Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Sports communication junior starts wiffle ball league

Courtesy of Brendan Willett
Emerson junior Brendan Willett (right) started a sports media company and wiffle ball league over the summer

The sports fan is an optimistic species in constant pursuit of their primary source of sustenance: victory. 

Years of preparation and work are poured into achieving this singular goal. Countless hours spent yelling at televisions, analyzing drafts and free agency markets, calculating the steps toward glory that their squad must execute. 

But like all living things, the sports fan has its predators that are always lurking: bad calls, season-ending injuries, becoming a Jets fan, lockouts, and, the scariest one of all, losing. And while most sports fans seek consolation in the potential of next season, some fans take action.

Brendan Willett, a junior sports communication major at Emerson, has always been a sports fan. It’s been a part of his identity as an athlete and content creator, inspiring forays into Vine sports montages and YouTube videos. But when watching the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams play in the 2019 NFC Championship game, his passions reached a boiling point. 

After an egregious no-pass-interference call, Willett texted his friend in a fury, “Huge podcast coming tomorrow.” 

At the time, there was no podcast, but the idea had been mulling in the back of Willett’s mind, waiting for the right moment. The text turned into a proposition, and the proposition turned into a podcast. The next day, “Episode 1: Conference Championships Recap,” dropped, and so The Booth Review (TBR) Sports was born.

TBR Sports is a sports media company, led by Willett—the company’s content manager, videographer, and editor—and his right-hand-man, Michael Lynch. The Booth Review podcast, co-hosted by Willett and friends, was their jumping off point, featuring breakdowns of the most recent and relevant sports topics. Their most frequently recurring segment being “NFL Pick’Em”—a series predicting the outcomes of upcoming NFL games. The company soon extended their content creation to other platforms, forming Instagram and TikTok accounts under the name “Tbrsports.” 

Since 2019, the company has garnered various sponsorships along with over 35 thousand followers across all platforms and a growing podcast viewership. But to get to this point, TBR Sports had to endure the unprecedented. The 2020 pandemic flipped the off switch on nearly all professional sports, leaving The Booth Review at a loss for content. It became a time of mourning for most of the sports world. But for TBR Sports, it became a time to adapt. 

“When everything shut down, that was when we started to press go,” Willett said in an interview with the Beacon. “Obviously COVID was a disaster for a lot of people, but the silver lining of it for us is it produced some of our best content.”

After dabbling in livestreaming NCAA Basketball content, TBR Sports decided to revitalize a childhood classic by creating the TBR Wiffle Ball League. Like all childhood games, Willett and fellow TBR members gathered friends and started playing—and of course filmed it all for their viewers. 

After the 2020 and 2021 seasons, TBR Sports uploaded their first refined season to YouTube in the summer of 2022. The league consisted of four teams—the Padres, Diamondbacks, Mets, and Yankees—battling through six three-game series, each team playing the others twice. A single video would capture an entire series—each game lasting three innings—and would show the last pitch of each at-bat to keep the show potent with action. The regular season determined the seedings for the postseason, where teams would have to traverse through a best-of-three ALCS or NLCS, and then a best-of-five World Series.

The 2022 season was packed with all the ingredients to create an entertaining wiffle ball league: booming bats, precision pegs, home run robberies, flaring tensions between clubs, packaged together with pregame and postgame interviews, flashy graphics, and electric live commentary.

Yet to TBR Sports, there’s always room for improvement. Looking back on the season, Willett remembers how some games were played with a collapsed garden fence, while others used lower quality iPhone cameras to replace dead cameras. 

“I cringe when I watch it,” Willett said. “It’s like nails on a chalkboard for me.”

Such negligence fueled TBR Sports’ need to make big strides for the upcoming 2023 season. Perfection became the goal—as Lynch put it, “Why do it if you’re not gonna go all in?”

