By Keegan Caughey
As February began, so too did Circle City Wiffle Ball’s second-ever Free Agent February. As the clock struck midnight Tuesday, the (unofficial) tampering period ended, and managers began to contact prospective players for (definitely not) the first time.
The belle of the ball this year was Reid Werner, who announced his decision late Wednesday night in typical Reid fashion: anticlimactically, modestly, and way too respectfully. A final three consisting of two of his former teams, the Pork Pistols and the Hounds, and a former CCW dynasty, the 8 Balls, Werner left his past in the dust and elected for new beginnings as he selected Mike Speek Sr.’s 8 Balls.
With Werner off the board and joining Wiffle-whisperer Speek Sr., the rest of the managers collectively sighed, “F*ck,” as they began to try to formulate their teams.
The Moonshots are seeking their third consecutive Dirtyard Cup in 2023, though manager Will Smithey’s maximum value has forced him to abandon some of the team’s core players. Smithey, coming off a campaign that resulted in his second-straight MVP award and his rightful crowning as the 2022 National Wiffle Ball Player of the Year, quickly re-signed veteran and longtime Moonshots power hitter Tyler Gregory, all but guaranteeing him moving on from staples like Blake Voris and Austin Church. In an effort the fill the gaping hole in the middle of his lineup Johnny Sins-style, Smithey went out and recruited Alex Gurtcheff and Dalton Lewis. The two players, both entering their third year in CCW, each offer something different to the Moonshots. While Gurtcheff aims to get his bat back on track this year following a disappointing 2022 season, Lewis hopes to soak in all he can from Smithey to continue his upward trajectory on the mound. Smithey also took a low-risk flyer on Dylan Dowden, planning to try to swap him with his identical twin brother and superior Wiffleballer, Dustin Dowden. The Shots complete their 6-man roster by signing The Perfect Game Man Himself ™, Michael Plourde.
After losing out on Werner, the Hounds manager, heavy hitter (emphasis on HEAVY) Dylan Jones, opted for the next best pitcher on the market in Jake Sprinkle. Sprinkle, known for his sweeping slider and being illogically nicknamed Jerry (author’s note: I truly don’t know whether his real name is Jake or Jerry), has maintained a sub-3.00 ERA the last three years and always remains competitive in the Cy Young race. The Hounds found their number two pitcher in funny-guy and future perennial all-star Myc Witty. Witty began to figure things out on the mound near the end of the season, and his stock should only continue to rise in the years to come thanks to his raw, lefty arm talent and formidable approach at the plate. Jones’ low managerial value, attributed to a down 2022 and his inability to pitch, allowed the Hounds more flexibility with their roster after locking down their pitching rotation. OBP kings Blake Voris and James Haworth officially joined the Hounds as well, solidifying their core and placing them at the top of the preseason rankings. The Hounds rounded out their roster with Northwest Indiana’s self-proclaimed partier, Ian Garavalia.
Desperate to get an elite arm while they still exist, Short Shorts manager and CCW Commissioner Brendan Dudas may have snagged the freshest of them all. Returning to CCW after being forced to the sidelines for the 2022 season, former Eric Starke-product Alec Buchman will join the Short Shorts for 2023. Though Buchman does not offer much at the plate, he brings a gamer mentality to the bump and a resume boasting a sub-2.00 ERA his last season and NWLA experience to a team anxious to find their ace. The Short Shorts biggest weakness last year remained Dudas’ lack of protection from other batters in the lineup, and he set out determined to correct it for 2023. To do so, he brings in none other than former CCW Rookie of the Year and acclaimed homerun hitter Cade Luker. When asked about his jump to the Short Shorts, Luker fittingly said, “The ladies love a big bat in some short shorts. It was an easy decision.” Devon Hensley, a former UIndy standout, was Dudas’ next get. The athletic speedster returns to Indianapolis and CCW from Texas and will immediately challenge some of the league’s best for a Gold Glove. Rounding out the Short Shorts are longtime CCW veteran Keegan Caughey, who has struggled to remain healthy over the past two seasons, and Dalsen Murdock, who is likely to be drunk by his third at bat each Sunday.
