Just walking into Bethpage Ballpark, you could tell this game was different than the others.
Unlike the casual events of when the Long Island Ducks play the Lancaster Barnstormers, Southern Maryland Blue Crabs or York Revolution, this matchup was going to be different.
The Somerset Patriots are in town.
Now the Ducks have their rivalries, most notably with the Bridgeport Bluefish, but their rivalry with the Patriots – and don’t call them the Pats – has a bitter edge to it.
It’s Patriot Games vs. Duck Dynasty and that’s the way they like it.
Welcome to the Yankees vs. Red Sox of the Atlantic League.
You see, this rivalry has less to do with a natural geography, like the one with the Bluefish and more to do with the intense competition between the two teams over the past few years. They are both in the same division and seem to always be the top two teams not just in the Liberty Division, but in the Atlantic League as a whole.
Last season, the Ducks had a stretch last season when they went 23-6 in the month of June with a 17-game home winning streak. However, the Patriots won the first half of the Liberty Division. Sure, the Ducks made the playoffs, but they were eliminated by Somerset in the playoffs, who ultimately won their sixth Atlantic League Championship.
This was after a 2013 when the Ducks won the crown at TD Bank Park in Bridgewater, NJ
“They are a winning organization and we are winning organization,” said Ducks manager Kevin Baez. “Obviously they won more. It’s a nice little rivalry.”
Add to that how close they played each other in the past few seasons – 11-9, 10-10, 8-12, 12-7 from 2015 to 2012 respectively.
After the 2013 season, the Patriots were in the Freedom Division, which meant they met the Duck in the finals. But with Sugarland coming into the league, they moved to the Liberty Division in 2014, making this a very different matchup.
“We have good competition against one another,” Baez said. “The guys understand they are in our division and you want to win those games in your division.”
And even though there was not a geographic rival in the past, there’s one now, because of attrition. After the Camden Riversharks ceased operation last season, the Pats are the only team in New Jersey right now, which is amazing, because 10 years ago, there were four teams in the Garden State.
That leads us to this season. The Patriots have the upper hand so far winning the first four games on the season in Somerset against the Ducks, but Long Island is still in striking distance coming into tonight with a nine game winning streak.
Even tonight, Somerset still got the best of Long Island with a 4-1 win, even though this was a very intense game.
“We don’t have a name for this,” Baez said. “Bridgeport is the Ferry Cup. We have an award at the end of the year. This is more of competition in our division. It’s the team that’s ahead of us.”
Ahead or behind in the standings, this rivalry is here to stay. That makes for great baseball.
And good times. Every time.