Just a Bit Outside: The Washington Wild Things are keeping baseball pure just down the road from Pittsburgh | Sports News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Just a Bit Outside: The Washington Wild Things are keeping baseball pure just down the road from Pittsburgh

They play for little money and a slight hope that their dreams might still come true

If Maurice Sendak ever got you wondering where the wild things are, it turns out they’re down the road in Washington County. The Washington Wild Things just started their 15th season as a member of the Frontier League. It’s an independent league with no major-league affiliation, one of eight such leagues in the country. 

The Frontier League has the distinction of sending the most players (27) to the majors of all of the rogue leagues. This league is akin to a halfway house for baseball players — they play for little money and a slight hope that their dreams might still come true. Sounds like me, except for the athletic part.

click to enlarge Mike Wysocki - CP FILE PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
CP File Photo by Heather Mull
Mike Wysocki

Consol Energy Park, just off I-70 in Washington, is a 3,200-seat stadium equipped with a million-dollar scoreboard. These players run out every ground ball, dive for every fly ball and order fries with every meal. Wild Things skipper Gregg Langbehn is in his first season after a lot of success as manager of the Traverse City Beach Bums. It’s nice to see that the state of Michigan also considers any piece of land near any body of water to be a beach. We do it with Erie in Pennsylvania, and Ohio bases its whole tourism pitch on going to its beaches.

Langbehn’s hitting coach is former major-leaguer Mike Marshall. Marshall put together a very respectable career with the Los Angeles Dodgers and was on two World Series winners, in 1981 and 1988. He also spent a year in Japan as a member of the Nippon Ham Fighters; thank him for his service in the fight against ham. Marshall even dated Go-Go’s singer Belinda Carlisle for a short time, making him possibly the only Washington County resident with that distinction.

The Frontier League is a 12-team organization in the Midwest with a constantly changing array of teams. The Johnstown Johnnies, for example, were once in the league. This year, teams include the Lake Erie Crushers, the Florence Freedom, the River City Rascals, the Schaumburg Boomers and the Normal CornBelters. So as you can see, Wild Things is definitely one of the better names. They weren’t named for the Charlie Sheen character Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn, from Major League, but they should’ve been. The Traverse City Beach Bums are the reigning champions, and the Wild Things hope to unseat them in 2016. The Wild Things haven’t been without success; they won division titles in 2002, and from 2004-2007. We took them from Canton, Ohio, where they were known as the Crocodiles.

Kent Tekulve helped get the Wild Things going in their inaugural 2002 campaign. The former Pirates great was director of baseball operations and led the team to the Frontier League Championship, only to lose to the stupid Richmond Roosters. Since then, with the exception of 2012 and 2013, Washington has been pretty successful. The Wild Things mascot, like his Pirate Parrot counterpart, has also been embroiled in controversy. Last year, the maker of the mascot was charged by North Franklin police for taking money for a mascot costume, but not providing the costume. I had no idea scumbags existed in the seemingly benign world of fluffy mascots.

The Wild Things have sent a couple of players to the big leagues. Vidal Nuno is currently a relief pitcher for the Seattle Mariners, and former Pirate Quincy Latimore is still in the Orioles organization. He’s with the Bowie BaySox now, waiting to crack the O’s roster. Players in the Frontier League have an age limit of 27; after that they kick you out. Some parents wish they could deliver that kind of tough love. Not only are players out the door at 27, but they live off $600 to $1,600 a month, based on experience. The money comes in for only three months a year. But the Meadows Casino is nearby if they want to parlay that cash.

It’s a great night for a family, lots of giveaways, a friendly staff, and the purity of baseball without millionaires and their attitudes. Seats are as low as $7, nice and cheap, the way I like it. The Wild Things play from late May to late August, Upcoming opponents for the June 14-19 homestand include the Joliet Slammers and the Windy City Thunderbolts. The Wild Things are the best thing to come out of Washington County since Ken Griffey Jr., the Trolley Museum and the Whiskey Rebellion.

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