Had 2020 been a normal year, the twenty-year old ballpark on Court House Drive in Central Islip on Long Island would have been festive and filled with fans on Tuesday night because the Long Island Ducks would have had a home game. But this has been anything but a normal year as the 2020 Atlantic League season was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But while there was no Ducks baseball in 2020 and raising the 2019 championship banner will have to wait until opening night in 2021, the Ducks did hit a grand slam of sorts on Tuesday morning with the announcement of a new naming rights deal with Fairfield Properties for the ballpark and a new ten-year stadium lease that will keep the Ducks at what will now be called “Fairfield Properties Ballpark” on Long Island for at least the next ten years.
“Two really big things,” said Ducks Founder and CEO Frank Boulton. “The new lease for another ten years for the Ducks, that’s our lifeline. That’s our lifeblood and we have a fair lease where we can create a sinking fund to improve the ballpark.”
One of those improvements has already been made and that is an extension of the netting to protect the fans when they return to the ballpark in 2021.
“That will come out of the ballpark improvement fund,” said Boulton. It’s really a smart lease going forward for the county and for the Ducks.”
The naming rights agreement, a 15-year, $7 million deal with Suffolk County, gives Fairfield Properties the rights to place it’s branding on the ballpark as well as on about 50 roadway directional signs that are located throughout the county.
“A deal of this magnitude is appropriate for a property that has performed for both the community and its corporate partners the way the Ducks have for 20 years,” said Ducks President Michael Pfaff. “We’re excited to welcome Fairfield Properties as our new naming rights partner and look forward to delivering the type of results our partners have become accustomed to.”
The stadium is currently called “Bethpage Ballpark”, but the county’s agreement with Bethpage Federal Credit Union expires at the end of the 2020 calendar year.
Even without a Ducks season and in the middle of a pandemic, a new naming rights deal was able to be reached.
“We’re delighted,” said Boulton. “Just the fact to get to know them and their business acumen and bringing them aboard is really special for us.”
Over the first twenty years in franchise history, the Ducks have won four Atlantic League titles and they have welcomed over eight million fans through the turnstiles. But this year, there were no instructions of “play ball” from the umpires, no roars from the crowd when the Ducks mascot QuackerJack ran on the field, no promotional giveaways, no autograph sessions, no scenes of kids running the bases after a game and simply not a single fun afternoon or evening for families and fans of all ages for the first time in two decades.
The Ducks tried to partner with other area independent minor league baseball teams to play a sixty-game season and playoffs. There was a plan for 25 percent capacity which would have amounted to 1,500 fans in the 6,000-seat ballpark along with plenty of health and safety protocols.
But New York State would not approve the plan.
“It’s tougher because you don’t get to see…the people over the last twenty years have become your friends…they’re part of the Ducks family,” said Boulton. “We’ve watched little kids grow up and get married and have kids of their own and come to the ballpark. It’s a very empty feeling obviously just like this ballpark is empty right now, but it won’t be next year. We’ll be playing Ducks baseball and we have to all look forward.”
Without Ducks baseball, the ballpark was still utilized this summer and fall with baseball camps for kids and an adult kickball league. For the Ducks organization, the focus now shifts towards planning for the 2021 season, finally raising that championship banner, and creating more great memories for baseball fans all over Long Island.
And yes, the expectation is that there will be Long Island Ducks baseball in 2021.
“Right now, I’m going to be 100 percent,” said Boulton. “That’s the way we have to go at it. This ballpark wouldn’t be here if we thought 50 or 60 percent. We have to be smart about and make sure we protect our fans and we will do that.”
And with a new ten-year lease and a new naming rights deal in place, the Long Island Ducks plan on not only protecting their fans, but entertaining them as well by winning plenty of games and more championships for many years to come at Fairfield Properties Ballpark.