The Wild Things are about one third of the way into their ambitious 10-week, four-team series of exhibition games and general manager Tony Buccilli has been pleased with the results.

“We’ve been happy,” he said. “The feedback we’re getting from fans has been positive. Their comfort and confidence level in how we’re doing things is a very promising sign. Plus, the players are grateful to have an opportunity to get back on the diamond and show their skills.”

What the Wild Things have done is put together a four-team “pod” or league. The Wild Things’ roster was split into two teams: the Wild Things and Steel City Slammin’ Sammies. The other two teams, the Baseball Brilliance Sox and the Road Warriors are unsigned players, many with minor-league or independent experience.

The Slammies have the pod’s best record at 8-4 followed by the Wild Things at 7-5, Baseball Brilliance Sox at 5-7 and Road Warriors at 4-8.

“There is parity and competitiveness, as the records reflect,” Buccilli said. “When we first started this, some people expected there to be a team or two that would be punching bags, and those people have been proven wrong. We’re close to what you would see with a normal Frontier League season.”

Because the games are exhibitions, one of the advantages of not having to adhere to Frontier League roster rules is that any of the four teams can sign players who otherwise would not fit into the FL’s age or experience restrictions. For example, Brandon Phillips, a three-time major league all-star second baseman who spent 17 years in the big leagues – most recently with Boston in 2018 – has played four games for the Baseball Brilliance Sox. His brother, P.J. Phillips, is the manager of the team.

The Wild Things also brought back Stewart Ijames, who played two seasons in Washington (2013-14) before being signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and advancing as high as Class AAA.

Two games are played each day, from Thursday through Sunday. With Pennsylvania having a cap on the size of outdoor gatherings, crowds are limited to 250 per game.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic that caused the Frontier League to cancel its season, social distancing and other safety guidelines, such as no autographs and no on-field promotions between innings, are being enforced. But there are still 90 mph fastballs being thrown, the crack of the bat still rings throughout the ballpark and foul balls are certainly easier to snag.

“I think the biggest thing – and it’s refreshing – is how our fans have been engaged in the games,” Buccilli said. “They’re not sitting on their hands. You can tell they missed baseball. Whether they’re cheering for the Wild Things or the Slammies, they are taking in the baseball for what it is. Whether there are 50 or 200 in the ballpark, they’re loud and engaged. All the feedback we’re getting is positive.”

Some of the early standouts for the Slammies have been shortstop Nick Ward (.500 on-base percentage) and second baseman John Sansone (four home runs and 18 RBI in 12 games). Wild Things closer Zach Strecker is 1-0 with four saves and has not allowed an earned run. Jacob Bockelie of the Baseball Brilliance Sox has league-leading totals of six home runs and 21 RBI and teammate Nate Peden is 2-0 with a 3.15 ERA in three starts. The Road Warriors’ Derek Reddy has 11 stolen bases and Chris Salvey has four home runs.

Buccilli admits the league is a chance for the Wild Things to do a better evaluation of their players and to get a look at others.

“This is an opportunity for us to get an extended look at guys for 2021,” he said. “I think we’ll be in a better spot in 2021 because we have more knowledge about some of these guys.”

Ticket prices for the games have been reduced. They are now $10 for day games and $15 for the evening games. There is no parking fee.

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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