Long Island Ducks Set to Get Going in 2007
"Our job is to make baseball fun again."
A simple statement made by Long Island Ducks manager Dave LaPoint at the end of the Media Day press conference on May 3 at Citibank Park. But it rings so true, for players and fans alike.
The ballpark in Central Islip had over 100,000 square feet of Kentucky Bluegrass sod installed in March, and was noticeable on first look.
"We wanted to improve the experience for not only our players, but our fans, as well," said general manager Michael Pfaff.
Currently in their eighth season in the Atlantic League, the Ducks have become part of the fabric on Long Island. The league is also celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2007, and Principal Owner/CEO Frank Boulton pointed out, "This season, the Atlantic League has 75 out of 200 players with major league experience. Five of the players on the Ducks were in the majors last season."
Two of those players were seated at the dais, and both of them wore New York Mets uniforms at one point in their major league careers. Edgardo Alfonzo commented on why he is here with the Ducks, "I live here in New York. I got to play with Dave (LaPoint) in Bridgeport last year. Hopefully, I will prove that I can still play."
Carl Everett won a World Series ring with the Chicago White Sox in 2005 when he hit .251 with 23 home runs and 87 RBI. He, too, is hoping to use his time on Long Island as a springboard back to 'the show.'
"I play the same way no matter if it was a pick-up game with my kids on the street. It's what's inside of you," he said.
Bud Harrelson is 'Mr. Duck,' and said, "I'm very happy that Dave (LaPoint) is back. He went away from us and became the Manager of the Year last year. Dave, Don (McCormack) and I are like the Three Musketeers."
McCormack is now the Ducks' bench coach after managing the team for six seasons. In addition to Harrelson, the coaching staff is rounded out with Brooklynite Kevin Baez, who is scheduled to interview shortly with a major league organization for a managerial or coaching position.
What has been the course of business in the Atlantic League is that the better your team performs, the better the chances that you will lose your top players to the major leagues. Since their inaugural season in 2000, the Ducks have had 31 players sold to major league teams, mostly at the AA or AAA level.
"We know we're going to lose some guys and have to find good players to replace them," said LaPoint. "That's the only bump in the road."
One area of strength that will survive even with a loss to the bigs is short relief. LaPoint named Danny Graves his closer, and pointed out that his 182 major league saves gives him the edge over Todd Erdos and Kevin Tolar. Amassing 40 saves over the last two seasons with the Ducks, Erdos is quite capable and also has major league experience. Tolar took over the closer's role for the Ducks in 2006 after Erdos' contract was purchased by the Brother Elephants of the Taiwan League on June 29. The 6'3", 230-pound Tolar pitched for the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox and had 17 saves and a 1.90 ERA last season on Long Island.
The starting rotation will be one of the better in the AL, which is known more as a hitter's league than a pitcher's. Donovan Osborne and John Halama are two crafty major league veteran lefties and will be joined by Pat Ahearne, who set a Ducks' team single-season record last year for wins with a 12-4 mark.
The season begins this weekend with a three-game home set versus the Camden Riversharks. A year ago, the Ducks took 10 out of the 18 games played between the two clubs. Ahearne was named the starter by LaPoint, who further stated that Osborne was the original starter but will miss the game with an illness.