PORTSMOUTH — For most people, Wiffle ball may just be a childhood memory and a fun activity for summer holidays. But it’s much more for Chris “Mick” Richard.
Mr. Richard organizes a Wiffle ball league out of his backyard replica of Fenway Park on West Main Road. He calls it “Mick Fenway.”
The idea started with just home plate, a four-foot backstop made from scrap wood pallets, the perfect yard, and a group of friends wanting to play Wiffle ball. As each year passed, Mr. Richard and his friends kept thinking of more additions for the field.Now in its 14th year, Mick Fenway has its own Green Monster scoreboard on the left side of the house, a tree house-style NESN broadcast booth on the first base line, a Budweiser and a John Hancock sign like the actual Fenway Park, wooden bleachers and a new backstop that reaches at least 12 to 14 feet high.
Oh yeah, it even has lights for night games.
“Once you start with home plate, you know exactly what you need around it,” Mr. Richard said.
Mick Fenway holds games every Tuesday and Thursday night all summer long. The six-team league, consisting of at least four players each, ends the year with playoffs and a world series in August.
“I do it for the social aspect,” Mr. Richard said. “I’ve met so many great people through this and that’s what makes it worth it. ‘Who will come through that door next?’ That’s what drives me.”
On game day, about 15 people settle in Mr. Richard’s backyard. And with only four in the field and one at bat, the rest are watching on from the bleachers or patio, relaxing after a day of work.
When all this is happening, Mr. Richard stays busy. If he isn’t playing, he’s serving hotdogs, changing the scoreboard, making quick fixes around the field, or making calls like an umpire from the bleachers.“It’s the perfect place to go after a long day of work,” Portsmouth native John Chappelle said. “The atmosphere is great and it’s just a chill place to come and have fun.”
“I look forward to game day all week,” fourth-year player Ryan DeLuca said. “Its always a good time here.”
Has to keep up
During the season, repairing and adding to Mick Fenway, along with playing, pretty much takes all of Mr. Richard’s free time.
With just about all of the main features made from scrap wood, it’s only fitting that Mr. Richard works as a self-employed carpenter. All the signs are either donated or bought on eBay. He estimated he’s spent around $3,000 on the field.
Mick Fenway is always under a state of improvement. In fact, just this past spring, Mr. Richard took out his driveway, saved the dirt, and rose the field to an even level.
“I’m a guy of detail and perfection,” he said. “When I look at Fenway Park, I think it’s the perfect field with amazing landscape.”
Like Mick Fenway, a few other Fenway Park-modeled Wiffle ball fields are scattered around New England. “Little Fenway” in Essex, Vt. is probably the most well-known of all.But the difference between Mick Fenway and the other Fenway Park models is the twist Mr. Richard’s house has on the field. With the side of the house acting as the Green Monster, the atmosphere is less like a ballpark and more like what it is: a glorified backyard Wiffle ball field. Also, Mick Fenway is one of the few fields that has an actual league, rather than just tournament play.
“Wiffle ball played like we do is exactly what this world needs,” Mr. Richard said. “Imagine if everyone was just trying to have fun and enjoy people. That’s what this field is about. If there were the financial backers, why not build a Wiffle ball field in every town’s vacant area in America. Why not? It’s dirt cheap, literally.
“If you build it, they will come.”