There is a lot happening in the 20th season of the Long Island Ducks.
The Flock is celebrating two decades of playing minor league baseball in their Central Islip ballpark that is typically filled. General Manager Michael Pfaff said that the Ducks have led the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball in attendance 14 times and have had 680 sellouts. The team plays 140 games — 70 home, 70 away — in 154 days.
“This season we will welcome our eighth million fan in late August or early September, it will be a very special moment for our organization,” Pfaff said at the annual Media Day on April 22. Pfaff has been with the Ducks for 17 years.
Wally Backman becomes the second Met from the 1986 World Series championship team and the fourth former Mets player to manage the Ducks. Gary Carter, the catcher on the ’86 Mets managed the Ducks in 2009, Kevin Baez guided the squad from 2011 to 2018 and Bud Harrelson, also a team co-owner, skippered the club’s inaugural season in 2000.
Backman noted the overall team speed, power and versatility with multiple players who can roam the outfield and others who could play shortstop. “We have a very good chance to win the whole thing,” said new pitching Ed Lynch, another former Met. The Ducks have played in the league’s championship series the past three years. They captured league titles in 2004, 2012 and 2013.
This year’s Ducks also have former Mets outfielders Matt den Dekker and Kurt Nieuwenhuis. The roster includes former 17 major leaguers, including ex-Yankee righty Brett Marshall.
It did have former Met Jon Niese, but on April 24, the lefty pitcher got a “Duck bump” and his contract was purchased by the Seattle Mariners who assigned him to their Triple A affiliate. “It’s a great feeling to back to playing ball and on the field,” Niese said, at Media Day.
Along with being Mets East, the Ducks and the seven other Atlantic League teams will be an incubator for several potential new rules that Major League Baseball could implement in the near future. In March 2019, the Atlantic League and Major League Baseball reached agreement to test multiple rule changes during the 2019 Atlantic League season.
The use of a radar tracking system to assist umpires in calling balls and strikes will be implemented gradually as the season progress. There will be a reduction of time between half innings from 2 minutes 5 seconds to 1:45. Pitchers will be required to face at least three batters when brought into a game. The exceptions are side retired or injury.
Admitting to be an “old-school guy” Backman views the changes, including the pitch tracking system as an enhancement to the game. “It only helps the players and it’s something that could improve the game,” he said. Nieuwenhuis had a mixed reaction to the pitch tracking system. “When you step up to the plate you want consistency,” he said. “Still, there a lot of unanswered questions.”
Mound visits will be banned except for a pitching change or medical issues. Infield shifts will be restricted. Two infielders must be positioned on each side of second base. The bases will be enlarged from 15 inches to 18 inches, but home plate remains the same. Moving the pitcher rubber back 2-feet will now not happen until the second half of next season.
The Atlantic League welcomes a new team as last season’s Road Warriors, the former Bridgeport Bluefish, are now the High Point Rockers of High Point, North Carolina. They will play in the Liberty Division with the Ducks, the New Britain Bees and Somerset Patriots. In the Freedom Division it is the Lancaster Barnstormers, Southern Maryland Blue Crabs and the York Revolution.
The season got underway on April 26 for the Ducks with a three-game sweep of York. The Flock then play four against Lancaster before the home opener on May 3, also against York. Games are usually at 1:35, 5:05 or 6:35 p.m. Bethpage Ballpark is at 3 Court House Drive in Central Islip. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or on the web at www.liducks.com.
From filling the ballpark to helping to move players back to major league organizations and “The Show,” the Ducks keeps fans entertained with an assortment of promotions, including 19 scheduled post-game fireworks.
“I’m very proud of what we are able to do and 20 years has gone incredibly fast,” said league founder and Ducks CEO Frank Boulton, a Brightwaters resident.