End of an Era

After 20 years of incredible games and high-intensity drama, one of the Atlantic League’s fiercest rivalries is coming to an end. Last week, it was announced that the Somerset Patriots would become the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees beginning with the 2021 season. The change was one of several made in the Yankees organization, with Trenton (AA), Charleston (A) and Staten Island (A-) losing their affiliations. Tampa will transition from High-A to Low-A status, and Hudson Valley, previously of the now-defunct New York-Penn League, will become the Yankees’ new High-A affiliate.

Somerset’s departure means the loss of the Atlantic League’s last remaining founding franchise. While they played their first season on the road as construction was being completed on their home ballpark, the Patriots were one of six teams that began play in the league’s inaugural season in 1998. The others included the Newburgh Black Diamonds (Lehigh Valley, 1999-2001; Pennsylvania Road Warriors, 2002-04), Nashua Pride (moved to Can-Am League in 2006), Atlantic City Surf (moved to Can-Am League in 2007), Newark Bears (moved to Can-Am League in 2011) and Bridgeport Bluefish (ceased operations after 2017 season). Now, the Long Island Ducks, who began play in 2000, are the longest-running active Atlantic League franchise.

In addition, the change also marks the end of one of the top rivalries in ALPB history. While the Ducks always maintained their cross-sound feud with the Bridgeport Bluefish, highlighted by the annual battle for the Ferry Cup since 2009, the Ducks and Patriots grew to become true foes over the past decade. Each season featured closely-contested matchups that often included extra-inning marathons, walk-off thrillers, and edge-of-your-seat drama.

In 20 years of regular season matchups, the Ducks held a 194-188 advantage over the Patriots, having played more games against the Pats than any other team. However, prior to 2019 (a year in which the Ducks won a championship and Somerset missed the playoffs), the margin was just one game (182-181 in favor of the Ducks). Long Island held a 103-91 advantage in Central Islip, while Somerset had a 97-91 edge in New Jersey. From 2014-2018, the teams split their season series three times, with the Ducks earning an 11-9 series win in the other two.

Like any good rivalry though, it is the playoff meetings that truly make it special. Prior to 2013, Long Island had never faced Somerset in the postseason, and the two were in opposite divisions. The Patriots didn’t become a Liberty Division opponent until 2014. However, over the past seven years, the Ducks and Patriots did battle in five different postseason series, including four consecutive Liberty Division Championship Series matchups from 2015-18.

Four of those five playoff series needed all five games to determine a winner, with the other needing four games. One saw the Ducks come back from 2-0 down to win. Another saw the Patriots rally from a 2-1 deficit to win. Two others saw Long Island go ahead 2-0 before Somerset answered back to even it, only to see Long Island ultimately clinch the series on the road. Let’s look back at those epic playoff matchups:

2013 ATLANTIC LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

The first-ever postseason meeting between the teams would decide the 2013 ALPB title. Long Island used some late drama to claim the first two games at home, as Josh Barfield’s eighth-inning three-run homer won Game One, and a three-run sixth-inning gave the Ducks a Game Two victory. Cory Aldridge’s three-homer Game Three kept the series going, and a 16-inning nail biter in Game Four forced a decisive Game Five. Ray Navarrete’s three-run homer in the fourth inning of Game Five, his final career game, put the Ducks on top for good. John Brownell pitched into the ninth inning to cap a Championship Series MVP performance, and the Ducks took the finale 6-4 to complete back-to-back championship runs.

2015 LIBERTY DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

This series would also begin on Long Island, but it was the Patriots who struck first blood, claiming a 5-3 win in Game One. The Ducks evened the series with a 5-4 win in Game Two, highlighted by Sean Burroughs’ eighth-inning RBI single. Long Island was riding high after their 9-4 triumph in Game Three, but Somerset’s pitching shut out the Ducks from that point on. Will Oliver’s complete game in Game Four evened the series, and Roy Merritt, who the Patriots acquired for a player to be named later from Sugar Land on August 31, also went the distance in Game Five to claim the series. Following the series, Merritt’s rights were returned to Sugar Land.

2016 LIBERTY DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

Long Island and Somerset again faced each other in the first round, though this series began in New Jersey. Scott Kelly’s walk-off homer in the 11th inning of Game One and a 14-strikeout night by Nik Turley gave the Patriots a 2-0 series lead. However, Long Island became a different team when they returned home. Nick Struck threw seven innings of one-run ball to win Game Three for the Flock, and Anthony Vega’s two-run homer in Game Four was all Long Island needed to even the series. The Ducks plated four runs in the first inning of Game Five and held that lead to complete the comeback from 0-2 down in the series and clinch the Liberty Division crown.

