This Saturday, the Long Island Ducks kicked off their 18th season in the Independent Atlantic League, by opening up their stadium to loyal season ticket holders and the rest of their enthusiastic fan base, for their fifth annual “Fan Fest” at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip. Fans were treated free of charge, to the Ducks first home spring training game vs the Bridgeport Blue Fish, as well as player and fan interaction pre game. And although the teams played to a 1-1 tie, the fans seemed to feel good about the beginning of a new season.
At a press conference, held in the “Duck Club” on the suite level before the game, Founder and CEO Frank Boulton mentioned that the Atlantic League was entering it’s 20th season and that the league was looking seriously into adding another team in Texas and as much as that was news, the main interest was on the team and it’s players.
Just like every team in organized baseball, the new year brings plenty of different names and faces that fans, the press and yes, even veteran team players will need to become familiar with. There are 15 new players for the Ducks this year including 2 invited to spring training. Former veteran big leaguers include pitcher David Aardsma who has 9 years of major league experience. Pitching for eight different teams including the Mets and Yankees. Also outfielder Nolan Reimold, who has an eight year major league career, seven of which were with the Baltimore Orioles. Fans should be excited about those two as they will surely add to the strength to last years League Champion runner up.
It always amazes me every spring, how players come to camp in such great shape. The way they keep themselves fit over the winter, is so different from the way professional athletes trained in the off season in the past. If “The Babe” had been able to keep himself in shape with the use all the technology and fitness centers of today, he would of hit 914 home Runs. These guys looked like they were in mid season form, as evidenced by Bluefish starter right hander Cory Riordan, who went three innings on a sunny but brisk spring day. Major leaguers will usually not do that, until week 3 or 4 in the warmth of Arizona or Florida.
The Independent Atlantic League has and always will be what baseball should be to the fan. After attending games at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium the past week, where parking in the Bronx was $40 and a beer was $12.50, the friendly confines of Bethpage Ballpark look quite inviting. It’s a safe place to bring your family, to see America’s pastime. With free parking, ticket prices between $12 and $15 and a hot dog that costs four dollars, it remains the most affordable day for a family in all of professional sports.
The players in this league are very good and are what we all go to see. The Ducks have an interesting roster filled with a mix of older veterans and young prospects. It is going to be interesting to find out who will be the next Rich Hill and take their careers to the “Big Show”.