On the night of April 28, 2000, more than 6,000 excited and curious fans packed into what was then called EAB Park in Central Islip on Long Island to witness history. On that night, the Long Island Ducks played their first home game at the beautiful ballpark that is now named Bethpage Ballpark. Twenty years later, the Ducks are still going strong and getting ready for a milestone season that has created a reflective and historic feeling.
And that’s just from the man who brought professional baseball to Long Island.
“Twenty years has gone really fast,” said Frank Boulton, the Ducks Founder/CEO and the Founder of the Atlantic League. “At some time during this year, we’ll welcome our eight millionth fan.”
Eight million fans for minor league baseball on Long Island. That’s incredible to think of because when the Ducks started there were many who thought it would just be a fad and not have staying power. But what the Ducks have done over twenty years is provide families and all fans with affordable sports entertainment in a fun atmosphere.
The fun continues next Friday May 3rd when they Ducks play their 20th home opener at Bethpage Ballpark as they welcome to the York Revolution to Central Islip. Former Mets star Wally Backman is the Ducks’ new manager this season and that night the first 1,500 fans will receive a Wally Backman bobblehead. Over the course of twenty years, the Ducks have given out items like bobbleheads, baseballs, t-shirts, bags, and quackers to go along with the great baseball on the field.
Sure there’s Major League Baseball and affiliated Minor League Baseball close by as well as the other professional sports teams in the area, but the Long Island Ducks have truly become an institution because so many fans continue to flock (no pun intended) to the ballpark. Along the way, the Ducks have won three Atlantic League Championships and they’ve created twenty years of memories that will last a lifetime.
It’s a real New York bargain…on Long Island!
“We’ve been true to our mission,” said Boulton. “We still don’t charge for parking when parking is at a premium everywhere. We’ve always tried to price up against the movies. I’ve always said that our popcorn is better. It’s still about Mom, Dad, Billy and Susan, Grandma and Grandpa. It will always be that way as long as I’m owning and operating the Ducks.”
Boulton has been involved in minor league baseball for thirty years and the last twenty with the Ducks. He’s owned teams with Major League affiliations including a Yankee club that he once tried to move from Albany to Long Island but it didn’t work out. His dream of bringing minor league baseball to Long Island never wavered so he created the Atlantic League and teamed up with former Mets player and manager Buddy Harrelson to make the Ducks a reality.
Twenty years later, the Ducks are still flourishing and the fans continue to have a great time connecting to the franchise.
“That’s really special because everybody on our staff and people who have invested their lives in this from Frank and Buddy on down…it means everything to us to have that kind of reaction from fans,” said President and General Manager Michael Pfaff. “To know that people still get a lot of joy coming out to the ballpark experiencing the entertainment that we work hard to put on is gratifying.
The Ducks have been a hit with fans of all ages. I was at that first game in 2000 as a single guy with some friends having a great night at the ballpark. Today, I’m even more excited to go to Ducks games because now I get to take my family to the ballpark. My wife Sheryl and I never have to twist the arms of our sons Bradley (13) and Jared (8) because it’s always a fun experience to go to a game.
Sure, the kids like to go to Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, but there’s something special about going to a Ducks game because there are experiences that they just don’t get elsewhere…like the night when the Ducks mascot QuackerJack sat down next to them and tried to eat some of their ice cream.
“This is their hometown team,” said Pfaff. “There was really nothing like the Ducks around when we were kids growing up on Long Island. The closest we got to the field or the players was the upper deck at Yankee or Shea Stadium. So for us to be able to provide this and for your kids to be able to know nothing but the accessibility that we preach where you’re so close that you actually touch it. That kind of accessibility is what separates us and what really makes them your team. This is Long Island’s team.”
There really is a charm and a special feeling that you experience when you come to Bethpage Ballpark. Whether you’re there with 6,000 fans at a regular season game or even this past Tuesday when I took my kids to see a spring training game there against the Long Island Black Sox. There were only a couple of hundred fans in the stadium, but it was a way to get the juices flowing for the start of the season and for my kids…well, they were in midseason form.
Bethpage Ballpark has 6,002 seats which provides an intimate and fantastic atmosphere for a baseball game. It also puts you so close to the action that there’s a great chance of coming home with a special souvenir. When Frank Boulton stopped by to say hello to me at the boys on Tuesday, my son Jared already had snagged a baseball from the game.
Bradley got one a short time later which is not a surprise. On opening night in 2017, he came home with five baseballs.
“Some people go to a major league game their entire life and never catch a ball,’ said Boulton. “You almost feel like you’re in the game. I saw your boys…they had they’re gloves and were ready to go. That’s wonderful but it’s just as wonderful to see people my age (68) and older coming out and enjoying themselves watching a baseball game, a game that they love and grew up with.”
So as the Ducks get ready for their 20th season, Boulton has two decades of memories to reflect on and so many more to look forward to. There are memories like opening night in 2000 and the three championships, but he prefers to focus on the fact that there are so many people that have had and continue to have joy at the ballpark.
His satisfaction comes from seeing smiles on so many faces regardless of what happened on the field.
“It’s sort of at the end of each season when I have reflections where you look back on a season and you see that everybody, win or lose, had a good time and then you feel mission accomplished,” said Boulton. “I don’t think there’s that one ah ha moment…maybe there’s twenty years of ah ha moments.”
From opening night in 2000 when QuackerJack arrived at the ballpark in a helicopter to three Atlantic League championships to fireworks nights to all the promotional giveaways and to all the great baseball and entertainment, millions of fans on Long Island have supported the Ducks since their inception.
So as the Ducks get ready for their 20th season, the team and the franchise is still quacking!