Left in a particularly precarious position post-Werner and following the surprise departure of ladies’ man and power hitter Nick Bundy to Dallas, the Pork Pistols future hung in the balance. Though it would have been easy to mail in this year after losing two star players, manager Thomas Hopkins had other ideas in mind. First, Hopkins devoted his attention to retaining the heart and soul of the Pork Pistols and the bane of Dudas’ existence, Tyler Punt. Punt has struggled to remain healthy over the years, but he can be known to sling it with the best of them for one game per year. Next, Hopkins turned his attention to securing the second-best overall free agent available, Ryan Voges. Besides being known for his headbands, large chest, and oversized knee brace, Voges is a Wiffle ball veteran with one of the highest ceilings in the league as evidenced by his value. He helps fill the void of Werner and Bundy all in one and slides perfectly into the Pistols’ lineup behind Hopkins. To continue his rebuild, Hopkins lured in tier-one pitcher and the most improved player from 2022, Dustin Dowden. Dowden, not to be confused with his aforementioned identical twin brother on the Hounds, was dominant last season on both sides of the ball. He will look to build off his success in 2023, but one manager called his value “way too high.” The Pork Pistols brought back Rookie of the Year runner-up Evan Butz to round out their signings for the week, putting Hopkins officially in “What the hell is he offering?” territory.
MVP runner-up and CCW dreamboat Taylor Carpenter, tired of not having control over his own destiny, created an expansion franchise for 2023. The Swamp Dragons enter CCW as the auto-favourite for “Coolest Jersey Design” and an instant contender as Carpenter announced his first signing, Austin Alles. The 2022 Rookie of the Year and owner of thighs thicker than trees in the Redwoods, Alles chose to follow Carpenter rather than rejoin Speek Sr.’s 8 Balls. Their combination at the top of the lineup is elite, but questions face the rest of their signings. Kyle Gagliardi, another Northwest Indiana stud and known Long Drink aficionado, elected to be a part of the Swamp Dragons’ inaugural season as well. The main question looming over Gagliardi is not his skill, but whether a busy schedule will allow him to commute to Indianapolis more frequently this year. CCW legend and new father Austin Church will also join forces with Carpenter, hoping to bounce back after two seasons not indicative of the caliber of player he is. Finalizing Carpenter’s debut roster as a manager are social media wizard Landon Ball and benefactor of nepotism Layne DeHart.
The Yakkers, led by CCW Deputy Commissioner and token ginger Rudy Lyon, got off to a slow start in free agency and may suffer the consequences. Despite Lyon’s elite bat and arm, his signings so far have been underwhelming. Missing out on some of the crown jewels available this offseason, Lyon settled for the Palmer brothers. There is simply no denying Aidan Palmer and Holden Palmer (Palmer? I hardly know her!) have talent. Aidan has competed and shut down the best of the best at the NWLA tournament, and his bat is nothing to gloss over; however, he has struggled to find his groove mentally over the last couple years, burning bridges with some managers along the way. Lyon’s gentle approach might just be exactly what Aidan needs to regain his form and get back to his peak. Holden has battled attendance issues over the years, and his new career, which involves hours late into the night, has not helped that. Like Aidan though, Holden's ceiling is among the best to ever grace The Dirtyard, and hopefully he continues his performance from last year. Lyon will have help in setting an example for the Palmers at least, as he signed CCW OG and all-time great Cody House. House is known across the league as one of the most genuine people in the sport, and his insight is guaranteed to make those around him better. Rudy has two draft picks in the upcoming rookie draft, and he'll turn his focus to finding (and hopefully KEEPING) the next rookie gem.
After jumping in headfirst to free agency with the signing of Werner, Mike Speek Sr.’s 8 Balls let the rest of the market shake out quietly. Speek Sr. sat back, likely with some Crown Peach in hand, laughing cynically at the rest of the league, as he gets ready to set forth towards another potential dynasty. With Werner secured, Sr. next locked down forever 8 Ball Connor Morris, who always adds pop to the lineup. Still in search of his number two on the mound and his next project, it was obvious Mitch Buis would be Speek Sr.’s next signing. A powerful lefty arm paired with an absolutely sick Rollie Fingers mustache, Buis is a safe bet to excel under Sr.’s watch and skyrocket in value next year. John Doran and Jay Wilsey were brought in to complete the roster and provide some athletic relief once Speek's legs inevitbly stop working halfway through the season. Regardless of the lack of quality free agents remaining and Speek Sr. still in need of players, it is never smart to count out a team run by a legend.
It has been an offseason filled with movement, and it should only set up CCW for its best year yet. In the words of one of the greatest songs of our generation, “Let’s Get It Started (AH)!”