Eleven years ago, a group of Madison Junior High School students played the first Backyard Boys wiffle ball tournament. Now in their mid-twenties, the group has kept the tradition alive every summer.
Reconnecting with friends
“Well, you know, the juice boxes have been kind of replaced with beer now,” said parent, Terry Meier, whose backyard gets turned into a wiffleball paradise every summer. “But, it’s great because we know all their families, so it’s just nice to get an update on everything going on in their lives and we just look forward to it every weekend.”
Throughout junior high, the group spent their days after school playing wiffle ball in the Meier backyard. As they got older, friend groups changed and eventually the Backyard Boys went off to college, but that never stopped the annual tournament.
“Now that we’re in the real world most of us live in the city. It’s not easy to see everyone all the time,” said the originator of the Backyard Boys, Matthew Meier. “So it’s great to come back here to our parents’ place. Last night we did a bonfire. Tonight, a bunch of guys sleepover and shower here, (and) we hang out in the basement all night, which is an absolute blast.”
What happens during the tournament?
The tournament begins on Saturday afternoon with round-robin play, followed by a double-elimination tournament on Sunday. Four teams of three are drafted on Saturday morning, and the tournament begins with the national anthem.
“There are rules. If it hits the fence, the back fence, it’s a double, if It hits (a) tree, it’s a foul ball, but you can still catch it,” said co-originator of the Backyard Boys and Matthew’s brother, Patrick Meier. “If it goes over the fence after the tree, it’s a home run.”
The games get competitive and pitching can prove to be very difficult.
“The pitching is honestly one of the most difficult things I do mentally every single year,” said former Naperville Central baseball player and Backyard Boy, Mike Mlotek. “It’s just so much fun and you get so locked in, you think you’re like an actual pitcher, but it’s obviously not. It’s such a head game between you and the guys that are hitting.”
The playing surface wasn’t always just filled with grass, as center field was occupied by a swing set, and the slide served as second base. The Meier parents wanted to put a patio in the backyard, but Matthew emphasized that it couldn’t interfere with the field.
“Matthew comes running out of the house saying, ‘What are you doing? You can’t put a patio, it’s going to mess with the third baseline,’” said Matthew’s mother, Cindy Meier. “And so he had to sit with the landscaper for like 10 minutes, making sure, mapping out the exact footage and walking back and forth and with a tape measure so that, they wouldn’t mess up a third baseline .”
No plans to stop anytime soon
This year’s tournament was won by Jack Baxter, Jon Barker, and Ryan Eiermann, who dominated on Sunday. In regards to when the yearly tradition might end, the boys will continue as long as they can.
“I think we’re going to push it until we can’t,” said Former Naperville Central baseball player and Backyard Boy, Ryan Eiermann. “Like I flew in from North Carolina strictly for this. And I’m sure there are other people that have before and if we can get 12 people here, we’re going.”
“The night before is like the same feeling you get as a kid, when it’s the night before Christmas, you know?” said Mlotek. “It’s just you look forward to it. It brings you back to doing this every day of the summer since I was in the third grade when I became friends with these guys.”
Now, the Backyard Boys have returned to their nine-to-five jobs, but come next summer, they’ll once again set everything aside for the yearly tournament.
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