Chris Sidick dreams big. Wanting to play professional baseball, he prowls center field for the Washington Wild Things of the independent Frontier League. And wanting to share his knowledge, he teaches baseball fundamentals at his enterprise, C-Side Sports.
Sidick's venture has steadily gained popularity since its humble beginnings in the basement of his parents' home in Cecil. His dream will become reality in October when his baseball academy moves into a 27,000-square foot facility on U.S. Route 19, about a mile from The Meadows Racetrack & Casino.
"It's all state-of-the-art and brand-new," said Sidick, 28, who faces the end of his on-field days in two years. Frontier League rules don't allow veteran players such as Sidick to compete beyond their 30th birthday.
"We're going to have new turf and new nets, and we're in the construction phase right now," he said of his business as the Wild Things prepared for a recent game at Consol Energy Park in Washington. "We have the foundation done and the shell up, and we'll start utilities in July and August. We've been planning this for 18 months, and if those go well, we'd like to have four [academies] -- one in each area around [Pittsburgh]."
The Wild Things' season, including all postseason scenarios, will wrap up in September. That's when Sidick will be able to devote all his energy to his academy. He has been competing professionally from May through September for the past seven years.
"Once my season ends, I'll put the nets up and we'll open," said Sidick, who was named the northeastern United States' Young Entrepreneur of the Year in May by the Small Business Administration. He is also in the running for the nationwide award.
The SBA award is given to an under-30 entrepreneur who completes a lot of community work and starts a business in a challenging economy.
This marks the fifth time in four years Sidick has relocated C-Side Sports. It's not a matter of not meeting the rent. He has had to move as more individuals and organizations expressed interest in learning and improving their baseball skills the Sidick way.
"We want to tailor it for all of the teams in the area," he said.
Several teams are on board.
"I already have Washington & Jefferson, Waynesburg [University] and California University [of Pennsylvania] as clients," he said. Those teams used Sidick's current facility on Wylie Avenue in Washington, Pa., in the winter. Now he wants area high school teams to hone their skills at his new complex.
"I want to raise the level of baseball around here," he said. "Most teams are getting just 20 games in their season, and when they go to tournaments in South Carolina and Florida, they are playing teams that play 50- to 60-game schedules, and they just can't compete. We want these kids to see live pitching all winter."
C-Side Sports provides private lessons year-round, Sidick said. When the weather is nice during summer months, he can use the facilities at Consol Energy Park to work with clients. His training facility will be available for birthday parties, field rentals and clinics. His main motivation is to get baseball players through the door, learning the game. During the winter, Sidick is offering about 150 lessons a week -- fielding, pitching and hitting. Instruction in fast-pitch softball also is available.
Sidick had hoped to train athletes outdoors next to his indoor facility, but the location won't allow for it as the price of the land in the area is prohibitive. All is not lost, though: C-Side Sports' new facility is large enough to accommodate an NCAA regulation-sized infield.
"Kids up to 12 years old will be able to play a game indoors with a full team," he said.
High school players can work on base-running and infield skills as the academy will feature 90 feet between bases. The new facility also will be large enough to accommodate soccer teams.
C-Side Sports will use turf from either Sprinturf or Pro Grass. The latter covered the field under the Wild Things at Consol Energy Park.
Sidick is familiar with both surfaces: The Normal CornBelters, a Frontier League rival, have installed Sprinturf. Pro Grass is headquartered in Pittsburgh, and Sprinturf is based in King of Prussia, Pa. The surfaces are nearly identical, he believes.
The young entrepreneur has yet to accept a dime from his academy as he rolls all profits back into the company.
"All of my turf, heating and equipment is paid for," he said. "I want the business to be flourishing, even though I'm still living at home driving my grandma's car."