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  • Writer's pictureWritten by Joshua Smith

#WiffleCrushWednesday: Patrick Rayl

This is an article that has been a LONG TIME coming. This week's #WCW article will be focusing on a league figure that has been around the majority of the league's history. He has managed and captained teams, proposed groundbreaking changes, and been a loyal league participant for nearly five years. His name is synonymous with Huntington Wiffle League and Hallowiffle alike. Of course, I'm talking about Patrick Rayl.

I first met Patrick in the Autumn of 2013 just after a growing year for our league. We had just finished our season a couple months prior and were trying out a very popular five-week Fall Ball season where Patrick was one of a few dozen new players who discovered the league, thanks in no small part to Brandon Woolum. Patrick fielded his own team and named them the Pitch Slappers. The team name humored me and I knew right away we were going to be friends.

Fall Ball ended just as quickly as it began and a lot of chatter was in the air that off season. Patrick was one of the players chirping loudest and most frequently. We had him on one of the earlier podcast episodes and discussed rule changes and possibilities. From the beginning, Patrick saw the potential of this league and understood the need for evolution. The first change he saw was our departure from the Louisville Slugger bats to the classic skinny yellow bats (aka "banana bats"). 2014 would be a landmark year for the league. Patrick changed the franchise name from Pitch Slappers to Wee Willy Wiffle (equally funny, in my opinion) and recruited the best players he knew for the team. Wee Willy Wiffle finished in third place that year in what may have been the league's stiffest competition ever.

The 2014 off season wasn't quite as lively as the year before but Patrick's zeal and interest was just as fierce as before. He really cared about this league and wanted to see it improve and grow. I had never met a player, outside of our close group of friends who founded the league, that took such an interest in the league rather than the game itself. It was refreshing and encouraging as a commissioner to have someone just as excited about the league as me. Don't get me wrong, there were players who shared my excitement but not quite like Patrick. He understood the tremendous effort and analysis that went into any progress for the league, this is what made him different. He got "it." Later on that Autumn, Patrick impressed me again with his leadership of the first Hallowiffle Tournament. It was an impressive event!

That "difference" I saw in Patrick was why I selected him to take over my commissioner duties at the end of the 2015 season. I was burnt out. I was working a lot at my job and the demands of the league were difficult for me to meet. I am the kind of person that if I cannot do something 100% and with passion and purpose, then I won't do it at all. Patrick recognized that I was nearing the end of my rope. I asked him to join the League Rules Committee earlier that year and he had proven to be resourceful and a capable leader. When we disagreed in rule committee meetings/conversations, which was rare, he always had interesting points of view to consider presented with compelling arguments. There were a few players that year who gave me a great deal of grief and Patrick backed me up 100% that whole season. It was during that season that he went from a good committee member to a good friend of mine.

After the last pitch of the 2015 championship, I summoned all the league rule committee members for a meeting and informed them I would no longer be the commissioner and that Patrick would be relieving me. This came to some players as a shock but many understood the move. Being a commissioner is a thankless job and one that no one wants. So that the league could continue, Patrick was willing to take on the challenges that go with the job and plow ahead. And for that he earned my undying respect.

The off season leading up to the 2016 season was one of the quietest in league history. I had been burnt out on the league and the sport as a whole. I did almost no prep work for the upcoming season. But in February that year the rules committee (which now featured Jeremy Ray as well as Greg Sowards, Jeremy Litton, and myself) gathered at my house to record a podcast and hammer out rules for the 2016 season. I had expected arguments and more or less the same format. Little did I know, Patrick had a revolutionary idea that would change our league for the better. His monthly tournament format saved the league. Greg and myself were unable to continue the weekly season format and many players had the same challenge. This format change was the first exhibit that Patrick would do whatever necessary to keep the league moving.

The 2016 season had 10 teams and was a smashing success. I had some of the most fun I have ever had playing since I was a child. A lot of new players joined the league and were digging what we were doing. The league had been saved from certain doom and that was all thanks to Patrick.

He had his strengths and opportunities as a committee member and commissioner (as did I) but where he shined brightest was as a tournament organizer. No one commanded attention quite like him at the beginning of events. He would help with registration, setting up the fields, answer questions, create the pool play schedule, draw the bracket, and explain the rules in an efficient and timely manner. He was a natural.

The 2016 season was full of decisions that were not popular but necessary, these defined the tenure of Patrick's commissioner career with the league. He learned many hard lessons about not being able to please everyone, lessons I had come to learn well from my experience. I could tell that the stress of managing the NWLA team and running the league were weighing on him. I sensed that he too would become burnt out if something was not done. After the 2016 season wrapped, I began forming an organizing committee for the league. The idea was to create a brain-trust of people to run the league, rendering the role of a commissioner obsolete. My fear was that if things continued on as they were, Patrick would become burnt out like me and I did not want to lose his passion for the league. The decision to create a committee felt like a traitorous one and I have always felt guilty for doing it.

When it came time to select committee members, Patrick was the first obvious choice. He had proven himself as a capable and analytical leader. When I first brought up the idea to him, he accepted the concept and appreciated being accepted but I could tell he was disappointed that he would no longer be the commissioner. But as he had so many times before, he understood the need for change. He not only accepted the spot on the committee but took leadership of it when Greg and I had to step down from it. The committee pressed on, selecting replacement members and working together to make the 2017 season possible. While all the committee members played their part, the role Patrick played was one of organization and making hard decisions (his specialty). It is my belief that the committee has been as successful as it has because of his experience and knowledge. This league is forever in his debt for his leadership and outside-the-box methodology to problem solving.

So after four seasons, Patrick went from player to commissioner to committee member to player again. After the final pitch of the 2017 championship, Patrick summoned all the committee members together and announced he was stepping down. Deja vu, anyone? Later on, I was nominated and elected onto the committee. It seemed poetic to take his spot on the committee. He had taken over for me at a time when I was burnt out and now I would have the opportunity to return the favor. It's a duty that I do not take lightly and feel that his shoes are large ones to fill. He pushed the league forward in so many ways in which I could not. His skill and presence as a leader in this league casts a long shadow, one I have come to appreciate and was glad to take shade in. He will continue on with the league as a player, and if there's anyone in the league who deserves's him. He's paid his dues and it's time for him to reap the benefits of his labor. I want to do all I can to make the acquisition of his spot on the committee count so that he can enjoy himself, I owe him that much.

Patrick has been many things in this league for me. He's been a teammate. He's been a supporter. He's been a commissioner. He's been a committee member. But most importantly, he's been a friend.

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