The Kid Leads The Flock in 2009

CENTRAL ISLIP, NY- Gary Carter already owns a championship ring and the honor of being one of just 16 Hall of Fame catchers.

The former great Mets backstop will look to add another line to an impressive baseball resume and once again be part of a contending New York team when he makes his Long Island Ducks managerial debut Thursday night.

Opening Day features the Ducks kicking off its 10th season against the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. Speaking at the team’s media day at Citibank Park on Wednesday, Carter said he has moved on from the criticism he endured for openly campaigning for the Mets managerial job last season.

Carter said he still would like to manage in the major leagues but insisted on numerous occasions that he is focused on bringing the Ducks its second Atlantic League title.

“I didn’t come here for any attention,” Carter said. “I wanted to challenge and I wanted to manage on the East Coast. All I’m concentrating on in this team.”

Dave LaPoint spent the last two seasons as Ducks manager. He returns as the pitching coach and the point man for personnel decisions and said he is excited to see one of the more impressive pitching staffs the organization has compiled to start a season.

Former Yankee Brad Halsey will get the Opening Day start. Ken Ray, who last pitched in the majors for Atlanta in 2006, will go the second day and Ducks holdover Randy Leek will be third in the rotation, keeping him in line for the home opener start May 1.

Ray, a right-hander, will break up lefties in Halsey and Leek. B.J. Lamura is slated to start the year as the fourth starter. LaPoint said he is also excited about the bullpen, where the closer represents a link to the Ducks past.

Bill Simas, who closed for the Ducks 2004 championship team and was out of baseball from 2006-07 before coming back to the Mexican League last season, is penciled in as the closer. Setting him will

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be Dan Miceli, a veteran of 631 major league games. Joe Valentine closed games for the Ducks last season and is back for another term. Ed Buzachero rounds out the set-up corps.

“We have four relievers who can throw in the 90s,” LaPoint said. “When a guy needs a day off, we have options.”

The offense also features its share of former major leaguers, headlined by Preston Wilson and ex-Twin Lew Ford. Among the notable returnees is Ray Navarrete, who logged 103 RBIs in batting .307 for the Ducks last season. With those accomplished hitters and stable of veteran pitchers, Carter said he’s excited after seeing the Ducks go 2-0-2 to conclude last week’s exhibition schedule in Florida.

“Our lineup will score runs,” Carter said. “We only had a short time in spring training, but what I enjoyed most was the chemistry in the clubhouse and on the field.”

Halsey said playing for Carter, a catcher on the 1986 Mets and a 19-year major league veteran, is a special experience and one he cherishes more now than he would have when he was a 23-year-old coming up with the Yankees in 2004.

“It’s something that I’ve grown to appreciate through my two years away from the game while rehabbing,” Halsey said. “When you’re forced into a situation when you’re not able to play, that’s when you appreciate the game the most.”

Leek is the probable starter for the Ducks home opener after the club starts with seven road games, including a season-opening four-game set against the Blue Crabs followed by a three-game series in Lancaster.

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