2017 LIBERTY DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

Somerset broke out the bats on Long Island to begin their third consecutive first-round matchup with the Ducks. A 7-1 victory in Game One put the Patriots in a good position, but the Ducks countered in Game Two behind Alex Burg’s three-hit night and a strong performance from the bullpen. Jake Fisher turned in one of the all-time great playoff performances before a sellout crowd at Somerset in Game Three. His complete game, nine-strikeout night gave the Ducks a 2-1 lead in the series. The next night, after seeing Somerset rally for two runs in the eighth to tie the game, the Ducks took the lead back in the ninth courtesy of a Giovanny Alfonzo RBI fielder’s choice to win the game, 4-3, and the series, 3-1.

2018 LIBERTY DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

The 2018 playoffs began in quite surprising fashion. Instead of the usual nail biters, the Ducks routed the Patriots in Games One and Two on Long Island, combining to outscore their rivals 20-3. However, anyone expecting a sweep would be disappointed. Somerset overcame 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to take Game Three and used three homers to claim a 5-3 win in Game Four. Another decisive Game Five was needed. Fernando Abad pitched three perfect innings of relief for the Ducks, and Francisco Rodriguez worked around a leadoff double in the ninth to force extra innings. Ramon Cabrera’s 10th-inning two-out RBI single broke a 2-2 tie, and Matt Larkins nailed down the save in the bottom half of the frame to clinch the division title.

In the end, the Ducks went 14-10 against the Patriots in their 24 postseason meetings, including a dominant 9-2 on Long Island (compared to 5-8 in New Jersey). Long Island went from no playoff meetings with Somerset for 13 years to now having faced Somerset more than any other team in the postseason.

Much remains to be seen regarding the landscape in Minor League Baseball prior to the start of the 2021 season. Despite losing Somerset, the Atlantic League has thus far added one franchise in Gastonia, North Carolina. There have been media reports and speculation regarding multiple markets that could bring new teams into the Atlantic League in 2021 and beyond. One thing is clear though: The Ducks will be looking for a new rival. Who will it be, and will it ever live up to the excitement of Ducks-Patriots? Let us know what you think in the comments section.

Quack of the Bat Visits Cooperstown

In the difficult times we are all currently facing with the COVID-19 pandemic, many baseball fans have been unable to enjoy their favorite sport as they normally would. 2020 has seen a very abbreviated Major League Baseball season and only a select few other teams take the field to play ball in empty ballparks or with extremely light crowds. With the Atlantic League being unable to have a season this year, Quack of the Bat decided to get a bit of a baseball fix by heading up to Cooperstown, N.Y. recently to check out the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

For those that love baseball, this trip is a MUST. This little town is about four and a half hours away from Long Island (depending where on the island you’re traveling from), and Main Street is a baseball paradise. Shops filled with Cooperstown souvenirs and baseball memorabilia line the street along with some great restaurants. A favorite is Doubleday Café! All of those lead to the Hall of Fame at the end of the street, the pinnacle landing spot for any baseball player.

The Hall of Fame contains a litany of artifacts from throughout baseball history, dating all the way back to the 1800s. Its archive of baseball, bats, jerseys, gloves, lockers and so many other treasures of baseball is what makes this place so special. New York baseball fans especially will love the many references to their beloved team. Yankees fans will find a giant wall showcasing the 27 World Series championships the Yankees have won, including a replica of the 1996 Commissioner’s Trophy in front of it, and uniforms worn by the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Mets fans can enjoy a peek at a batting helmet worn by Ray Knight, a baseball from Johan Santana’s no-hitter, a jersey donned by Dwight Gooden, and so much more.

Not only is Cooperstown home to many Major League Baseball artifacts, but it is also the place where a special piece of Atlantic League history resides. Within the past year, the Hall of Fame added an earpiece worn by ALPB home plate umpire Fred DeJesus to the end of its “Whole New Ballgame” exhibit on the second floor. In the “Today’s Game” showcase, the earpiece rests on a shelf with a description acknowledging the league’s use of an electronic strike zone in 2019.

The earpiece was worn by DeJesus during the Long Island Ducks game against the New Britain Bees on July 25, 2019, in what was the first Atlantic League regular season game to implement the Automated Ball-Strike System (ABS). Following the first inning, the earpiece was presented by DeJesus and his fellow-umpires to Ducks Founder/CEO Frank Boulton, who would then donate the artifact to the Hall of Fame on behalf of the ALPB.

