About an hour before becoming the first former Wild Things player to have his uniform number retired, Chris Sidick took a moment to reflect on both his playing career and thriving business, the C-Side Sports Academy. It’s interesting that, according to Sidick, the course for each of those was charted by one at-bat in a game in 2007.
Sidick was then in his third season with the Wild Things and was at the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 4 of the Frontier League championship series against the Windy City ThunderBolts. Washington was one victory away from taking the series and had the game-tying and winning runs in scoring position.
Sidick, however, struck out, ending the game and a 2-1 ThunderBolts victory. Windy City would go on to win the championship in the decisive fifth game. Game 4, however, was the last Wild Things playoff game at Consol Energy Park and the most frustrating and disappointing contest in franchise history. It also marked the tipping point in Sidick’s playing and business career.
“I think a lot about that at-bat in Game 4, which came with the winning run on second base and Matt Sutton, who was on fire in the playoffs that year, on deck,” Sidick recalled. “I think about what might have been different if I had gotten a hit in that situation. We would have won the championship. (Manager) John Massarelli probably would have stayed. Maybe after winning a championship I might have tried to play at another level, perhaps in the Atlantic League.”
Instead, Massarelli resigned and Sidick began giving baseball lessons to young players in the garage at his parents’ home in Cecil.
Sidick made a commitment to stay with the Wild Things, though they never again advanced to the playoffs during his career, which ran from 2005 to 2011. His business, however, took off by staying with the Wild Things. C-Side Sports Academy grew from that garage to several other locations before settling at its present spot in a spacious building off Route 19 and Mansfield Road in North Strabane Township.
The business’ success made staying with the Wild Things financially feasible. He taught baseball lessons year-round, except when the Wild Things were on the road. Had Sidick moved to another independent league or even affiliated ball, he would have had to shut down his business in the spring and summer.
When Sidick began playing in the Frontier League, it had a strict age limit of 27 for players. However, he was one of the first players to take advantage of a rules change that allowed one player per team to remain in the league until age 30, if he had appeared on a Frontier team’s roster for 100 games leading over the previous two seasons.
Some people within the league still refer to it as the “Chris Sidick Rule.”
A former standout at Canon-McMillan High School and a two-sport athlete at Marietta College, Sidick played seven seasons in the Frontier League and set almost all of its career offensive records. He holds the league marks for games played (588), at-bats (2,225), hits (635), runs (434), triples (56), total bases (1,001), hit by pitches (57) and walks (328). His 16 triples in 2006 remains the FL’s single-season record. Sidick also holds the Wild Things career record with 145 stolen bases.
Sidick had his familiar No. 12 jersey retired during a pregame ceremony Friday night at the Wild Things’-Gateway Grizzlies contest. A replica No. 12 jersey now hangs to the left of the videoboard in right field.
“It’s a big honor,” Sidick admitted.
It’s an honor that Sidick earned with a hard-nosed style of play that teammates and Wild Things fans loved and opposing players hated. If it was chasing a fly ball into the spacious gaps at Consol Energy Park, taking out an opposing middle infielder on a potential double play or running over a catcher, Sidick did it full tilt.
“He played the game hard,” said Washington manager Bob Bozzuto, who was an assistant coach during all but one of the Sidick years.
“Pound for pound, Chris Sidick is the toughest person I ever met. There were times when he played with a broken hand but he didn’t want anybody to know. We gave him a few days off once and eventually had to send him to bullpen to get him away from us in the dugout. He kept telling us that he was OK and ready to play.”
Sidick said he misses the trill of playing, but not the travel that comes with minor-league baseball. He also said that Massarelli, who manages the Kansas City T-Bones in the independent American Association, recently inquired if he was interested in playing again.
“Mazz called me at 10 o’clock one night and asked if I could be ready in two weeks,” Sidick said. “I check the boxscores and saw his outfielders went 0-for-9 that night.
“I can’t say I miss the everyday grind involved in baseball or the long bus trips. But I do miss the competition, the games and playing for the guy next to you.”
On the night his jersey was retired, there were more than 3,000 people in the stands and the Wild Things defeated Gateway, 4-2, to move into a tie for first place in the East Division. For one night, at least, it brought back memories of the early days in Sidick’s career.
“This is the time of year when there’s an extra level of preparation, every play is magnified,” Sidick said. “You run out even the routine ground balls. That’s the way we had to play.
“Those days were fun. Baseball players are creatures of habit. So every day at 6:32 p.m., I would leave the clubhouse and go the field. The first thing I would do is check the lawn-seating area. If there were people already sitting there, then I knew we had a big crowd and it would add so much intensity to the game. It also put pressure on me. I knew many of the people here were either people I know or people who had heard of me. I didn’t want to disappoint them.”