Tony Buccilli had a solid game plan. He really did. Go to college, get educated, play a little baseball and eventually become a pharmacist, if the major league scouts don’t come calling and offer a professional baseball contract.
There were only a few problems with the strategy. The first was there isn’t much need in pro baseball for a small position player with a Division II-level skill set. The other was that pharmacy and baseball rarely mix – unless, of course, you’re talking steroids – and Buccilli wasn’t driven by the thought of a future counting pills and standing behind a counter for eight hours a day.
So, after four years of college, Buccilli decided to make a change in his career course, opting to follow his dream and steering away from a life of filling prescriptions and onto the path of being the tonic for what ailed the Washington Wild Things.
These days, Buccilli is president and general manager of the Wild Things, a team that will begin its 18th season in the independent Frontier League this spring. At age 30, Buccilli is in charge of baseball operations. He is one of the youngest in professional baseball with such responsibility.
Buccilli has put together teams that have turned around Washington’s on-field product. Under his guidance, the Wild Things have morphed from an organization that failed to make the playoffs for six consecutive years (2008 through 2013) to one that came within one victory of the league championship last September.
“I worked at a Giant Eagle pharmacy in Irwin in the summer,” Buccilli says. “I’d work 40 hours a week as a pharmacy technician. I was on my feet all the time. Four years of doing 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. in a pharmacy, where the co-workers and the clientele were all older than me ... I got burned out. My dad always said that life is short, so find your passion. My passion is not working in a pharmacy. I still had that competitive itch.”
Buccilli scratched that itch by enrolling in graduate school at Indiana University of Pennsylvania – he started his undergraduate work at Wingate University in North Carolina before transferring to IUP and focusing on pharmacy – to purse a degree in sports management. He wanted to get involved in professional baseball.
“I knew that my resume, with a pharmacy background, wasn’t appealing to major league teams,” he explains. “I needed something more.”
Buccilli had always been around baseball. He played at Franklin Regional High School in Murraysville, and his father operated indoor batting cages and coached travel teams. Buccilli’s brother, Alex, played college baseball at Coastal Carolina, where he was an internet sensation because of his unique batting stance, and played briefly for the Wild Things in 2013.
In 2012, Buccilli received a baseball operations internship with the Wild Things, under then-manager Chris Bando, who had no prior experience in the Frontier League. Buccilli went on all the Wild Things’ road trips that year and learned the league.
“I basically lived out of my car that summer, sleeping in the clubhouse. I thought it was better to do that than drive back and forth to Murraysville,” Buccilli recalls.
In 2014, Buccilli got a job with the Texas Rangers in their minor-league baseball operations. He was assigned to their affiliate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., doing video work and writing scouting reports on players in the Class A Carolina League. He also took notes on how a successful minor-league team is run and what quirky promotions fans enjoy.
Buccilli returned to Washington in 2015 to work full time with the Wild Things in baseball operations, and the on-field product has steadily improved. Washington made the playoffs in 2017. Last year, they reached the championship series before losing to Joliet.
Working closely with manager Gregg Langbehn, Buccilli has signed a Frontier League MVP (James Harris, 2018), Pitcher of the Year (Thomas Dorminy, 2018), Citizenship Award winner (Rashad Brown, 2017), 19 Frontier League all-stars and sold seven players to major league organizations.
Buccilli, who is part of the generation that grew up playing in fantasy sports leagues, is playing real-life general manager.
“I never played fantasy baseball,” he says. “I played video (baseball) games, but I had more fun playing the offseason part. My brother was all about playing the season. When he reached the offseason, he’d tell me, ‘Here, build my team.’ That was my hobby.”
Not all of the contributions by Buccilli, who now resides in Canonsburg, have to do with wins and losses.
“Tony is just what we needed. When (former general manager) Ross Vecchio left, we didn’t have anybody who knew the minor-league baseball industry inside and out, knew the funny stuff to do, who had that experience. Tony seems to have that,” says Wild Things vice president Chris Blaine, who has been with the team since its first day. “He has a passion for it. He lives the Washington Wild Things. He finds neat things to do.”
One of those “neat things” was last year when the Wild Things signed former NFL punter and Barstool Sports Radio personality Pat McAfee to play in one game. The promotion got the Wild Things plenty of mention in the media and attracted an entirely different demographic to Wild Things Park.
“The whole thing with Pat McAfee was all Tony,” Blaine says. “That was part of his age group.”
Buccilli’s duties with the Wild Things are many. In addition to roster management, he’s in charge of the on-field product, developing and implementing a promotions schedule and advertising platform, overseeing the team’s social media accounts and scheduling high school and college games at Wild Things Park.
He uses his youthfulness as an advantage. While other Frontier League teams let their manager, who is typically 20 years older than Buccilli, contact and attempt to sign players, Washington’s sales pitch often stands out.
“I can relate to guys on a different level. What I try to do is look at players as people, not as assets. That helps them buy into the Wild Things as an organization,” Buccilli explains. “I don’t do this for the money. If I did, I wouldn’t have quit pharmacy. I get rewarded by seeing a 5-year-old kid smiling because he got to run the bases, kids interacting with our mascot, family moments being created at the ballpark or coming up with a fun social media post or promotion.”