Growing up on the shoreline of Guilford, Conn., Nick Benas and Jared Verillo thought the only place Wiffle ball would take them was the makeshift field they created at the cul-de-sac located 200 feet from Benas' house.
Never did they think that a plastic yellow bat and perforated ball could become anything more than a way to imitate their favorite major league stars. Never did they think it could become a full-time job.
But after realizing the 9-to-5 routine wasn't for them, Benas and Verillo decided it was time for a change. And the change they were longing for became the seemingly impossible dream of using Wiffle ball to make a living.
"Not everyone is cut out for the 40-hour-a-week routine," Benas said. "I believed that I could make Wiffleball a way of life rather than just a hobby. And so far, it's worked out."
Now years removed from using the dead end on Bunker Hill Road as their diamond, Benas and Verillo have taken their creation, "Big League Wiffle Ball," and transformed it into an icon for Wiffle ball players across the country.
After starting off just hosting tournaments in the tristate and New England areas, BLWB has expanded down the East Coast and out West to become a national name for America's favorite backyard game. With spring and summer tournaments now being held in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Missouri, Florida, Wisconsin and California, the entrepreneurial duo has come a long way from their childhood 3-on-3 games.
"It's a game everyone can relate to, and it's no longer just popular in the Northeast," Verillo said. "At one time or another, most people have played in a backyard or barbecue."
While it still serves as the foundation for BLWB, hosting tournaments is no longer the sole purpose of the company. Partnerships with local and regional media outlets have helped BLWB grow, but the marketing and advertising behind Benas and Verillo's long-term vision has been the difference-maker in Wiffle ball's national growth.
The creation of the "Riser" clothing line — named after the famous Wiffle ball pitch — has helped BLWB become prominent outside of the tournament circuit. Appearances on Fox's This Week in Baseball and CNBC's The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch have given Benas and Verillo the national attention they deserve. And through Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, The Jimmy Fund and the hosting of tournaments for New York Giants center Shaun O' Hara, Benas and Verillo have used BLWB and their celebrity in the Wiffle world to give back.
Wiffle ball at a competitive level has gone under the radar for years, but Benas and Verillo have taken it upon themselves to make the game more mainstream.
"Competitive Wiffle ball has the ability to catch on like the World Series of Poker did," Benas said. "The game is already moving in that direction, and it's only a matter of time before it reaches that level."
But for Wiffle ball to achieve the success that No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em has experienced, Benas and Verillo will need to accomplish their most challenging goal: getting tournaments televised.
"That is the final step in solidifying the game's credibility," Verillo said. "Once the tournaments can be seen frequently by the public, there is no doubt that the game will take off."
It might seem like a stretch to think that Wiffle ball could eventually be viewed by millions on a major television network. But it was also a stretch for two guys to think they could make a living off a game best known from graduation parties and Fourth of July picnics.
"No one believes that we can make Wiffle ball a national hit," Benas said. "And no one believes we are serious about pursuing Wiffle ball as a profession."
The doubters have probably never met two people so passionate about their idea and so driven to become successful doing something they love. But Benas and Verillo are determined to make believers out of them. And they will.