GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - There is nothing quite like the experience of live baseball. The grass, the dirt, the sunshine and the chalk lines underneath abundant sunshine, sunsets or bright lights. Overpriced beers and the right mix of action and leisure - it is hard to imagine all of that without your senses tingling.
It is like a slice of heaven.
As hunger grows for the uncertain return of America’s pastime during the coronavirus pandemic, one man in Plymouth, Mich. has managed to capture some of baseball’s magic in his backyard. He has done it by creating a private Wiffle ball field that looks like a miniature professional ballpark.
Each time Eddie Zajdel steps onto his field nestled into his narrow backyard, he is transported back to when he attended a Detroit Tigers game at Comerica Park when he was 14 years old. Considering the grass on his Wiffle ball field is from the same grass farm used to turf Comerica, it is difficult for Zajdel to escape the nostalgia.
“I get that feeling every single time I walk into my backyard,” Zajdel told MLive.com. “I don’t really know how I’d describe it.”
Now 22 years old, the experience Zajdel had at Comerica Park eight years ago hit him like a semitruck. The detail and precision of the whole experience resonated with him, along with the social atmosphere. He wanted to capture as much of that as possible and share it with others.
After starting off with a modest do-it-yourself mound in the backyard when he was 12 years old, Zajdel has since poured an estimated $10,000 worth of work - including donated sod and dirt - into what is currently known as Zajdel Park.
He said much of the cost went into the field’s foundation, and it’s easy to see why. The precisely manicured field is a laser-leveled playing surface with a professional-grade infield mix basepath, while the rest of the infield and outfield are covered by a specialty blend of Kentucky Bluegrass harvested from Schaafsma’s Sod Farm in St. Anne, Ill. The chalk foul lines reach out to a small fence line in right field located 65 feet away from home plate, with left field stretching 60 feet away to a much taller netting fence in left. Trying to go yard to straight away center? That will be 70 feet.
Each base is 35 feet apart and the mound is 35 feet away from home plate. There are a few professional-grade LED lights with the ability to emit 500 lumens each, costing $500 to $600 a piece.
“This was my dream since I was 14 years old,” Eddie said. “Now, it’s here. Now, you can actually see it and you can actually experience it. Now, it actually exists.”
On the luxurious end of things, Zajdel built a walk-up bar along the third baseline patio to satisfy any needs related to adult beverages. The bar includes TV screens, lighting, stools and the works. There is even an outdoor hot tub and fireplace that overlooks the field.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to get this thing to the point where it is now,” Eddie said. “Just these last three or four months, we’ve really, really spiced this thing up.”
Naturally, Eddie is used to hearing comparisons between his efforts and the movie “Field of Dreams,” the baseball movie classic from 1989 starring Kevin Costner. In the movie, Costner sets out to build a baseball field in his farm’s cornfield, all under mysterious circumstances.
“I probably get a comment like once a week that we should plant corn,” Zajdel said. “Like past the right field fence so you could hit the ball into the corn and all that. I’m a huge fan of that movie.”
The movie “Field of Dreams” is most known for the famous line, “If you build it, they will come.” It is a line that resonates with Zajdel too. However, no one can visit the field he built. Because of the stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders implemented as a result of the coronavirus, the field has not received the grand opening Zajdel hoped.
Part of the reason why Zajdel set out to make his Wiffle ball field was to share it with others. As a filmmaker with three short films available on Amazon Prime, Zajdel loves sharing his creations. With his field, Zajdel hopes those who come will experience the same feelings he had years ago at Comerica Park.
“I want to share this,” Zajdel said. “It means nothing unless other people get to experience this.”
Considering Zajdel began his Wiffle ball project as a 12-year-old, his field sits in the backyard of his family home owned by his parents. Throughout the long development process, Zajdel’s parents, Ed and Julie Zajdel, have remained supportive.
“I’m proud of him,” Ed Zajdel said. “Anyone who has that passion and can keep it up all those years, the dedication it takes is crazy. I don’t think I can do it. Anyone who can keep that up for that long of time with everything going on in your life, to have enough passion to still get out there and cut the grass - yeah, I’m proud of him.”
According to Ed Zajdel, his son has never been afraid to dive deep into the details. After coming home from a carnival one year, Ed Zajdel could recall watching his eight-year-old son try to rebuild as much of the carnival as possible at home.
