Wild Things celebration

Mark Marietta/For the Observer-Reporter

Wild Things players converge to shower teammate Nick Ward in celebration of his game-winning hit in Game 2 of a playoff series against Quebec. Ward drove in Joe Campagna from third base, giving Washington a 4-3 victory.

The Wild Things will be changing divisions again next season.

One year after the Frontier League moved Washington into a division and conference with former Can-Am League teams, the Wild Things will be shifting West to play with its former rivals next summer.

The Frontier League released its 2022 schedule Monday and Washington will be playing in the eight-team West Division along with the Evansville Otters, Florence Y’alls, Gateway Grizzlies, Joliet Slammers, Lake Erie Crushers, Schaumburg Boomers and Windy City Thunderbolts. Schaumburg defeated Washington in last year’s league championship series.

The league will be divided into two eight-team divisions instead of the four-division format used this year. There will be 16 teams, including the expansion Ottawa Titans, who will play in the 10,332-seat RCGT Park. The other new team is the Frontier Greys, a traveling team that will play all 96 games as the road team.

Washington was able to move to the West because the Southern Illinois Miners suddenly ceased operations in September. The Wild Things replaced the Miners in the West and the Greys will play in the East Division with Ottawa, the New Jersey Jackals, New York Boulders, Sussex County Miners, Quebec Capitales, Tri-City ValleyCats and Trois-Rivieres Aigles.

“I don’t think it matters much which division we play in,” Wild Things president and general manager Tony Buccilli said. “The important thing is we continue to play our natural rivals. We play Lake Erie 12 times, which continues the Pittsburgh-Cleveland rivalry. Florence has grown into a rival with us. The travel and traffic issues for us are about the same playing in the West as it would be in the East. Last year, we played a schedule that was heavy on East teams. This year, we’ll see the West teams, which is a breathe of fresh air.”

The Wild Things will open the season Friday, May 13 at home against New York. Because of the travel team, Washington will play 51 home games instead of the usual 48 in a 96-game schedule.

Washington’s schedule is loaded with home games early in the season as 18 of their first 27 games will be played at Wild Things Park. From mid-June through August, Washington will have only four weekend series at home.

“Some of that is because of other events going on at the ballpark, such as the Cam Heyward celebrity softball game,” Buccilli said. “Everyone wishes we can be home every weekend in June and July, but it’s a balancing act during the prime weather months. We want the ballpark to be used for as many different events as possible.”

Washington will play its first five home series against teams from the East. The first division rival the Wild Things will play at home is Schaumburg June 10-12.

One other league change for 2022 is a wild-card playoff game in each division. The second-place team will host the third-place team in a one-game playoff with the winner advancing to the division finals. The league last used a wild-card format in 2015.

This will be Washington’s 20th season in the Frontier League. The team has several 20th anniversary promotions and events in the planning stages.

“The most interesting thing is the 20th season celebration,” Buccilli said. “We’ll be only the fifth franchise to play 20 seasons in the Frontier League. When I mention that to people in the community, they say, ‘Wow! It doesn’t seem like it has been 20 years.’ I know people who said this team will never last more than a few years and now we’ll have a 20th anniversary. ... We want to have an alumni weekend and recognize the people who played here and worked here. We have some cool things we can do.”

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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