For a small ballpark in a small city, CONSOL Energy Park has a lot to offer its passionate fan base.
Built upon a bluff above a mall, the 3,200-seat ballpark includes a berm, party pavilion, hot tub deck and kid’s zone within its confines, which are packed from foul pole to foul pole.
Just behind those foul poles are two of the ballpark’s three entrance gates. The main entry gate is in right field. Its black iron gate is swung open an hour and a half before game time and fans enter the park between two brick pillars that support a blue metal mesh sign upon which “Home of the Washington Wild Things” is inscribed in red lettering.
Neither of the other two gates get much use. The one in left field features the same arching mesh sign sans the brick supports and subs chain-link for the fencing. The gates behind home plate are predominately frequented by fans who need to pick up their tickets at will call, which is the primary function of the two ticket windows located there.
Regardless of where fans enter, they all walk upon a concourse that runs behind the continuous and symmetrical grandstand that surrounds the infield.
The bulk of the stadium’s capacity is contained in bleachers with backs that reside above an interior aisle, below which are between three and five rows of blue box seats that were supposedly once used at Three Rivers Stadium in nearby Pittsburgh. Those seats have cup holders and are atop concrete, but the bleachers are both aluminum and built into a structure made of the silver-white metallic element, although the aluminum portion of the grandstand has a concrete facing and is accessed by concrete staircases.
Aside from the press box, which is made of stucco, the rest of CONSOL Energy Park is built with brick. That includes the two buildings down each outfield line. The one in left serves as the visitor’s clubhouse while the building in right houses the home team’s clubhouse and administrative offices.
Awnings within the ballpark are painted blue and so is the roof over the press box that does little more than cover the seats that come with the purchase of a suite.
CONSOL Energy Park has four suites and half as many scoreboards. The video board is in right-center, the line scoreboard in left-center. Each is supported and framed on three sides by brick and are top notch for an independent league team.
The scoreboards are just behind the outfield fences and so too are the batting cages and bullpens, although pitchers not warming up sit on benches in the ballpark’s plentiful foul territory close to their respective clubhouses.
Fans standing at the bottom of the grassy hill in left field could reach out and touch the visiting team’s pitchers if not for the thin netting that extends the length of the lawn seating. Still, fans can stand close enough to those pitchers that all of their conversations are clearly audible.
Pitchers for the Wild Things are secluded from the rank and file fan. Behind them is a hot tub and party deck, although neither is elevated very far off the ground.
The hot tub/party deck combo is one of two areas that can be reserved by groups. The other is behind the berm in left field, where a covered picnic area is the main attraction in the Wild Things Party Pavilion. At the far end of the patio in the party pavilion is a bar that is simply called “The Bar Over There.”
Sightlines in the left field party area are not very good. The only other patrons in the park that have to deal with less than ideal views are the unfortunate souls who sit behind one of the four metal poles that hold up the backstop netting that is between the dugouts.
Washington is a hilly place – the nickname for one of the city’s two high schools is the Hillers – and a densely wooded hillside frames the playing field. The ballpark is also situated next to I-70 and the steady procession of cars and trucks driving by it occasionally beep their horns, adding to what is a normally lively atmosphere, which begins in the parking lot before the game since the team permits tailgating.
Fans not dining near their dashboard flock to the specialty food carts on the first base concourse, where it’s not uncommon to have to wait an inning at the “Taco in a Helmet” stand for a taco that’s actually not in a helmet, but a regular cardboard tray.
Kids wanting a break from watching baseball have plenty of diversions along the third base concourse, where inflatable games, a playground and an arcade make up an impressive kids’ zone area.
The only part of the concourse that is covered is the portion behind home plate, which is courtesy of the press box and suites above it. The brick pillars that support that combined structure are adorned with banners of former Wild Things’ award winners and league leaders.
Although CONSOL Energy Park is technically in North Franklin Township, the combined population of it and neighboring Washington is just 19,391 according to 2008 US Census estimates. Yet the Wild Things frequently sell out their ballpark. During their first year they played to sold out crowds in 32 of 44 games and overflow crowds have been common ever since. In 2008, Washington averaged 17 more people per game (3,217) than their ballpark’s listed capacity.
