‘We pounced on the idea as we were all very excited to partner with the Pirates,’ Venom’s Ben Peters on baseball’s support of field hockey

Baseball meets field hockey.


Or is it field hockey meets baseball?


Any way you look at it, PNC Park was filled with smiling faces August 8, as the Pittsburgh Pirates hosted its first Field Hockey Night. More than 100 athletes stood on the warning track down the first plate line in a pregame salute before the Pirates took on the Atlanta Braves.


The idea to host a field hockey night came from inside the Pirates organization. Maggie Koroly, the group sales and hospitality account manager for the Pirates, played field hockey. She said she wanted to honor her sport.


The Pirates organization agreed and became the latest partnership to join USA Field Hockey in honoring the athletes. The Lancaster Barnstormers, which held its first Field Hockey Day July 30, the Boston Red Sox, and the San Diego Padres have all recently jumped on board to support the game.


With field hockey a staple at the summer Olympics and being one of the most popular sports in the world — much like soccer — the sport in America appears to be entering a growth spurt, especially, at the youth level.


A large sampling of players who attended the Pirates game on Tuesday were Pittsburgh Venom athletes. Venom, a field hockey club, boasts the “first ever U-14, U-16, and U-19 USAFH National Indoor Champions” in Western, Pennsylvania, according to the Pittsburgh Venom Field Hockey Club’s website.


Koroly said she connected to Venom’s leader Ben Peters to gather insight on how the sport is expanding in and around the Pittsburgh area.


“[Koroly] noticed we happened to be one of the biggest outlets for field hockey in the community and we tried to get the word out as much as possible,” Peters said about the Field Hockey Night. “I have been connected with USAFH since I moved here in 2009, so it was easy to get the word out. We pounced on the idea as we were all very excited to partner with the Pirates. To have a major league sports team take notice in grassroots athletics really impressed us, especially with the push for female athletics in recent years. Any opportunity to grow the sport, I will jump at.”


Peters, who is an international umpire originally from England, said Venom started with six athletes in 2010 and increased to 35 when he took over in 2017. The previous owner became the head coach of the USA Men’s National Team. Venom now has over 150 athletes and is doing their best to continue to grow the sport in Western Pennsylvania.


Venom has designed a coach training program where they bring back former Venom youth members to coach long term. Kyla Spallone, who played Division I hockey at Siena College, now acts as Club Director and a head coach for Venom. Spallone along with two others make up three of the nine head coaches who previously played for the club.


“I can personally see that since moving to Pittsburgh in 2009 the hockey knowledge in the area — from coaches to umpires to parents — has gone up and I think that is due to the collective effort in the hockey community to get more education into the public,” he said. “There is much more to do, but Western PA is a fast-growing area for field hockey. Our club is always looking for ways to grow the sport in the area. There is more and more youth engagement and we are trying to start a revamped middle school and younger league around the communities with Venom hopefully taking all the athletes that may not have a school represented and putting them in a club team to compete at the youth level in the Fall.”


Before the event, Peters said his athletes told him they were all excited to get the opportunity to go to the game. Looking down at the warning track on Tuesday, there were nothing but smiling faces, as they waved for the camera to the big screen.


The same kind of celebratory expression was seen at the Lancaster Barnstormers Field Hockey Day.


“We chose to host a field hockey day for a couple of different reasons,” account executive Tate Weismandel said. “One being the sheer popularity of the sport in and around Lancaster County. I was truly surprised at the amount of interest not only from youth players, but also local colleges and field hockey vendors, like Longstreth. After partnering with Tiger’s Field Hockey, we realized we could also help local hockey organizations build up their programs through the use of vendor tables during the game on field hockey day.”


The recognition from professional organizations that gain a larger share of media attention means a lot not only to the athletes and all involved in the sport, but it’s also the timing of their support. The United States will host the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, California. And, who knows, maybe one of the field hockey athletes at the Pirates or Barnstormers games will represent America at the games.


“I think having the Pirates take an interest in our sport and club is amazing,” Peters said. “It really goes to show the success of the sport recently and that there are many more people around the city who want to play.”


This story was written by Pittsburgh freelance writer Mallory Merda. Photos: Provided by Ben Peters

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