May, 13, 2023. It’s a crisp 52 degrees outside; a light breeze brushes across Orne Park in Marblehead, Mass.—the home of TBR Wiffle Ball. How does one know this? Well, because TBR Sports now has a weather graphic at the bottom left corner of the screen. 

There’s also drone footage, statistical graphics, instant replay, increased camera quality, crisper transitions, and customized jerseys. The Diamondbacks take on the newly added Expos, who joined the Athletics as the league’s latest expansion teams. And that pesky, oft-collapsing garden fence has finally been replaced by custom-made fencing, fitted with yellow caps and red, white, and blue buntings across each panel. 

These improvements came from months of preseason work put in by TBR Sports. Planning started in December of 2022, spearheaded by Willett and Lynch, and included a laundry list of to-do’s: Forty-five games had to be scheduled, new talent had to be recruited, new graphics and jerseys had to be designed—and that new fence needed to be purchased and shipped from Arizona. 

When all was said and done, the in-season work began. Willett, along with Mets team captain Jackson Hart, known for hitting tanks and throwing gas, would get down to the field early to set up shop. The two would repaint foul lines and retape bats; set up the fence, bases, cameras, and the turf batter’s box; capture necessary B-roll footage; film the scheduled three-game series; and Willett would take the reins with editing down four hours of content into a cleanly cut 20 to 35 minute video.

While TBR Sports works hard to keep production flowing smoothly, the group works almost as hard trying to become TBR Wiffle Ball Champs.

The league’s competitive spirit is comparable to that of Max Scherzer overloaded on pre-workout—which is to say that competition is fierce. 

“You see [other players], how hard they’re going to show up and play, and you don’t wanna lose,” Lynch said. “No one wants to lose.” 

It’s common practice across the league to analyze film to get that extra edge over an opponent. The Expos, in particular, are notorious for their film-watching habits. During the 2023 postseason, the team showed up to every game to scout potential opponents, pioneering innovative wiffle ball strategies such as tagging up—a seemingly obvious technique, but not on a wiffle ball field that’s only a fraction of the size of a baseball field. 

Other teams take a more dynamic approach to their preparation. The Athletics are known to show up to the field early with a fungo bat to run defensive drills. Lynch, captain of the Diamondbacks, along with many of the league’s pitchers, use their backyards as the laboratory for their elite stuff. Willett, captain of the Padres, purchased a wiffle ball pitching machine to prepare for the approaching postseason.

“When you’re in the season,” Willett said, “Everyone’s laser focused, everyone wants to beat everyone, everyone’s worried about looking ahead . . . everyone’s got that drive to win. I don’t know exactly what it is that creates that environment, but I feel it.”

Competition inevitably leads to fiery exchanges between teams. Players get into the field, chirping one another, arguing over controversial calls, and occasionally throwing stinging pegs at opposing players. 

But off the field, TBR Sports has developed a tight-knit community that shares a love for the nostalgic game. 

“We’re playing a children’s game, but we’re twenty years old and we’re [having] as much fun as we did when we were kids,” Lynch said.

TBR Sports, at its core, is a group of friends playing wiffle ball and talking sports. Throughout the years, members of TBR Sports have made new connections, deepened old connections, and created too many memories—referred to as “TBR trivia”—to count along the way. 

Like that time Willett ranted over a Bruins playoff game loss, got up, presumably to leave, and grabbed a pre-poured glass of chocolate milk out of the doorway, causing everyone on the Booth Review to die laughing. Or another time when Willett ate a chicken McNugget that oozed a mysterious liquid, and Nick Ferullo, a member of TBR Sports, convinced the group that the McDonald’s had a secret night shift that tampered with the McNuggets. 

And for TBR Sports, the memories go on and on; the good, the bad; the random, the funny; the sincere, and the heated. But ultimately, they go on as a blur of sports and fun. 

“That’s probably my favorite memory,” says Lynch. “They all kind of jumble together because there’s so many, but I think it’s just the experience of getting to do it all together and being friends who get to have a blast and put it out there.”

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