July 1, 2016

Partly sunny

David Matejczyk builds Wiffle ball field of dreams in Seville

David, left, and Danny Matejczyk stand in front of their regualtion Wiffle ball field in Seville. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)

David, left, and Danny Matejczyk stand in front of their regualtion Wiffle ball field in Seville. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)

It was a picture-perfect early evening in Seville and the setting sun was illuminating the scene as David “Mouse” Matejczyk paced throughout his backyard, talking in such excited circles he often interrupted one story to launch into another.

The 56-year-old insurance lawyer was in his element rambling about the loves of his life. There’s his wife of 20 years, Glenna, children Alexandra, 20, and Danny, 16, and such a large influence of baseball that a small room in his home is dedicated to memorabilia, including a ball signed by Babe Ruth.

When Danny was born in 1997, David knew instantly his newest bundle of joy was going to be drawn to the diamond. He then looked to his childhood and two backyard sheds for inspiration.

Growing up, Matejczyk lived across the street from a sandlot field in tiny Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, a town almost identical in size to Seville. Playing baseball from dawn until dusk with buddies was in his DNA and there was no point trying to shake what he calls a habit.

The problem was the nearest sandlot in Seville was a half-mile away at Memorial Park, the one-time home to the Seville High football and baseball teams, so improvising was the only option.

Memories still are being made 15 years later when young and old alike take to the incredibly detailed and well-maintained Wiffle ball field at the Matejczyk residence.

“I thought, ‘That’s what I want: Let the kids just come back here and play,”’ Matejczyk said passionately while wearing a Myrtle Beach Pelicans T-shirt and Jamestown Jammers hat. “That’s how it started.

“We always leave bats and balls out, and you can always tell when the (neighborhood) kids have played,” he added. “We encourage it. Any one of these kids that wants to come and play ball, you’ll never have anyone say no to baseball — never.”

What began as a family project has transformed into a town relic. Matejczyk buys new, baseball-specific dirt every year, paid for the tarp that poses as the outfield fence and orders a new box of official Wiffle Ball, Inc. balls from time to time — this is a legitimate outfit, people — but most of the other materials were free.

For example, Jeff Molnar, whose backyard is just beyond the outfield, used a bulldozer to level the playing surface and wired 15 floodlights. Others donated bases, benches, the backstop, a hand-pushed spray paint machine and a scoreboard that hangs on the left-field shed, which is 55 feet long, 15 feet high, nicknamed “The Green Monster” and has a batting cage inside.

There’s another shed painted dark green in right field, but it doesn’t have a nickname because, as every baseball fan knows, “The Green Monster” in Boston is in left.

Other amenities include foul poles — painted yellow, of course — on-deck circles, speakers for the PA announcer’s voice and batter intro music and a small statue of a baseball player (The little guy has his own lights, too).

Last but certainly not least, home plate comes complete with mischievous history. Matejczyk scored his first career run for long-defunct Alliance College in Pennsylvania by touching that plate.

Ever the scavenger for baseball mementoes, he promptly stole home — literally — that night.

“I never fessed up until my wedding day when my baseball coach was there,” Matejczyk said. “I told him afterward and he said he knew all along.”

A unique ballpark also has unique rules that were listed in order of importance.

• Games are three innings. The first two have a five-run limit to increase the chances of close scores — it can be exceeded via a multi-run homer — and the third has no restriction.

• New games are not permitted to begin after 10:30 p.m. except for the Seville Yard Sale and holidays.

“The kids know how to make a game go wayyyyyyy into the night,” Matejczyk said.

• Neither New York Yankees apparel nor soccer balls are allowed.

• Fly balls that reach the roof of either shed are considered in play until they hit the ground, causing outfielders to scramble frantically and wait for them to roll back to the field.

“You hit a home run, you get a bottle rocket,” Matejczyk quipped.

• All pitches must have an arc. Pitchers who want to be on those wild youTube videos are issued a warning before being disqualified from the rubber.

• The distance from home to first is slightly longer than from home to third, allowing infielders enough time to make plays on grounders. The left-field line is only 53 feet, while the right-field corner isn’t much longer at 64. Dead center is 103, making the dimensions feel like the legendary Polo Grounds in New York. The Matejczyks never knew the distances until asked for this story.

Games have been harder to organize now that Danny, an incoming junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary, is playing summer ball for the Northern Ohio Hurricanes, but a team of 20 players locked horns with an opponent of 23 back in the day.

Ages range from 5 to an 80-year-old neighbor that is “on the disabled list” after being injured in a pickle situation two years ago, and Matejczyk points out proudly that five former college baseball players have taken their hacks.

“Two weeks ago, we had high school players from Wadsworth, Cloverleaf, Medina, Highland, St. V’s, Kenston — I don’t even know where that is — so we get them all spread out,” Matejczyk said before pointing specifically to a showdown between Medina’s Spencer Aukerman and Cloverleaf’s Kenny Wells. “I have to laugh because some of these kids battle each other in high school and they get back here and it’s all fun.”

The memories are priceless and sometimes bizarre. Mammoth home runs by St. Edward assistant junior varsity coach Pat Leneghan and some random chick from the Seville Yard Sale nicknamed “Judy in the tight white pants” are among them — every year their legends grow — but none have topped a game stoppage more than five years ago.

“During the yard sale, someone called the mayor, Conrad Sarnowski, and said they wanted to get married,” Matejczyk said. ‘“(Sarnowski) said, ‘I’m at a yard sale party with a Wiffle ball game.’ (The couple) knew someone right down the street, so we stopped the game and they got married at home plate.

“It was kind of funny because the kids were hitting Wiffle balls and wanted them off the field. It was a five-minute interlude, and I haven’t seen them since. I wish them well.”

As the sun nestled further behind the horizon, Matejczyk walked up the driveway to his quaint house, which was built in 1831. The familiar sound of a plastic bat meeting a plastic ball echoed next door.

Sure enough, neighboring kids less than 10 years old were making beelines for the Wiffle ball field, including one with his father in tow. The youngster then got giddy as he turned to Matejczyk and said, “We’re going to play. Do you want to play first (base)?”

Matejczyk laughed and declined politely because dinner was waiting. The kids took the field anyway and argued over who was going to be the imaginary Michael Brantley, the Indians’ All-Star outfielder.

The scene couldn’t have been more symbolic: Kids, including a father and son, enjoying the field and imitating their favorite players.

That’s what baseball — or, in Matejczyk’s case, Wiffle ball — is all about.

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.

Albert Grindle About Albert Grindle

Albert Grindle is a sportswriter for the Gazette. He can be reached at 330-721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.