Where are the Wild Things?
If everything had fallen into place, Wild Things Park would be filled with an epic crowd, thunderous applause for the home team with an ace on the mound and a stacked lineup tonight. General Manager Tony Buccilli would be there watching his team go after their first win at home for the 2020 season. Instead, Buccilli and his Wild Things are eagerly sitting back and waiting for the call that allows them to get the band back together and reunite at Wild Things Park in Washington, Pennsylvania.
“We’re just going with the flow for now.” The Wild Things GM said over the phone with Dugout Dish last Friday. Buccilli has been with the Wild Things since 2012 with the exception of 2014, when he worked for the Texas Rangers minor league affiliate previously located in Myrtle Beach, SC., doing video work and writing scouting reports on players in the Class A Carolina League. He returned to Washington in 2015 and never looked back.
With COVID-19 postponing the Frontier League’s season, Buccilli admits the market for incoming baseball players has been unlike previous years. “In terms of player personnel, everyone is in a similar scenario with the market – which has been very quiet. Minor League Baseball hasn’t made any substantial releases and college baseball has pretty much given seniors the ability to potentially return. It has definitely dried up this time of year for the league more than it has in previous years.”
Most of the men who play in the Frontier League have previously played college baseball or within a Minor League affiliated organization at a point in their career. Without a college season or MiLB releases, there could be a potential drought in independent leagues finding new prospects for the 2020 season and even in future seasons.
He continued, “As for the business side, it’s a weird paused scenario – anything in terms of promotion and day-to-day has kind of stopped.”
There is a bonus with the Wild Things being in an independent league rather than MLB or as MiLB affiliate. “The good thing with us, our level of baseball being independent has its benefits. We have less to jump over, as long as our states give us guidance on what we can or can’t do – especially with limitations on crowds and capacities.”
Buccilli remains positive when thinking about the 2020 season. “We could ramp up in the coming weeks. Granted, we’re still in the dark so we don’t really know if it’ll be next week, next month or in three months from now. We don’t have to fight a lot of the fights that MLB and affiliated teams have to fight with players and salaries.”
He is also confident that the boys of summer, the Thangz as they are often called on social media are also ready to go. “I could tell the players to be here tomorrow and I believe that 90% would have no problem being here. Granted, if there are players who have concerns for safety or are unable to play because of family or financial situations, we completely understand and will certainly accommodate.”
Buccilli has spent his quarantine days working from home with the occasional visit to the stadium. “Working from home is very outside the norm. I’ve always said I probably have the ability to brainstorm creative ideas and concepts outside of the office so at least it has been beneficial. I think the office allows me to feel like I’m achieving more and being way more productive.”
With such uncertain times due to COVID-19, there is always the chance of a season being cancelled completely – which would leave many players to make the ultimate decision of whether or not they want to continue playing the game they love or call it quits. “I think there is going to be a situation for each guy individually. I think there might be guys that are turning 30, 31, or even 32 that will say hey I can’t do this anymore, I can’t put my family through this anymore – it’s not working and this financial disruption won’t allow me to play.”
Buccilli continued via phone call, “That could be a 32-year-old seasoned veteran or even a 23-year-old rookie that lost his off-season job due to COVID-19. They can’t go back to playing in the summer, making $600 a month when their off-season job which was used to create a bank of money for them to live on wasn’t there. There will be guy who want to go out on their own terms and if we don’t play this season, they’ll be looking to 2021.”
Returning to Wild Things Park, Buccilli is looking forward to the day when the stands are filled and his team is celebrating a win. “The way things are trending, I really do think we can have a season this year. I haven’t reached out to individual players to see how they have been personally impacted by this because I just don’t have enough answers to relay. Hopefully by the end of this month, I’ll have guidance from the league where I can make the calls and see how my guys are personally doing.”
Buccilli and his team are close – not only in age but in how they view baseball. Seen above in the featured photo, the GM celebrated with the Thangz after a victory win in the third game of a five-game playoff series against the Evansville Otters to move onto the championship series in 2018. He even admitted to taking batting practice with the guys last year and playing catch with them. “I grew up with baseball and with my family having indoor cages, I was like alright I’m not gonna lose it. The first seven pitches, yeah it did not feel normal at all. It was totally awkward.”
With independent baseball, the organizations are each individually owned which as of now, none of the organization have been affected but Buccilli knows there is always that possibility. “Potentially, you always have to look at the ramifications of each individual organization. We’re not owned by the league, so each organization has their own financial situation and they have to review it on a year-to-year basis.”
For baseball fans during COVID-19, a lot of eyes have been on MLB negotiations and how the draft will be completely changed for this year. Not only will this affect MLB and MiLB, the Frontier League will feel it as well. “There are a lot of things in the air, especially with the MLB draft – it puts a lot of things up in the air and how it will impact college baseball players, free agents and even high school baseball players heading to MiLB or an independent league.”
As for the future, Buccilli sees it as a way to come back and be even more creative for fans and the organization. “There are a lot of unknowns and time will tell what the story is. I think it’ll be a restart for a lot of people. It’s an opportunity for us to reimagine and recreate what the league and what the Wild Things are. We don’t want to be a cookie cutter team – we’ve always taken the approach to be creative as possible.”
For more information on the Washington Wild Things, you can visit their home website here.
As always it is a true pleasure for Dugout Dish to be able to cover and promote the Frontier League and the teams within the league. Dugout Dish will keep you up-to-date on the league and further information regarding the 2020 season.
(Photos courtesy of Washington Wild Things)