Chris Dugan's Sports Column
Washington to play host with Frontier League All-Star game
It has been quite some time since the Wild Things played in what can be described as a “big game.” Washington’s entry in the Frontier League hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007 and currently is scuffling in sixth place in the East Division, so it has been a half-dozen years since anything more than a run-of-the-mill regular-season game has been played in Washington.
However, for the next two days, the Frontier League’s best players will be at Consol Energy Park and there will be the feeling of a big game. Washington is hosting the Frontier League All-Star festivities for the first time since 2005.
When the all-star game was here eight years ago, the Wild Things took a page from Major League Baseball’s playbook and turned it into a two-day celebration, complete with a skills competition and concert by a local country music band. It was a smashing success with sellout crowds each night. Washington raised the bar for future all-star host cities.
This time around, the Wild Things are attempting to trump their first go-around with the Frontier League’s showcase event.
There is an all-star luncheon this afternoon at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Meadows Lands with former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher and current broadcaster Steve Blass as the featured speaker. The standard Home Run Derby will be held at the ballpark at 6 p.m., and the Wild Things have a strong history in the event. Washington players have won the contest three times – Zach Cates in 2003, Mike Arbinger in 2005 and Grant Psomas in 2009. With hot weather finally arriving in the area, there should be excellent conditions for power hitting. Baseballs always carry well at CEP on warm nights.
The home run contest will be followed by what could be the highlight of the two days, a softball game between the Frontier League all-stars and the Akron Racers, a team in the National Pro Fastpitch women’s professional softball league.
And don’t be surprised if this turns into more than a one-shot deal for NPF in Washington. There has been considerable speculation that the league is looking at Washington as a location for a franchise.
The all-star game will be played Wednesday at 7 p.m., and who knows if there is a future major leaguer among the teams representing the East and West divisions. When the all-star game was last held in Washington, Joe Thatcher was there pitching and representing the West Division’s River City Rascals. These days, Thatcher is in his seventh season in the majors with the San Diego Padres. He has already pitched in 45 games this season and sports a 3-1 record.
• Setup relief is baseball’s version of purgatory. Those who pitch in this role are relegated to the seventh and/or eighth innings, usually don’t get credit for a win and never get credited with a save. All they get is a handshake for a job well-done while the closer gets the save and big-money contract.
Setup relief is a thankless and underappreciated job. That’s why it was good to see the Pirates’ Mark Melancon added to the National League all-star team Sunday as a replacement for teammate Jeff Locke. Melancon’s performance this season has been nothing short of spectacular. Plucked off the scrap heap last offseason by Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, Melancon has a ridiculous 0.81 ERA and has issued only four walks in 44 1/3 innings.
There are many reasons why the Pirates are tied for the most wins in the National League. The most prominent of which is the late-innings lockdown pitching of Melancon and fellow all-star Jason Grilli.
Sports editor Chris Dugan can be reached at email@example.com.