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The four-team independent baseball league being played at Wild Things Park this summer came to a sudden end with a series of phone calls Monday morning, four days before the championship series was scheduled to begin.

Wild Things officials were informed by the Pennsylvania State Police that a “whistleblower” complaint had been filed against the organization and that continuation of the baseball season could lead to enforcement actions. The organization wasn’t told what violation the complaint alleges. General manager Tony Buccilli did say that whatever it is won’t be rectified by Friday, when the championship and consolation series were to begin.

The Road Warriors and Steel City Slammies were to play in the best-of-3 finals, and the Wild Things and Baseball Brilliance Sox would play a consolation series.

“Despite the fact that we were successfully providing families with safe, quality entertainment, I was warned (Monday) morning that the Wild Things were out of compliance with the governor’s edicts,” said Steve Zavacky, executive director and president of the Wild Things. “While we vehemently disagree, the message was clear: end the season or face consequences that would cripple the organization going forward.

“We are extremely frustrated. We have done everything humanly possible to safely operate our facility. We have gone above and beyond, and it was working.”

Earlier this summer, Gov. Tom Wolf permitted professional sports to resume play if they followed the state’s limit of 250 people for outdoor gatherings and other Department of Health guidelines. The Wild Things said they even received an exemption to exceed the 250 limit but did not take advantage of the decision.

“When Gov. Wolf limited in-person attendance to 250 people, he also outlined a procedure for requesting an exception,” Zavacky explained. “The Wild Things submitted a comprehensive plan to the Secretary of Health outlining all of the steps the Wild Things would take to keep people safe. The Wild Things requested that they be allowed to operate at 50% capacity, which would be 2,200 people. And we were extremely pleased the Secretary of Health approved the plan. At the beginning of the season, when we saw an uptick in the number of (COVID-19) cases in Southwest Pennsylvania, the Wild Things decided to not exceed 250 people, even though we had an exemption because this action was the most responsible way to respond to the circumstances.”

The Wild Things put together a four-team “pod” or league that was originally scheduled to play Thursdays through Sundays from early July to mid-September. Earlier this month, the schedule was shortened and the season was to end in late August.

“It was my job to put together a program that would ensure our players and fans stayed safe while enjoying quality competition,” Buccilli said. “To that end, the Wild Things invited three other teams to play a season in Washington County. The teams did not travel, and all players remained in the Washington area. From the very beginning, we worked to ensure safety for everyone involved. All four teams were in isolation before the season began, and all the players were extremely responsible about this because they knew how important it was for this project to be successful.”

Protocol, the Wild Things said, has included minimizing in-person ticket sales, monitoring employees and players health, performing temperature checks of fans entering the ballpark, requiring masks be worn, and offering a concession menu that included canned beverages, prepackaged condiments, prepackaged ice cream products and prepackaging hot dogs and hamburgers. The Wild Things added social-distancing signage to the ballpark, a reserved section for people age 55 and older, plexiglass shields and hand-sanitizing stations. The facilities were cleaned and disinfected before and after each game.

“If something like this was going to happen, you would have expected it at the beginning of the season, not near the end,” Buccilli said.

Sports Editor

Since 1986, Chris Dugan has been covering local sports for the Observer-Reporter, and named sports editor in 2006. Before joining the O-R, he was sports editor at the Democrat-Messenger, and a former member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

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