Time flies when you’re having fun. That old saying fits the ‘bill,’ if you will, when you sit back and realize that this summer marks the 10th anniversary of the Long Island Ducks. While the team has enjoyed success at the box office and on the field, they have also captivated the communities in both Suffolk and Nassau counties with their public appearances, charitable work and hometown feel.
The 2009 season opener took place on Thursday with a 7-4 victory on the road versus the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. The former major leaguers that fill a good portion of the Ducks’ roster played a big part, with Brad Halsey earning the win; three hits in four at-bats by Preston Wilson and Bill Simas getting the save.
While the Ducks look strong on paper, the name of the game in the independent Atlantic League is to start off fast before the major league organizations start picking apart your roster. Winning the division in the first half will get you in the playoffs so that is the goal early on.
Halsey is a former Yankee, Diamondback and Athletic, and the southpaw will look to rebound after sitting out last season. His last taste of ‘The Show’ came in 2006 when he went 5-4 in Oakland.
Righthander Ken Ray is back on Long Island after a brief appearance as a Duck seven seasons ago. In two stints in the majors, Ray has a 2-1 record with a 5.13 ERA. His most recent came in 2006, when Ray went 1-1 with a 4.52 ERA as an Atlanta Brave.
Last summer, lefty Randy Leek won 12 games for the Ducks, tying a club record. Born and bred in Levittown, he will be beginning his third season playing in his own backyard.
Another Long Islander returns with Joe Valentine making his second stop with the Ducks. In 2008, he went 5-3 before moving on to play with two AA clubs in the Phillies and Reds organizations.
Ronkonkoma native B.J. Lamura, 28, has started 50 games in the minors since being drafted by the White Sox in the fifth round of the 2002 draft.
In 17 seasons in professional baseball, Dan Miceli has carved out a nice career for himself as a reliable reliever. His prior stops, all 10 of them, may have labeled him as a journeyman, but he brings a ton of experience to town.
When the Ducks won the Atlantic League championship in 2004, the pitcher getting the final out in all of their big games was none other than Simas. The 6’3″, 230-pound righthander is back for his second stint at Citibank Park after pitching this past winter in the Puerto Rican Baseball League.
Rounding out the rest of the staff are Ed “Bubbie” Buzachero, Troy Cate, Mike Hryino and Jason Norderum.
Ron Davenport, the lefthanded hitting first baseman, has showed good power numbers in the Toronto, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee organizations. He played with the Camden Riversharks last season and hit .336 with 18 home runs and 93 RBI.
The double play combination of Juan Francia and Alex Prieto should make for some exciting defensive baseball. Francia, who played 26 games on Long Island last year, posted a .967 fielding percentage with the Ducks and Lancaster Barnstormers.
A former Minnesota Twin, Prieto spent the 2008 season with the Bluefish and batted .269 with 12 long balls. He has spent eight seasons at the AAA level, most recently two years ago in Pawtucket in the Boston Red Sox organization.
Beginning his third season with the Ducks, Ray Navarette has become one of the team’s most consistent hitters, earning All-Star honors the previous two years. In 2007, he set team records for doubles, extra-base hits and runs scored. Last summer, he hit 27 homers and drove in 103 runs.
Back-ups include Matt Cavagnaro, Dennis Donovan, Victor Rodriguez and Gabe Suarez.
Centerfield has always been a strong point of the Ducks and nothing has changed with the signing of Lew Ford. A veteran of five major league seasons, the former Twin’s best year came in 2004 when he went .292/15/72.
Preston Wilson was part of the Mike Piazza trade when the Mets acquired the perennial All-Star backstop from the Marlins and the slugger has hit 189 balls out of major league parks in a decade of play. He looks to make his way back by showing he can still jack the ball and he started off hot with a home run in the season opener. Wilson, never known for his defense, will see the majority of his action as the designated hitter.
A Brooklyn boy, left fielder Johnny Hernandez played with Bridgeport in 2007 and brings his switch-hitting skills closer to home. He had spent some time in the Cardinals organization after being drafted out of Xaverian High School in 1997.
Raul Gonzales, a 35-year-old veteran of four major league organizations, spent some time up in the bigs with the Mets in ’03 and is penciled in as the Ducks starting right fielder.
Being from Central Islip, Estee Harris begins his third season at home and batted over .300 for the Flock before being signed to the White Sox Single-A affiliate.
Keeping in the tradition with a decidedly Mets flavor, the Ducks hired Gary Carter as manager and retained Dave LaPoint, last year’s field boss, as pitching coach. The face of the franchise is still Bud Harrelson and he will be on hand as the third base coach. Kevin Baez, another former Met and Duck player, returns as infield coach.
Carter, who has made it no secret that he wants to manage in the major leagues, hopes to bridge his way back by winning a second consecutive independent league title. Last year he led the Orange County Flyers to the Golden Baseball League championship after managing in the Mets organization beginning with the 2005 season.