February is a poignant time for Shelter Island’s deer herd. Hunting season is over, fawns are on the way, and pitchers and catchers have reported for spring training. If you’re a baseball lover, and a white-tailed deer, life doesn’t get any better than being the mascot for the Shelter Island Bucks, of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League.
Meet Billy Buck, the outgoing, jovial ungulate of the dugout.
He’s living the dream.
If you’ve had the pleasure of greeting Billy during a game, you know that he’s not much of a talker, preferring to do his job with friendly gestures — a hug, a high-five, and the occasional nose-rub. So, it took the people who know Billy best to fill in the story of the life. People like Ken McGuinness and Brian Cass, this year’s general managers.
Heading into his seventh year in the job, Billy sees a lot of fun and excitement in the upcoming baseball season on Shelter Island — six weeks of non-stop, high quality baseball played by college athletes who aspire to the majors, and who come here to compete and excel, while we get to watch.
Billy Buck is a harelegger, born in Sachem’s Woods to parents who trace their line back through many generations of Island deer. The adored fawn of his family, and later a feisty button buck, as Billy grew, he developed an unusual set of plush antlers, that flop fetchingly on either side of his massive head and set off his baseball-sized brown eyes.
In 2012, when the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League (HCBL), founded in 2007, decided to establish a Shelter Island team, Billy stepped out of the woods as the obvious choice to become the mascot for the newly-formed Shelter Island Bucks.
As with all jobs in the HCBL, Billy’s mascot gig is a volunteer position, and one that is vital to the mission. Buck’s co-GM Ken McGuinness said Billy’s special strength is his ability to lighten up the fans,
“Billy walks out on the field and finds someone who said, ‘Hey ump, you stink,’ gets in front of that person, and they stop and laugh. In other words, morale.”
During games, Billy is everywhere, starting with the announcers’ booth, where he is introduced to the crowd. He walks the field; the visiting team’s dugout, along the third base line, and all the way out to the fans who watch in the outfield. If there are grouches, he jollies them, and if there are babies, he kisses them. He hands out game schedules, he poses for pictures and when the time comes, he passes the hat for donations to support the nonprofit HCBL.
In a turn of events that must seem incredible to Billy’s deer family still at large in Sachem’s Woods, his years as mascot have brought him friendships with human players and fans alike. One such player was Ryan Smoot, a catcher and team leader who was hosted by Joanne and Hoot Sherman during 2018 season. Ryan, who came from a family of sports coaches and champion athletes, later graduated from VMI, and now has a coaching job at George Washington University. During his summer with the Bucks, Ryan paid back the love and care he received from the community; playing table baseball with the Sherman’s little nephews and signing baseballs for Little Leaguers.
Outside of being a deer, Billy’s life is baseball, and it hasn’t left room for him to start his own family. A long-time Met fan, he stays connected to the game from the first days of spring training right through the fall championships. He loves his Shelter Island home, especially the wooded margins of Fiske Field, and he’s been known to declare there is no better browse anywhere.
His biggest on-the-job challenge? Rain. “We get wet, they tarp the field, and I can’t do my job,” he said. “It sucks.”
Although Billy continues to live in the wild during the season, he encourages Shelter Islanders who can free up a bed, washer/dryer and some refrigerator space to consider hosting a Buck for the 8-week season from late May through July. Hosts such as Frank Emmett, Chrissy Gross and Hoot and Joanne Sherman have supported the team in this way for years, and the Bucks could not field a team without them.
Billy’s got a major goal for the coming year, and that is to cheer the Bucks on to another championship. Back in 2015, the Bucks were champions of the HCBL and it left Shelter Islanders, and their fuzzy-antlered mascot hungry for another victorious season. Go Bucks!
What do you always have with you? Tom Seaver baseball card.
Favorite place on Shelter Island? Fiske Field
Favorite place not on Shelter Island? Citi field
When was the last time you were elated? 2015, when we took the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League championship.
When was the last time you were afraid? Crossing Route 114 at dusk in October.
What is the best day of the year on Shelter Island? Opening Day
Favorite movie? Field of Dreams
Favorite food? A hot dog from the concession stand at Fiske Field.
Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family? Yogi Berra.
Most respected elected official, serving or retired? Jay Card.