Just like the previous two seasons, Dave LaPoint sported his No. 39 Ducks home uniform inside the Central Islip-based ballpark. As the team’s manager over that span, LaPoint led the Flock to two straight postseason appearances
and his won-loss record was 20 games over .500.
But LaPoint is now the club’s pitching coach after Hall of Famer Gary Carter was named manager over the winter. The two will be in charge of leading the Ducks to success on the baseball field, though a meeting at a hockey venue might emerge into an early turning point for the
It was during an Islanders game that Carter asked LaPoint if there were hard feelings about the shakeup, and Carter said the two former World Series champions quickly developed a rapport.
“I just want to win a championship and he’s put together a great nucleus here,” Carter said. “Just because I have a title doesn’t make a difference. It’s a family and that’s a feeling I want everyone to have. My door is wide open.”
LaPoint continues to be the point man on personnel decisions, a role the Yankees former Opening Day starter relished during his managerial tenure. This year’s Ducks roster contains the usual litany of ex-big leaguers, highlighted by Preston Wilson, Lew Ford and Dan Miceli.
Serving as pitching coach isn’t a drastic move. LaPoint served in that capacity in Long Island from 2002-05, which includes the franchise’s only championship in 2004. Meeting with owner Frank Boulton and co-owner/coach Buddy Harrelson helped convince LaPoint to stay on as Carter’s assistant.
“It didn’t get tough until spring training, when I found out it’s tougher not to manage than it is to manage,” LaPoint said. “You’re so used to managing that you yell out things and you realize that it’s not your job anymore.”
The Ducks improved to 3-2 on the young season following a 7-5 win
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in Lancaster Tuesday night. After two more games in Pennsylvania, the team will return to Suffolk County for its home opener Friday.
LaPoint said the fans who pack Citibank Park will be treated to a rotation that features former major leaguers Brad Halsey and Ken Ray along with long-time Ducks and Long Island native Randy Leek, giving the rotation a nice balance of lefties and right-handers. The bullpen also features six players who LaPoint said can top 90 miles per hour on the radar gun.
Joe Valentine closed for the Ducks last season and returns in the role of set-up man now, joining a relief corps that features MLB veteran Miceli and closer Bill Simas.
“I think it’s the best one we have,” LaPoint said. “We’ve never had a strong bullpen with all six guys [before].”
Since the Atlantic League moved to a grueling 140-game schedule last season, a premium has been placed on pitchers who can soak up innings. The heavy workload, combined with the usual high turnover rate, means LaPoint is still working the phones and filling e-mail inboxes of potential hurlers.
“You need all the pitching you can get,” LaPoint said. “I might still another left-handed reliever. That’s why Frank expanded the roster to 27 men the first month so you don’t hurt any arms and don’t get strapped. If we lose somebody within the first month, we have starters ready to come in. So we’re prepared.”
As the Ducks enter its 10th season, LaPoint said both the organization and the league’s reputation has made it easier to attract talent.
“It’s not like 5-6 years when you had to really persuade a guy to come here,” LaPoint said. “Now, they now all about you before you call them. Most of them call you first. It’s gotten easier over the years. When you have messages on your desk that pretty good players want to play for you, it makes it easier.”
Though his dual roles keep him busy, LaPoint still needs to resist the urge to fill out the lineup card after managing the Ducks the previous two season and the Bridgeport Bluefish in 2006.
“It was difficult at first but I’m a baseball lifer and I’ve been with the Ducks forever,” LaPoint said. “So after sitting down with Buddy and Frank; who am I to say who is going to run the team?
“Once I met Gary, everything’s been really good. We came up in the same era of baseball. We played the game the same way. Once we got down and talked, everything fell right into place.”
For the record, Carter logged 11 base hits in 42 at-bats against LaPoint for a .262 average. LaPoint struck out the “Kid” seven times, though Carter blasted one home run and collected five RBIs.