NEW CARLISLE - The Old Republic Wiffleball League enters its tenth season in 2016. There is still plenty to be sorted out this offseason, including exactly what new teams will be joining the league this summer. Here are some of the biggest questions facing ORWBL.
1. Where does Emery's Army go after the loss of Jake Lawrence?
While Eric Johnson is officially the manager, it was no secret Lawrence played a huge leadership role on that team. His departure has obviously riled up the rest of the Army, and despite concerns that the franchise would collapse, it appears the team will use the desertion as motivation.
2. Can Maple City return to their winning ways?
Nobody can spin the Magic's 2015 ORWBL season as successful, even with the .500 record. Half of Maple City's wins came via forfeit, and the Magic were eliminated in the first round of postseason play. Alex Friedman can look to the Hometown Cup Finals run as a building block, but this team will have to find a way to show up to the park every Sunday.
3. Who is playing for the Newts this season?
New Carlisle made headlines with the signing of Jake Lawrence, but not much else is clear on their roster. Cornerstones Garrett Curless and Noah Shail will join the skipper Koby Keck, but uncertainty surrounds the depth of the team. Coming off the most playing time in his career, veteran Sean Touhey will also return to the squad. The Newts hope to retain Randy Schuster after he made a late season impact in 2015.
4. Will the White Lightning jump into title contention?
Saugany Lake is a potential sleeper team in 2016. With Cult West folding, a huge opportunity arises for the rest of the league to climb to the top. Doug Benner and Jasen Webb will undoubtedly lead this franchise after breakout seasons last summer. More wiffleball experience will only add ammo to this team that is young and athletic.
5. Will the Heat keep any stats this year?
The Hudson Lake Heat have been one of the most enthusiastic and dedicated franchises since entering the league in 2014. They pushed as hard as anybody to keep the league going. However, they have not reported a single statistic in two seasons. Maybe some numbers will come out of Pine Park in 2016.
6. Can the Pterodactyls avoid the late season collapse?
For the past few years, the Pterodactyls have shown flashes of early season potential, only to fall apart late in the summer. In 2014, Bourissa Hills dropped 14 of their last 15 games and last year, they lost eight of their last nine. Manager Zach Rehlander will look to find a way to keep the team going strong late in the year.
7. Will the Bombers finish the season?
Along with the Soggy Bottom Boys, the Bertrand Bombers brought back the forfeit issue to the ORWBL. Forfeits plagued the league in the early years, before the all-in playoff seemingly took care of it in 2011. Despite the no shows, the league still maintains a 98.8% game completion rate since 2011.
8. Will the Emmons-led expansion franchise be reminiscent of the 'Dactyls glory days?
League co-founder Jared Emmons appears to be finalizing plans to bring a team back to the league in 2016. Emmons sold his charter franchise Pterodactyls after the 2011 season and has been a part-time contributor to the Newts since. Denis Jedrysek and Hall of Famer Jordan Smoroske are expected to return to the league with the new club. If they can recapture any of the firepower they had during their 2009-10 run, they could become a gamechanger in their division's pennant race.
9. Have we really seen the last of the Cult West Warriors?
They've held the Hometown Cup for the past three years and appeared to ride off into the ORWBL sunset with their 2015 title. However, we all know they have plenty of wiffleball left in them. The Muffs portion of the team appears to be gaining momentum in forming their own franchise. It remains to be seen if any of the former Cult West superstars will turn up on that roster or any of the other rosters in 2016.
10. What in the world will the divisions look like?
Because of the odd number of teams, ORWBL operated without divisions the past two seasons. Incoming commissioner Alex Friedman has stated his desire to return to the traditional AL/NL split. It seems natural that the long-time National League rivalry of the Newts and Emery's Army will be preserve. While in the American League, the charter franchise Pterodactyls seem locked along side the Magic. Beyond those four, no other franchise has any historical ties to either division.
While nothing has been set in stone regarding new franchises, expansion could bring the total number of teams to 12. Cities such as LaPorte, South Bend, and even another Michigan market could be in play. The last time the league featured 12 teams, it was split into four three-team divisions.