“He just liked the production part of it,” Ed Zajdel said. “He would take different material, just whatever was lying around the house, and he would make rides. In sixth or seventh grade, he made a haunted house and had other kids come over.
“There are a lot of different stories of things he would do.”
Eddie Zajdel’s love for Wiffle ball coincided with his love for playing baseball. Starting at the age of 10, he played little league, travel ball and prep baseball at Canton High School. When he approached his parents about making a Wiffle ball field in the backyard, they encouraged him like they would with any other project. Although they knew he was passionate about baseball and Wiffle ball, they never predicted the lengths he was willing to go to for his backyard project.
Eddie Zajdel began networking as much as possible with different professionals and experts in the baseball groundskeeping industry. He even spoke with Detroit Tigers head groundskeeper Heather Nabozny and met her for a visit on the field at Comerica Park. He talked to companies about getting the proper dirt or clay for the infield.
“He did that all on his own,” Ed Zajdel said. “All these people he’s talked to, I couldn’t believe it. It kind of just kept morphing into more. He sees something he wants and he likes, he just keeps pursuing it.”
The more people and companies Eddie Zajdel got in contact with, the more help he got in pursing his dream. His first delivery of grass from Schaafsma’s Sod Farm was donated. It was also the same story for the professional-grade infield turf.
Throughout the whole process, the young entrepreneur-architect-landscaper never tried to get out of his lawn-care responsibilities, voluntarily cutting the grass and grooming the field daily. In the spring, new sod is installed and the process repeats.
Eddie Zajdel was probably the only teenager who enjoyed mowing the lawn.
“He’s kept mowing it for 10 years,” Ed Zajdel said. “He has to mow it every day.”
One reason why Eddie Zajdel would not find a way out of his responsibilities with the field’s upkeep is because he recognized how much his parents were helping the project financially.
“When I was younger, I didn’t have a stable job so they pretty much (helped pay for) the fence, the dirt and all that,” Eddie Zajdel said. “They helped. Now, if I have an idea and it’s a large budget, I’ll pitch it to my parents. It’s their house and I don’t want to live here forever.”
So, what happens when Eddie Zajdel eventually moves out? According to his father, the field is not going anywhere. It will always be available for him to care for and renew.
“I’m kind of used to it after 10 years,” Ed Zajdel said rather nonchalantly. “In the spring, when all the grass in the front yard is still yellow, his field is perfect. Sometimes, you just go back there and it’s like, ‘Holy crap.’”
Ed Zajdel says the field will always belong to his son, no matter what.
“When someone has a passion for something, I let them do it,” he said. “I’m not going to stand in his way, wherever he takes it to.”
With the Wiffle ball field being located behind the family’s garage in a narrow but long backyard, Eddie Zajdel does not currently have intentions of making it open to the public. However, he does want to create an organized Wiffle ball league.
“I’m going to finish this up,” Eddie Zajdel said. “This is going to be something. I’m not going to just let this thing die in my backyard without actually achieving what I wanted to.”
Before the coronavirus arrived in the country, he was planning on having a league with up to eight teams this summer, with each one expected to have its own set of uniforms.
And that is only the beginning.
“We were actually going to start filming and broadcasting games live online,” Eddie Zajdel said. “That was the next step.”
Zajdel said he was even planning to film a parody of this year’s MLB home run derby, creating a comedic recap of the derby at the Wiffle ball. Thanks in part to having near 25,000 follower on Instagram, Eddie said he has been contacted by 80-90 people who have shown interest in being a part of his league.
For Zajdel Park, the possibilities are endless.
“This is an ongoing thing, so it’s hard to actually draw the finish line,” Eddie said. “Each time I walk out, I go, ’Oh, I can make this much better or this that much better.”
With lights emitting 500 lumens each, Eddie has done his best to keep the peace with his neighbors. When he first turned them on, one of the lights was angled into a neighboring house, causing the owner to come out with crossed arms and a stern look on their face.
“Are you kidding me?” they asked before turning back inside.
Eddie Zajdel made the necessary adjustments in hopes to keep the field enjoyable for everyone, including the neighbors.
“I think they think we’re just a little bit crazy when we do some of this stuff,” he said. “But, hey, this is my dream. I’m going to find a way to make this happen.”
As the masses arise from this long-enforced hibernation away from the coronavirus and baseball, Eddie Zajdel will be ready to show off his pride and joy to anyone who wants to take part in his Wiffle ball dream.
“In life, it’s always possible to make something happen,” he said.
Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.