On a beautiful sunny day in Central Islip Long Island, the Ducks Announced that Eric Gagne has decided at 41 years old to retire. A source said that he stated his body was not responding the way he had wanted. The former National League 2003 Cy Young award winner, holds the the major league record for converting 84 consecutive save opportunities from August 2002 to July 2004. Gagne struck out 718 batters in 643.2 innings while garnering 187 saves in a 10 year major league career.
I always hear people say, “Why do players keep trying to play, when it is obvious to everyone that they no longer have it?” Imagine this: You are five years old and your dad is bringing you to your first T-Ball game. You discover you can do something better than everyone else that is there. You see where you get loud approval from everyone including your whole family who have come to watch you play. Every year you get better and better. You are the best player among your peers and people are always saying how great you are. Things keep getting better as you are sought after by colleges and pro scouts. You become a pro and begin to make money. Fans seek you out asking for your autograph. You become famous and see yourself on TV. Everyone wants to be your friend. And then one day you can’t do it anymore at this level. You can’t believe it. It must be only temporary and you will get your skills back. You just need to find a place to play, to work things out in your head.
You think, “This can’t be happening to me. I feel that I can still do this. Than one night in a small town, on a pitchers mound that is so familiar to you, a place that has been secure and safe, your home for so many years. You look in at the catcher, batter and umpire, as people in this small 6000 seat ballpark stare back as they watch their independent league team play a game, you realize, can’t get anyone out. Your heart sinks and you now hear something for the first time in your life, BOOS.
Players never know when to stop. It is the only thing they know and feel like if they can’t do this, they will die. Eric Gagne gave it a magnificent try to continue his amazing career. The Long Island Ducks were more than willing to help him get back to his long time home in the major leagues. But it just wasn’t meant to be.
As for the Ducks, they completed a three game sweep of their division rival Somerset Patriots today with a 8 -1 win at Bethpage Park. Five of the runs came on two home runs. Alex Burg hit a two run blast in the second inning for his second in as many days and Angelo Songco smashed a three run shot on a 2-1 fastball into the wind to right in the fourth inning. Both came off of Long Island native six foot seven David Kubiak who was throwing well until he seemed to be upset when he finished his warmups early in the fourth inning and had to wait for a planned on field Sumo wrestling contest to end. Ah the wonders of minor league baseball. Kubiak went 6 innings and except for being intimidated by two fans dressed up in blow-up Sumo gear, he pitched pretty good. Ducks starter Tim Melville went six innings of three hit shutout ball and looked sharp.
But the player who looked the sharpest was Eric Gagne who showed these young players today how to be a professional to the end, with class and dignity. These young players got to see what may be in store for them one day and how to handle it. Gagne was a good presence in the locker room for these younger players and they will miss not only his knowledge of the game where he would help them but his showing them what it is like to be a big league player with class.