“We were 24-25 years old for the first one with no thoughts of it turning into this at that point. But you know how it goes… we got it started and it snowballed.” – Pat Bresnahan, The President
“All these guys were little and they’re all coming home and that’s why we work hard and do it every year. We love having everybody come back.” - Bob Bergan, The Groundskeeper
“People a lot of times don’t realize what kind of event it is until they actually witness it for the first time and then they’re like, OK, you guys actually do this right.” – Trevor Christiansen, VP of Ops
Every summer since 2013 there has been a happy happening in Valley City, North Dakota. It’s a bro-fest at its very best. It’s a low-key bash that fosters a sense of well-being and a buzz brought about by an atmosphere of awesomeness.
“I would be lying if I said this is what we imagined,” says Bresnahan, “because that’s not necessarily true. But the feel and the inspiration behind it has always remained the same… people coming out and pretending they are kids again. Throwing a plastic ball around and batting it around a little bit and getting that competitive spirit going and just having a couple beers and having fun with your friends.”
It is dubbed as the Wiffle Ball World Series, which has a nice ring to it.
But the teams are made up mostly of North Dakota guys who are friends… or friends of friends… of three buddies: Chad Bergan, Trevor Christiansen and Pat Bresnahan who all grew up right here as next-door neighbors.
“Chad and I are a year apart,” says Pat, “and Trevor is a few years younger, but we all grew up out here spending hours and hours in the back yard and I can’t even tell you how many games of wiffle ball we played. And then when we got to high school, we didn’t grow out of it we just decided hey let’s do this a little more legitimately and started hanging lights in the trees and playing night games and things like that so it’s just always been something we enjoyed doing and now that we’re old and have some financial backing we can turn it into something that’s a little bit more legitimate.”
They had 8 teams in the World Series in the first year. That grew to 18 in a few years since and there were 17 squads this year. (With names like Scared Hitless and the Flyin’ Hawaiians.)
“20 would probably be our max,” says Christiansen, “and we have added a secondary field just because we have so many games to get through. But 20 would be the sweet spot to be able to keep it here in Bob’s back yard.”
Bob is Chad’s dad.
“That’s me. We work hard at it and try to keep it nice.”
Bob stays in the background for the most part, but he is the architect of this oasis.
“This was the last lot in our development, and everybody had dumped trees and rocks, so we started with nothing. All these trees were twigs and we kind of laid the field out so when the kids were little, they had a place to play wiffleball. But who would have thought that after 35 years they’re coming back to play? So, we always had that open and over the years it has just developed and matured to where it is today.”
“The fact that he lets us do this…” says Christiansen, still awed by Bob’s generosity.
“At the beginning of the tournament he is all excited and ready to go with everything and usually towards the end of it he is ready for it to be done and wants to start cleaning up. But we always make the claim that he spends 364 days making this field immaculate just for us to come in here one day and beat the crap out of it,” he continues with a laugh. “So, what he does for us out here and the whole Bergan family they do so much for this tournament, and we really appreciate that we can continue to do this in his back yard.”
The original layout was just painted baselines and a plain white outfield fence, but over the years the founders have added a video board and a DJ tent and inflatables and a concert the night before the tournament. (And actual IVs for those who overdo it and need some fluid replacement.)
Most everything, though, is a childhood blast from the past and a tribute to the younger years of the participants. Even the name of the field as Christiansen explains.
“Shane Roberts field is Chad and another buddy Tyler who played out here growing up. Robert is Chad’s middle name and Shane is Tyler’s middle name and so they just thought it had a nice ring to it. So, they called it Shane Roberts Field growing up and we just took that name and continued to run with it.”
The vibe is mostly mellow and the competition is overwhelmingly friendly. But underlying all the general geniality there is still a will to win, especially since the field has expanded.
“I’ve had a competitive problem for a lot of my life,” Bresnahan says with a laugh, “a little bit over competitive. Getting a little older now so some of that is slipping away. But it’s still really intense and now we’re getting some of these younger kids come in and that intensity is 100 percent there. Us older guys we are trying to put them in their place a little bit and let them know they’re not just going to come in and teach us how to play this game.”
“It started out as a very tight knit group of guys,” adds Christiansen, “and we all knew each other but at this point now it’s gotten to friends of friends, and somebody has heard about it and found an in into the tournament. It’s still everybody has a tangent to the founders in some way, but it’s gotten to where I don’t recognize everybody out here which is cool to see.”
Next year marks year ten of this righteous reunion. Christiansen says they will keep it a one-day event because two might be too much fun.
But there will be something new to keep all these kids-at-heart coming back home.
“After each tournament we come back and say OK what can we do for next year and add it. Like this year we did the concert the night before and the cameo videos from celebs across the country. So, we just kind of piece it together and add another layer to it every year.”