Chris Dugan's Sports Column
Two teams, one mound of problems
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 email@example.com.