What those fans pay to see is a bunch of players who make less in a season than a typical major leaguer does in a day. But even though those players compete at the bottom rung of professional baseball’s long ladder, they do so in an area that embraces them and the ballpark they play in.
Location and Parking
CONSOL Energy Park has anchored plenty of development on the hill above the Washington Crown Center, a shopping mall once known as Franklin Mall. The ballpark was the first completed piece of a sports complex that now includes the neighboring PONY Baseball and Softball International Headquarters, a 12,000 square foot building that opened in November 2005 and includes the youth organization’s museum. Nearby is Ross Memorial Park and Alexandre Stadium, an innovative multi-use venue opened by Washington and Jefferson College (W&J) in 2004 for its soccer, lacrosse and baseball teams. The two venues combine to share 233,000 square feet of FieldTurf that can be converted from two soccer/lacrosse fields to a baseball field thanks to a removable fence that overlaps one of the soccer fields.
In addition to being a hub for youth, amateur and professional baseball activity, the area near CONSOL Energy Park includes hotels and restaurants, one of which is a Washington institution. That would be Angelo’s, an Italian eatery owned and operated by the Passalacqua family since 1939. The restaurant stayed in its original location for 69 years before moving about a mile west in August 2008 to its present location near the ballpark, which is next to I-70 and near I-79.
From its highly visible location alongside I-70, the ballpark is reached via one of two roads that lead up to it from the mall below. Parking is plentiful and all of it is paved. The lot stretches completely around the outfield, but be forewarned not to park to close to the outfield fence as that is home run, and dent, territory. No matter the space you choose, the cost has been $3 since the team’s inception.
In 2001, a 16-member "baseball exploratory committee" led by state representative Leo J. Trich Jr. helped form a nonprofit group named Ballpark Scholarships Inc. to build a $5.8 million stadium in a place it couldn't be missed.
With $2 million in taxpayer assistance, that stadium was built next to I-70 in Washington County's North Franklin Township, which is not much more than a home run away from the city limits of Washington.
Although Trich originally hoped (unrealistically) to bring an affiliated Class A minor league team to town, a local group purchased the Canton Crocodiles of the independent Frontier League and moved them to the privately owned stadium to begin play as the Washington Wild Things in 2002.
A big chunk of the private financing needed to build the stadium came in the form of a generous donation that local businessman Angelo F. Falconi made to support the construction and opening of the field that was to bear his name when the Wild Things made their debut on May 25, 2002 at Falconi Field for an exhibition game against the Johnstown Johnnies.
Four days later Washington officially opened their park before a sell-out crowd of 3,212. Tickets for the May 29th game against the Canton Coyotes had sold out in just 47 minutes when they went on sale earlier in the month. Although the Wild Things lost their opener 3-0, the team was already a success off the playing field, having sold out all box seats before their inaugural season had started.
Fans were also buying more than tickets. Merchandise sales were brisk too, as the team’s allotment of fitted caps for the season was sold out by the sixth home game and a total of 1,857 Wild Thing hats were sold through the first 20 games.
The Wild Things rebounded from losing their first game to finish 56-28 and reached the Frontier League championship, which they lost to the Richmond Roosters three games to one. Playoffs included, the Wild Things drew 132,901 to Falconi Field in 2002. The year before the franchise had their games attended by just 29,703 fans in Canton, an Ohio city with fives times the population of Washington, PA.
Fans kept on flocking to Falconi Field until April 12, 2007, when its name was changed to CONSOL Energy Park after the Washington County-based coal mining company paid an undisclosed sum as part of a 10-year naming rights agreement.
Although Falconi’s name was removed from the ballpark he still has a presence there, as a plant garden just inside of the main entrance in right field contains a can’t-miss sign thanking Falconi for his contribution.
Even before the ballpark was renamed it had began to host an occasional concert to generate additional revenue for the team, which has to maintain and rent the stadium. Bob Dylan played at Falconi Field in 2006 and returned in 2009 with John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson to play CONSOL Energy Park, which can hold 5,000 concertgoers.