Playing at Wild Things Park gives Bethel Park baseball a taste of pro game

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Saturday, June 12, 2021 | 11:01 AM


While WPIAL football championship hopefuls often talk about making it to Heinz Field or basketball players dream of playing at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center, the district’s baseball players aspire to play at Wild Things Park in Washington.

Playing at the beautifully maintained 3,200-seat, synthetic turf venue was a treat for Bethel Park’s baseball team, even if the WPIAL Class 5A championship game ended in a 2-1 loss to Franklin Regional on June 1.

“Wild Things Park is a great venue for a game,” said Pat Zehnder, Bethel Park’s coach. “It gives the players a taste of what professional stadiums are like.”

Playing at Wild Things Park is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many high school athletes.

Not the Black Hawks.

Bethel Park, which defeated District 3 runner-up Northern York, 5-1, on June 7 in the first round of the PIAA playoffs, competed at Wild Things Park four times this year, starting with a preseason scrimmage against West Allegheny, followed by games against Canon-McMillan and Trinity prior to the the WPIAL finals.

“It’s just awesome,” said junior shortstop David Kessler, the Black Hawks’ leading hitter with a .470 batting average, 25 RBIs, 24 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. “I remember back when I was 10 years old I had a tournament there with the Pittsburgh Outlaws. I was in awe. I never played at a field so big and so nice before. It made me feel like I was in the MLB playing at such an amazing ballpark.

“I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel a lot for baseball and play at tons of awesome fields, but Wild Things Park continues to stay as one of the top fields.”

John Chalus is a sophomore catcher and one of seven Bethel Park players named all-section in 2021.

“I think it was the right field for the championship games,” Chalus said. “It is a nice park that can hold a decent amount of people. All turf is pretty sweet because it gives you the true hops on defense. It was a good feeling to play there in the championship.”

Cody Geddes, a junior third baseman, hit .349, drove in 23 runs and scored 22 times for the Black Hawks prior to the state playoffs.

“Wild Things Park is a beautiful stadium. If you have a chance to play there, take an advantage of it,” Geddes said. “Is it the nicest ballpark I’ve ever played in? No, but I will say Wild Things Park is up there just because of how nice everything is set up.

“The nicest ballpark probably was the Red Sox training facility in Fort Meyers, Fla.”

One dissenting vote against the Washington County park came from senior utility player Josh Peters.

“Personally, I’m not a huge Wild Things Park guy,” he said. “My favorite field is Pullman Park in Butler.”

John Chalus also labeled Pullman as his favorite.

Kent State recruit Eric Chalus, a .400 hitter and John’s older brother and batterymate, did not agree with his sibling.

Not exactly, anyway.

“Wild Things Park is great to play at,” said the left-handed hurler who was a perfect 8-0 with a 0.74 ERA. “I would say another one of the nice parks where I’ve played is the Altoona Curve stadium.”

Bethel Park’s four WPIAL playoff games took place at Washington & Jefferson College, La Roche College, Shaler’s Matulevic Field and Wild Things Park.

The Black Hawks defeated Chartiers Valley, 9-0, Shaler, 3-2, and West Allegheny, 1-0, prior to playing Franklin Regional.

Geddes, Kessler, Eric Chalus and sophomore hurler Evan Holewinski, who posted a 6-1 record and 0.61 ERA in WPIAL action, were Big 56 Class 5A first team all-section selections.

“Our performance in the WPIAL championship was not our greatest,” Geddes said. “But we fought hard, we battled and we stuck together and found ways to get back into the game and tie it up.

“This is one of the best teams I’ve ever played on. We’ve really come together as a team and, honestly, as a family. We back each other up on everything we do on and off the field. These boys are the best, and it’s the same with the coaches.”

Sophomore outfielder Jason Nuttridge was named to the second team in the all-section voting. He talked about the WPIAL finale.

“It was a hard-fought game by both teams,” Nuttridge said, “coming down to the last out. Personally, I’m very proud of how our team played and how we battled all game, even though it was not the outcome we wanted.

“Wild Things Park is a great ballpark to play in, and the atmosphere was energizing. Having played there a few times this year was extra fun, but there’s no place like playing on your home field.”

Bethel Park’s two other all-section players, John Chalus and sophomore DH Ray Altmeyer, received honorable mention accolades.

“I think we played very well (in the WPIAL final) and so did the other team,” Chalus said. “It was just who made less mistakes and who got on base more, and they were able to do that. We hit the ball, but it was just right at them.”

Peters, a pinch runner against Franklin Regional, said he was proud of the Black Hawks’ performance during the regular season and WPIAL tournament.

“I thought we didn’t have our A game hitting-wise (in the WPIAL final),” Peters said, “but the energy and electricity we bring to every game always seems to make up for it. Hats off to their pitcher. He was dealing all game. It was a disappointing loss, but I’m proud of the guys and how far we’ve progressed.

“In baseball, it’s hard for a single player to carry a team because it’s a team sport. However, Eric Chalus put us on his back and we rode him the whole way this season. He is a dying breed. He’s a special leader and teammate. I feel bad for all the SEC schools who missed out on him. I’m happy he found a home at Kent State.”

Kessler and Eric Chalus collected two hits apiece against Northern York. Holewinski allowed four hits in a complete-game performance, as the Black Hawks improved to 19-4 with the win.

Senior C/OF Zack Sackett doubled and drove in three runs. He appeared in the WPIAL championship game in a pinch-hitting role.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that you have to stay calm and relaxed,” he said. “Wild Things Park is a great ballpark, and is one of the nicest baseball fields I’ve played at.”

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