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Play Ball!

Backyard Wiffle Ball Field Is Neighborhood Attraction

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Posted: Friday, July 4, 2014 12:00 am

Their neighbors call it the Field of Dreams. Herb and Karen Timpe just call it The Field.

If you live near the Timpe house at 910 Nora St. in Washington, you probably already know about it — the wiffle ball field the family sets up each summer in their backyard, complete with painted white lines, a pitcher’s mound and a scoreboard out in center field.

The couple’s two sons, Phil, now 21, and Andrew, 18, are at the heart of this story, which goes back to 2007 when Phil was in eighth grade and he and a friend found YouTube videos showcasing some elaborate homemade wiffle ball fields out east.

“They thought the idea of building a field in the yard was pretty cool, so they started with some orange construction fencing (to mark the back edge of the field) and every year they added a little more,” said Karen Timpe.

Both Timpe boys have always been big baseball fans, their mother noted. They played each summer all through grade school and high school.

The family’s yard seemed like it was just waiting for something like the wiffle ball field. It’s flat and open with mature trees located closer to the patio. There are no fences between neighboring yards, so balls hit beyond the property line are easy enough to retrieve.

Good, understanding neighbors make it all possible, the Timpes know. A few have even called sometimes to find out if the boys are going to play, because they like to watch, said Karen.

The family is grateful, because their wiffle ball field has been a joy to have all these years. It also is good, clean fun that kept the boys up and active instead of sedentary with hands and eyes glued to a video game, said Herb.

Authentic Appearance

Over the years the Timpes have strived to make their field look as professional as possible.

They swapped out the orange construction fencing for green because the color was more authentic.

They added foul ball line markers made from PVC pipe and old trampoline mesh spray painted bright yellow.

They measured the distance from home plate to various points in the outfield and hung signs to note them. They also have added company banners and logos to the fencing — Legacy Embroidery and Screen Printing, where Karen works; MVP Apparel; the Carpenters Union of St. Louis; Gatorade and various Pepsi products . . .

Some of the signs were bought online, but many have been collected or donated (some recovered after the Washington Town and Country Fair ends each year).

“Every year we try to add something new to make it fun for the kids,” said Herb.

At one point the Timpes hung lights in their trees so the boys could play ball at night. They make sure the lights shine only on their yard, and they don’t let the games go so late that they would keep up the neighbors.

They built a pitcher’s mound with a slight slope to it so the boys could pitch more easily, and they’ve purchased a piece of astro turf with home plate marked on it to protect that spot on the field from becoming a dust bowl.

“Just having the boys stand there so much turns the grass into concrete. It gets packed down so much,” said Herb. “The first couple of years, it wasn’t long before we had big, old dirt patches at home plate.”

Three years ago the family built their own scoreboard and began coming up with names for their “ball park.” The name on the board used to change daily depending on which kids were playing, said Herb, noting the sign screws off for a quick change to something like Modern Auto Park.

Today the field is kept as Whiskey Creek Park much of the time, after the Whiskey Creek Bar and Grill restaurant, now just The Creek, out on Highway 100.

After each inning, the kids update the score. They use numbers purchased from a hardware store that they mount on the board with velcro. There aren’t enough zeros in the bunch, so the players leave innings blank if no runs are scored.

The wiffle ball bats the family has are standard, but they have been modified, mostly to protect the equipment, but also a little for advantage.

Each plastic bat is wrapped in a different color tape, in part because with so much use, they will crack sooner without the added strength, said Herb.

Incidentally, the tape also makes the bats easier to grip and hit home runs, said Andrew. Sometimes though the tape is just for looks, he admitted with a grin.

Most of the balls the kids use are actually not wiffle balls, but seamless poly balls that are thicker than the traditional wiffle balls.

“The old-style wiffle balls have a seam that will crack, but these have lasted years and years,” said Herb. “They are really a baseball practice-type ball.”

