevin Walsh,  from his “high-falutin’ wedding trip absence in 2010, with the hope he doesn’t destroy any more of the park or kill himself. We will again be treated to some of the best hospitality and food available from the Hall of Fame hostesses – Dee Dee and Charlene.

Look for an upgrade to the DJ booth/press box with a location and elevation change. There will be uniformity in the participants not seen in 18 years with the “great uniform experiment of 2011”. There is a groundswell of additional surprise happenings yet to be announced. Our press coverage from both print and video will again be increased with the photo and video commitment of the aforementioned Mayfield and Jeff Cain Productions, respectively.

As in years past, there will be grueling field prep all day Thursday. The annual Old/Young Series (a name that I believe will stick forever, even though neither tag is accurate) will take place on Friday.  And of course, Home Run Derby Friday night.

There will be camaraderie, catch-up time and an ongoing over-consumption of alcohol. There will be one champion and five “also rans.” There will be smack talk, debates on the future, exhaustion and bug bites. There will be heavy metal from Maxim Magazine’s iPod of the Year 2010. There will be a sense of family and fraternity. A sense of competitiveness, drive and fire most of us no longer get to exhibit on a regular basis, that will come out in the heat of battle.

There will be the self-proclaim of the greatness of the commissioner and all he has created (which kidding aside, is pretty well deserved). There will be memories that we be analyzed and re-analyzed for years to come. There will be a podcast or two. There will be pitchers on the fun island.

SLW Founder Bernard J. Alblinger throws out the pitch at the 6th Annual Shangri La' Classic.

Most of all, there will be talk of the patriarch of Shangri La’ Wiffleball – who will assume his usual seat by the back door with the best view in the park, next to his wife and his buddy/long- time neighbor. He will be happy to be back. He won’t be bothered by the problems of the day to day life. He won’t be too hot, too “full” or too tired. He will be back at his happiest for his favorite weekend of the year.

There is a reason this event has become what it is. Let us remember all those things we look forward to the rest of the year and enjoy it in the moment, like the Mayor loved to do.

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Breaking Down Barriers at Historic Lakefront Stadium


by Kevin Walsh, SLW Senior Writer

Senior SLW Writer, Kevin Walsh

With heavy metal music blaring, NASCAR the dominating topic of conversation, and enough cigarettes and dip to embarrass a non-gay cowboy, Shangri La’s Lakefront Stadium has long been as white as a clean pointed sheet. That remained the case until a beacon of darkness shone through the white in 2004 when James Morton made his wiffleball debut, 57 short years after Jackie Robinson.

What Morton found, or rather what found Morton, was a welcoming, fun loving group of wifflers who enjoyed nothing more than a few innings on the diamond, a shower in the lake and some of the best food north of the Mason-Dixon line all the while catching up with friends.

“Everyone has treated me very well over the years at Shangri La’,” Morton said. I was embraced immediately as just another wiffler even though clearly I had a better tan than everyone there-except for Spence. He is one bronze dude.”

The ease with which Morton was accepted, he feels, can be directly attributed to the fact that many wifflers attended nearby Unity High School, where as the name suggests bigotry and intolerance did not exist.

“Unity High School is probably one of the most diverse places I have ever heard of,” Morton shared. “I remember when Lupe and Tyrone got in trouble for stealing cars that one time. It was hilarious.”

“I think Unity is where most of the wifflers developed their tolerance for other cultures. Being around all those different types of people really fosters growth and maturity.”

Being accepted off the field was easy, but being accepted on the field did not come as easily for Morton.

“I felt like I had to prove to people that I belonged, especially after being the last pick as an unknown in 2004. I think I accomplished that my first year by winning rookie of the year and helping my team get to the championship game, which should have been a series but was cut short due to the rain.”

Growing up as a child in rural Kansas surrounded by silos and wheat – because that and hair-piece wearing coaches are all they have in Kansas – young Jimmy Morton spent his summers day-dreaming of finding his yellow brick road leading to a mysterious and extraordinary land. Built as a football player, Morton’s path took him to the defensive line at Ft. Hays St. University and then to Lawrence, Kansas before he settled in at the University of Illinois athletic department as part-time employee and part-time noon ball player.

Pictured left to right starting in the top row: Commissioner Hixson, Chris Shoemaker, Senior Writer Kevin Walsh and SLW Pioneer James Morton.

At the U of I, Morton had the great fortune of meeting the man behind the Shangri La’ Wiffleball curtain, Commissioner James R. Hixson, a gentleman more in the mold of Branch Rickey than Adolph Rupp.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would end up being the first black wiffler,” Morton explained. “Growing up I just dreamed of making it out of the wheat fields of western Kansas and ending up in a magical and exotic place. Sure enough, I ended up in the corn fields of central Illinois where there is a magical place called Shangri La’.”

Thus began Morton’s transformation from football and basketball phenom to SLW pioneer.

“Getting here was a long and arduous journey that entailed witnessing TStein (former SLW Rookie of the Year Travis Steiner) attempting to play basketball and watching Kevin wear his dress socks with his basketball sneakers. Needless to say it was a challenge to show up every day. And while you would think because I am black I would be a good basketball player I am not. However, Kevin and Travis still welcomed me into the group by inviting me over to the commissioner’s place for a couple of cocktails and some bowling. From there friendships were born and eventually the invite (to Shangri La’) was extended.”

“I was both excited and astonished that I got the invite,” Morton continued. “I couldn’t believe Hixson was willing to take the risk. I also couldn’t wait to put my skills on display to show everyone he made the right decision in giving me the invite. I credit Commissioner Hixson for having a vision of what the future could be.” It didn’t take long for Morton to pay his dues at Lakefront Stadium after being roped into the construction of the state-of-the art backstop with the commissioner and jack-of-all-trades Jim Hixson. “It must have been a million degrees that day,” Morton remembered, “but the time spent was well worth it.”

Although Morton did not wiffle growing up, he was intrigued by westward travelers who spun tales of Lake legends of yore and allowed him to entertain the notion of booting down the barrier.

“I think most people assume I was born with a wiffle bat in my hands based on how good I am, but I didn’t pick up the game until later on in life when I moved to Illinois. Clearly I was meant to play the game and I’m glad that Shangri La’ Wiffleball has allowed me to put my talents on display,” Morton said.

“TA was one of the first wifflers whom we emulated. We heard accounts of him and his prodigious talents all the way back in Kansas. I always hoped I could be as good as him and that is still what keeps me motivated to this day.”

As with most athletes, Morton finds motivation in many things, including music, and while the Maxim 2010 I-Pod of the year spits out ear pleasing tunes for many wifflers, Morton would not mind a little more variation.

“As part of the effort to make me feel like a member of the group, Geoff Hixson will play one rap song a year on the sound system,” Morton mentioned.

Other than the lack of urban music, Morton concedes there is nothing he would change from his journey.

“It has been a blast,” Morton said.

Morton has persevered and endured on his way to becoming the first black wiffler and may one day have his own wing in the SLW Hall of Fame.

NOTE: Commissioner Hixson declined to comment on this story as any discussion on race, sex or vegetables makes him fidgety and uncomfortable.  As a result, the league office and the Commissioner do not endorse this story.

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