Life in the Minors
A return to where the Wild Things are brings back fond memories
Returning to CONSOL Energy Park here in Washington, Penn., for the first time in 10 months has been a pleasant experience so far. I guess winning 6-3 in our series opener against the Washington Wild Things helps some, giving us our fourth consecutive win as we near our league's all-star break.
With good pitching performances from starter Mike Damchuk and relievers Nick Utley, Bradley Blanks and Justin Smith, we were able to enjoy our fourth consecutive strong effort on the mound. Our hitters were able to come up with a few big hits to end Wild Things starter J.J. Hollenbeck's streak of 26 scoreless innings, tallying 12 hits before it was all said and done.
I'm sure a big reason for my pleasant return to CONSOL Park is the fond memories from my last visit here, as pitching coach with the Windy City Thunderbolts. Trailing two games to none in the best-of-five Frontier League Championship Series, we made the trip from Chicago to Pennsylvania last September needing to win both games here to keep our title hopes alive.
To make the task even more daunting, we had to beat the league's pitcher of the year, Aaron Ledbetter, in the first game here. With the Wild Things needing just one more victory to claim the organization's first-ever league crown, we knew the crowd would be a factor, as they eagerly awaited the chance to celebrate after making the playoffs six straight seasons without winning the big one.
But with our lean right-hander Billy Phillips on the hill that night, we were able to live to play another day, as Billy out-dueled Washington's ace to keep our season going. We eventually went on to win games four and five as well to claim the Thunderbolts' first championship.
Returning to the site of our victorious postseason trip here has been just fine. But there was one more reason I really was excited to come back to Washington this weekend, and it sure wasn't the 8-hour bus trip it took to get here.
Washington also happens to be the home of the best mascot in the Frontier League, the best mascot I've ever seen in my years in minor league baseball - the appropriately named Washington Wild Thing.
Resembling an overgrown teddy bear with a baseball cap, a team jersey, sunglasses and black, red and white Chuck Taylor's, the mascot is a furry, bouncy ball of energy throughout the game, working the stands between innings to keep the younger fans entertained.
But the real magic comes during the seventh-inning stretch, when the Wild Thing transforms into a shimmying, whirling, high-stepping, dancing machine.
As the final out of the top half of the seventh inning drew near during the series opener, I could feel a buzz throughout the ballpark. The middle of the seventh inning is showtime for the Wild Thing, time for him to perform his world famous "Wild Thing Workout."
Standing atop our dugout along the third-base line, the Wild Thing began his special dance the way he always does. Moving in time to that techno dance tune we've all heard but can't name, Wild Thing opens his feature number by grabbing his waist and shimmying his midsection to the beat of the opening bars of the song.
As soon as the song broke into full stride, so did Wild Thing, pumping and thrusting his arms in every direction rapidly, hopping around as he spun his head, flipping and flopping his cap and sunglasses all about his head.
The big finale is a forward flip Wild Thing does, leaping forward onto his head and then catapulting onto his feet, all the while remaining balanced on top of the dugout. I sure don't know how he keeps from falling off each night, because I know that if I was spinning and kicking and going crazy for 2 minutes I would not be able to show any semblance of balance whatsoever.
Sure the dance looks as if Wild Thing is trying to get the ants out of his pants, but it pushes the fans at the ballpark into a frenzy, and gives us a brief entertainment break as well. I don't often pay attention to on-field promotions or mascots during the games that I coach, but that Wild Thing is hilarious.
The Wild Thing Workout has become so popular recently that you can watch several different clips of the dance on YouTube.
With two more games here before the all-star break, I would love to compete well and take the next two games of the series. Two wins here would put us back over the .500 mark for the first half and also put us in striking distance of our division leaders, who are currently just 21/2 games ahead of us. Two more wins would make our tough first half of the season, with all of our road games and injuries, a lot more bearable.
But of course, we have to play one inning at a time and see where we stand at the end of each night. No matter the outcome, I know I'll be able to smile for at least 2 minutes each night, during the seventh-inning stretch when the Wild Thing goes to work.