Only Shoeless Players Allowed

The wiffle ball games at the Timpe field mostly follow the same rules as baseball. One noticeable difference though are the players’ bare feet.

The guys can play either barefoot or in socks, but never with shoes, said Herb. The reason is to protect the field from getting torn up, but it’s also just fun.

There also is no umpire. Strikes are called by the sound of the ball hitting a piece of metal mounted on a strike zone stand made with PVC pipe.

A ball is considered a home run whenever it’s hit beyond the green fence line in fair territory — which happens often these days.

Usually there’s no sliding to get to base, Andrew noted.

Teams are based on how many players show up on any given day. Sometimes the family gets requests from kids to come over to play.

Grass Can Look Like Turf

The Timpe boys are very prideful about how the wiffle ball field looks, especially the grass, which looks more like turf than a lawn.

Phil, who went on to study landscape architecture in college for a while before switching his major to business, actually began studying up on turf grass when he was still in high school.

“All of a sudden on his own, he started learning about how to grow warm season grasses that are typically found in Florida,” said Herb. “Around here people are mostly just familiar with Bermuda and fescue.”

Phil began a plan that converted the field to Bermuda and zoysia grass.

“It was a period of five years that he changed it over,” said Herb. “He was out here watering four times a week, mowing three times a week.”

A key part of that plan was using a reel mower, which has 10 blades wrapped around a cylinder and is designed to cut short grasses only, to mow the field.

“It’s the same concept as the old-fashioned push mowers,” Herb noted, adding “The clippings you get off that are like dust.”

The end result is grass that looks like Astro-Turf.

“If you water and fertilize it on a regular basis, you can actually get it down to like half-inch or three-eighths of an inch. But you have to water and fertilize, or it will brown out.”

Is That a Grave in Right Field?

There are a couple of features that players on the Timpe field have to work around — a garden box just off the first base line and, until this year, a swimming pool off the third base line. Many a ball landed in the pool, but this year the family decided to take out the pool, and now the boys are talking about converting the area to a putting green.

The most unusual feature though is actually on the field — a hump out in left field created from extra dirt when the swimming pool first went up.

Herb said he expected the dirt would eventually sink, but it never did. Not long after that, the Houston Astros opened a new field with an odd hump in center field, so the family decided their hump would just remain an oddity.

“That used to be the practice pitcher’s mound,” said Herb. “Everybody thinks it’s a grave or something.”

The Meeting Place, Even Before the Field

The Timpes have lived at 910 Nora for 17 years, which is longer than they ever expected, but the location and neighborhood has been a perfect fit for the family.

St. Francis Borgia Regional High School, where both boys went to school, is within walking distance, and the area is very family friendly.

“The neighbors are wonderful,” said Karen, who grew up very near the home.

In fact, her family was good friends with the previous owners, CJ and Shirley Maune. Karen’s mom was even given a baby shower in the home.

When the Maunes lived at 910 Nora, the house was known as a meeting place for area kids, much like it is today, said Karen.

‘We’re at a Crossroads’

Opening day for the Timpe field has routinely been the last day of school. The boys and their friends went to Wimpy’s first for a bite to eat, then came to the field to play a game, said Herb.

When the boys were younger and playing with the Washington Babe Ruth Baseball League, they often played games after practice.

“A lot of the teammates would come over, the parents too, and we’d all sit out and watch them play,” said Karen.

The field comes down usually in early November.

Now with Phil at the University of Arkansas and Andrew headed to Missouri State University this fall, the Timpes aren’t sure what will come of their family wiffle ball field in years to come.

“We’re at a crossroads,” said Timpe. “We’re going to have to figure out what we’re going to do with it.”

Herb said he’s had many requests from adults just to play a game on the field, and he’s had requests to donate a wiffle ball game night for area dinner auctions.

“I’m not quite ready for that yet, but that’s probably the direction we’re headed,” said Herb.

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