Two teams, one mound of problems
Here is my column from Friday's O-R about a baseball and softball team sharing Consol Energy Park and some of the problems it creates:
Stuart Williams, the managing partner of the Washington Wild Things, knew that if he landed a franchise in the National Pro Fastpitch women’s softball league – which he did for 2014, when the Pennsylvania Rebellion will debut – it would create a mound of problems for those who operate Consol Energy Park.
That’s two teams using the same ballpark for 75 games next summer. It’s a heavy workload for employees and a scheduling nightmare for NPF and the Frontier League. There are other problems, for sure, such as which teams use which clubhouse and how to house an additional team of players.
The biggest problem, however, wasn’t the schedule or lodging. It was something located 60 feet and six inches from home plate.
What do you do with the baseball pitcher’s mound when a softball game is being played?
If the mound at CEP was the normal clay and dirt variety, then there would no problem. It could be removed before Rebellion games and rebuilt before each Wild Things series. But CEP had a unique all-turf mound. It was a concrete hump covered in rubber pellets, sand and dark brown ProGrass turf. It was made to last as long as the ballpark.
It lasted only three years.
Williams and the Wild Things found a solution to their mound of trouble, and they didn’t have to look far. Frontier League commissioner Bill Lee is a consultant for a company called The Perfect Mound, which makes portable pitcher’s mounds. The mound at CEP was removed and a portable turf mound will be in its place for next season.
“We worked with ProGrass to come up with a workable solution,” Williams said.
The other on-field change required for softball is the addition of a removable outfield fence to accommodate the shorter field dimensions. Cheri Kempf, commissioner of NPF, said temporary fences are common in her sport because of the league’s bat regulations and a lack of stadiums designed specifically for professional women’s softball.
“We have a lot of critics because we play games in stadiums designed for baseball,” Kempf admitted. “But there is only one stadium built specifically for professional women’s softball, and that’s the one in Rosemont, Ill., where the Chicago Bandits play. The Akron team plays in a converted baseball stadium and the USSSA Pride plays in two stadiums in Florida: one in Orlando, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and the other in Osceola, at the spring training home of the Houston Astros. Those places have temporary fences.
“People ask me, ‘Why don’t you play in college softball parks?’ It’s because of our bat regulations. They’re designed to help the hitter and put more offense in the game. If you put us in a college park, then you would see check-swings go out of the park. The stadium in Washington is perfect for us.”
Williams the exhibition game last July between NPF’s Akron Racers and the Frontier League all-stars convinced him CEP is a suitable home for softball.
“I wanted to make sure softball would be a good experience, that the short outfield and the backstop would not be disturbing in any way. I kept walking the stadium that night and I couldn’t find a bad seat in the house,” Williams said. “That softball was being played in a baseball park didn’t take away from the experience.”
Williams said some of the other two-teams, one-home problems already have been solved. Though NPF has not released its 2014 schedule, Williams said there is only one date (Aug. 9) when the Wild Things and Rebellion will be at home on the same day.
Host families will not be necessary for the Rebellion. Williams said a deal has been worked out for the softball players to live at Vulcan Village in California. What was the visitor’s clubhouse at CEP will be improved and become the Rebellion’s clubhouse. Finding a clubhouse for visiting teams is an issue that is being worked out.
“This is going to be a unique facility,” Williams said. “Nobody is doing what we’re doing with both baseball and softball.”
Sports editor Chris Dugan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Read full post: Two teams, one mound of problems
Joining the Rebellion
By Chris Dugan
The number of professional sports tenants at Consol Energy Park doubled Tuesday. That’s when National Pro Fastpitch, a 16-year-old women’s softball league, announced that Washington will be home to a franchise for the 2014 season. National Pro Fastpitch is the only professional women’s softball league in the country.
The team will be called the Pennsylvania Rebellion, and it will be one of four franchises in the league. The Rebellion will inherit the roster of the New York/New Jersey Comets, who were unable to find a permanent home after playing only one season that produced a 10-38 record. A manager is expected to be named within a month.
The team is owned by WC Fastpitch LLC, a group headed by attorney Francine Williams, the franchise’s managing partner/general manager. WC Fastpitch LLC is similar to the Washington Wild Things’ ownership group and includes attorney Stuart Williams and Jeff Coury, the president of Coury Financial Group. Kate Billings will serve as assistant general manager/baseball operations.
The Rebellion hope to capitalize on the growing popularity of girls fastpitch softball. According to team officials, Western Pennsylvania has the third-largest participation level in the country.
“Western Pennsylvania is known worldwide as a sports powerhouse, and there is a thriving community of fastpitch players and fans at the youth, high school, and college levels, who can now experience the game at its highest level of play,” Francine Williams said.
“This is the top level of the sport. These are people you watch play on TV. This is the best of the best.”
The other teams in the league include the Akron Racers, Chicago Bandits and USSSA Pride. The latter is the defending champion and plays home games in Osceola, Fla., and Orlando, Fla. The league will begin play in early June with a 48-game schedule.
Cheri Kempf, who is in her seventh year as commissioner of NPF, and Williams each said putting a franchise in Washington has been a multi-year project. As part of last year’s Frontier League All-Star Game festivities at Consol Energy Park, the Racers played an exhibition game against Frontier League players and the event drew positive feedback.
This is the first time NPF has placed a franchise in an established minor-league baseball market.
“The people in Washington initially reached out to us two years ago and started doing their due diligence to acquire a franchise,” Kempf said. “That this franchise is being operated by people already successful in business, and already successful in pro sports, is a plus.
“Our product is a 10. For our growth, we need television exposure and business people who understand softball also is entertainment. We see that the people in Washington know how to operate under this umbrella.”
Last year, NPF had six games televised by ESPN2 and another 12 available on the Internet via ESPN3. Kempf said a television package for 2014 is currently being negotiated.
“We will have TV. It remains to be seen where and when,” she said.
Kempf, a former player on the U.S. national team, said those who venture to Consol Energy Park for a Rebellion game will be pleasantly surprised by the level of play in the league, which includes several players who were members of the last U.S. Olympic softball team. USSSA Pride pitcher Cat Osterman and shortstop Natasha Whatley, for example, were members of the gold medal-winning team in 2004.
The Rebellion inherits a team that struggled in its only season of competition, joining the league as an expansion franchise. The Comets played only 13 home games at ballparks in New York, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, averaging 629 fans per game.
“Part of the problem in New York/New Jersey was they didn’t have a home. How do you build a loyal following without a home base?” said Stuart Williams. “Playing almost all road games is not the way to connect with and build a loyal following. We have a loyal following here.”
Kempf said she expects NPF teams to draw 1,000 to 1,200 fans per game, but the break-even mark varies for each franchise, based on things such as sponsorships, rent and souvenir sales.
Single-game tickets for Rebellion games will range from $5 to $15. Ticket packages split between Rebellion and Wild Things games are available.
Consol Energy Park has been home to the Wild Things since 2002. It was home to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds minor-league soccer team for two years (2005 and ’06).
“Consol Energy Park is a baseball venue, but it’s gorgeous,” Kempf said. “It’s the perfect setting.”Read full post: Joining the Rebellion
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