The Long Island Ducks 18th season is under way, and the defending first-half Liberty Division champions are seeking to win their fourth Atlantic League of Professional Baseball championship in team history.
Based in Central Islip, the Ducks play in Bethpage Ballpark, and are part of the eight-team Atlantic League, an independent minor league in its 20th season that also includes the Bridgeport Bluefish, Lancaster Barnstormers. Somerset Patriots, Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, Sugar Land Skeeters and York Revolution.
“The Atlantic League is an opportunity [for these players] to keep playing baseball at a high level,” team President and General Manager Michael Pfaff said at an April 15 news conference. “This is the most talented team we have broken spring training with.”
Three local products are on the roster, all right-handed pitchers: Keith Couch from Elmont, East Meadow’s Tyler Levine and Dennis O’Grady of Floral Park. New pitching coach Billy Horn is originally from the Bronx.
Former major leaguer Kevin Baez, who played for the Mets, is in his seventh season as manager. Baez said that this year’s team has a solid mix of young players and veterans. He colorfully described them as “some new blood, some old blood.” “I’m excited every year and love to come to the ballpark,” he said. “Our goal is getting the guys to move on to the major leagues. I have that fire in my belly.”
Keeping that blaze burning are returning players such as righty hurler John Brownell, a two-time Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year; outfielder Fehlandt Lentini who hit .313 (fifth in the league) with 75 RBI (fifth in the league), with 9 home runs and 51 stolen bases (second in the league); and infielder Cody Puckett who hit .272 with 73 RBI (sixth in the league) and scored 62 runs over the course of the 140-game season.
“Our goal is to win as many games as we can, win a championship and get as many players as possible to the major leagues,” Horn said.
While Pfaff and company were improving the on-the-field squad, he, along with team founder and Chief Executive Officer Frank Boulton, took aim at improving the overall ballpark experience for the fans. The Ducks, once again, led the Atlantic League in attendance last season, and five major enhancements could help them repeat that achievement.
A new LED field lighting system was installed; that includes six towers, which replaced the lighting used since the team’s inaugural season in 2000.
The nine-year-old playing surface was replaced with 100,000 square-feet of Kentucky Bluegrass from Long Island-based DeLea Sod Farms. Improved drainage and irrigation systems were also installed. The sod outside the ballpark was also replaced and the landscaping received an upgrade as well.
The carpeting was replaced in the restaurant and the luxury suites with a commercial grade vinyl hardwood. Ducks officials said that the new flooring is much better for the large amount of foot traffic in the ballpark.
To complement the existing no-touch sensor faucets in the restrooms, touchless sensor toilets were installed to provide a more sanitary and efficient bathroom experience, team officials said.
For those who know that watching a baseball game is not complete without a good beer, the Ducks have partnered with Great South Bay Brewery in Bay Shore to produce a new private label craft beer, Duck Tail Ale. It’s considered an American-style golden ale with a clean, crisp taste.
“We work all year round,” Boulton said. “There is always something to do. I love business and baseball.”
Bethpage Ballpark is at 3 Court House Drive in Central Islip. Home games are usually at 1:35, 5:05 or 6:35 p.m. Every game is live streamed on LIDucks.com and Box Cast, and can be seen on the Ducks official YouTube channel — www.youtube/ducksbaseball — and the team’s Facebook page through Facebook Live. All Monday, Wednesday and Friday home games are broadcast on 88.7 FM.
For tickets, go to www.liducks.com or the ballpark box office. And don’t forget the Waddle In gift shop.