As a child, John Faruolo’s friends flocked to his house to play wiffle ball. Decades later, nothing has changed, though the facilities have been upgraded.
Faruolo has a full wiffle ball field in his northwest home and still hosts games with all of his childhood friends, as well as the occasional college and professional ball player.
Faruolo grew up in New York and his was the house where everyone played sports. One of the most popular was wiffle ball. Faruolo and his crew took the sport seriously and had to craft a definitive set of rules, mostly to keep fights from breaking out.
When Faruolo was searching for a house of his own he had it somewhere in the back of his mind that he wanted a big back yard. When they were shown this particular house, he saw an opportunity.
“When we viewed the backyard and the realtor said the lot extended all the way back beyond the existing fence, I saw the lights go off above John’s head and they spelled out ‘wiffle ball field,’” said his wife Angela Faruolo.
In 1993 a number of his childhood friends flew to Tucson, and after an early-morning round of golf, Faruolo needed something to entertain the group. Out came some wooden boards and some wiffle balls and Faruolo Field and the Tucson Round-Up was born.
“It’s three days of brutal sports, we’re just beat to heck,” Faruolo said. “We play basketball in my driveway, touch football, roller hockey and paintball, but this is the main event.”
That first year morphed into an annual tradition and the Tucson Round-Up got bigger and bigger and the field got more and more elaborate. What started as 10 childhood friends getting together for sports and warm weather eventually got to be a family thing. As the friends got older, they stared having families and soon the children were part of the game.
The field has grown every year. Faruolo, and later his sons, would add to it. An outfield fence was built, including a Fenway-esque Green Monster. An outfield seating area was built. They added a flag, light poles and a corrugated metal “short porch” that makes a loud sound if a home run hits it.
Faruolo, an art teacher at Catalina High School, even painted the official wiffle ball logo and mounted it in right center field.
“It is supposed to look like an old-time ball park,” Faruolo said. “It started out as a rudimentary field and then quickly escalated into his field of dreams, and well, the field of dreams of all the guys from his New York high school,” Angela said.
The rules are very similar to the ones they played with as children, although a few modifications have been made in the name of competitive balance and arm health.
“Of course we were young, macho, dumb kids and we were throwing as fast as we could,” Faruolo said. “What happened was that the most common outcome was a walk, and the next most common outcome was a strike out because the pitcher never gave in and were only throwing heat. After awhile everyone’s arms were ragged, so we said let’s make this a more exciting game.”
In wiffle ball, there are no catchers or umpires, instead there is a square box. If the ball hits the square, it is a strike. To make the game more exciting, Faruolo expanded the strike zone and forced pitchers to put a significant arc on the ball. Suddenly there were more batters swinging, more balls in play and more fun for everyone.
“It makes for a nice balance of offense and defense,” Faruolo explained.
Faruolo also built a permanent backstop/strike zone, which was one of the few aspects of the field that Angela was not thrilled about.
“My only small protest on the whole thing was the permanent backstop in the middle of my yard, not the field or the guys or the games, I loved that,” Angela explained. “Just hoped for a more ‘mobile’ backstop setup but soon accepted that our yard would never just be an ordinary yard. I’m good with that.”
When all of their sons still lived at home, the field got plenty of use. There was a standing Tuesday night game during the spring and fall, and as the boys got older it was a common sight to see their friends, including baseball players from Mountain View and Flowing Wells, to be playing. Now that his sons are older, the field usually sees about 10 games a year, most during the early parts of the major league season and again in the early fall.
The field as even seen some professional baseball players come out. Faruolo worked with a long term substitute, whose husband was former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Mike Schultz and a few of his baseball playing friends.
Faruolo pitched batting practice, getting the best of former major leaguer Brian Barden for a little bit.
“I get on the mound and I dial up my best stuff, it is my chance,” Faruolo said. “15 pitches in and I realize he hasn’t hit anything yet.”
After everyone took their cuts, they actually played a game and again Faruolo came out on top for three innings, but soon something clicked for the pros and they figured out the timing.
“All of the sudden they are hitting rockets,” Faruolo explained. “They figured me out and my advantage was gone.”
Many nights and weekend were spent on the field. Although the backyard was unconventional, Angela just loves seeing her husband and sons bonding over sports.
Although the kids are grown, the games continue. The 21st roundup was this past April and there are no plans to stop anytime soon. Faruolo frequently asks new players to come on out, wanting the field to get used. It has been a real bonding experience for several generations, one that does not seem to stop anytime soon.