However, this is not the first time the Atlantic League has had an item on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Back in 2015, the league debuted a new baseball with red and blue seams at the All-Star Game in Bridgeport. It has since used that baseball during all games. The baseball that D.J. Mitchell threw for the first pitch of the 2015 All-Star Game was donated to the Hall of Fame following the game. As noted in the description, it recalls the stitches used on American League baseballs through 1933. Additionally, last year, the cleats Blue Crabs outfielder Tony Thomas wore when he became the first player in baseball history to steal first base, were also donated to the Hall of Fame.

Several other artifacts are on display that have connections to the Atlantic League throughout the Hall of Fame. Here are a few of them:

Induction Plaques of ALPB alumni Gary Carter, Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines

Catching Mitt worn by Gary Carter

Angels Jersey worn by ALPB alumnus Francisco Rodriguez

Team Israel Cap worn by ALPB alumnus Josh Zeid

To conclude, a visit to Cooperstown should be on every baseball fans’ bucket list, and there has never been a better time to visit. For more information, go to BaseballHall.org.

Have you been to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown? What do you enjoy most about this special place? Do you have a favorite artifact on display? Comment and let us know!

Ducks Memorable Moment Madness Champion

Ducks Moment Madness Final

Hundreds of votes were cast over the last 24 hours, and thousands of votes were cast throughout the tournament. With a resounding 83.7% of the vote in the finals, your Ducks #MemorableMomentMadness champion is…

Thank you to everyone who voted throughout the tournament and made this an absolute blast! We loved re-living all of the tremendous memories throughout the team’s 20-year history.

Ducks Memorable Moment Madness: Championship Game

Ducks Moment Madness 043020II

We are down to the final two teams that will compete for the Ducks Memorable Moment Madness championship. We had hundreds of fans cast ballots this week for the two Final Four matchups, and voting was fairly close in both the Western and Eastern Brackets. In addition to votes, many fans commented with their reasoning for why they voted for the moment they did, with several acknowledging that these were the hardest matchups to vote for thus far. With that said, here are results from the semifinals of the tournament:

WESTERN BRACKET   EASTERN BRACKET
[1] “The Bunt” 59.5%   [1] Ray is Hits King 51.8%
[3] Buddy’s #3 Night 40.5% [1] Henderson’s No-No 48.2%

And so, it’s onto the Championship Game of the tournament to decide what the greatest moment in Ducks history has been over the franchise’s first 20 seasons. This is unquestionably an intriguing matchup, with two top-seeds going at it for the crown. The Western Bracket winner comes from the Playoff Moments Region and is a championship-winning play from a 20th Anniversary All-Time Team member. The Eastern Bracket winner hails from the Player Awards Region and also features a 20th Anniversary All-Time Team member who holds several franchise records, including the one that is being recognized in this instance.

For one final time, here are the details regarding the two moments vying for the championship to help you better make your ultimate selection:

Lyons2
#1 – “The Bunt”

In Game Five of the 2012 Atlantic League Championship Series at Bethpage Ballpark, Ducks shortstop Dan Lyons ended the team’s eight-year title drought in the most unfathomable way possible: A bunt single up the third base line. The perfectly-placed bunt scored Matt Esquivel with the winning run. It remains the only one of Long Island’s four championships to be clinched on their home playing field. Lyons earned Championship Series MVP honors for his heroics.

NavarreteHitsKing
#1 – Ray is Hits King

Justin Davies held the record for most hits in Ducks history from the time he retired in 2005 until the 2011 season. At that point, Ray Navarrete had already become the team’s leader in home runs, RBIs, runs scored and doubles. However, on May 22, 2011, he would also become the hits king in dramatic fashion. His go-ahead three-run home run in the ninth inning at York gave him 616 hits in his Ducks career, officially surpassing Davies.

With all the information at your disposal, which memory takes the crown as the greatest in Ducks history? Is it the walk-off bunt single that secured Long Island’s 2012 Atlantic League championship at Bethpage Ballpark? Or is it the dramatic home run that moved Ray Navarrete into sole possession of first place on the Ducks all-time hits list?

Head on over to our Facebook and Twitter pages by clicking the buttons below. Cast your votes over the next 24 hours for the moment you feel is most deserving of being the Memorable Moment Madness champion. We’ll announce the winner on Friday morning as part of the Ducks #OpeningDayatHome festivities.

ClicktoVoteFB    ClicktoVoteTW

Ducks Memorable Moment Madness: Final Four

Ducks Moment Madness 042820

And then there were four! After beginning with four outstanding memories from the first 20 season of Long Island Ducks baseball, just four remain in their bid to conquer Memorable Moment Madness. We have held three rounds of voting in each of the four regions: Playoff Moments, Special Events, Player Awards and Notable Games. Thanks to thousands of fan votes since the tournament began on March 19, we have now determined the four regional champions. Here are the voting results from the Elite 8:

WESTERN BRACKET

 

EASTERN BRACKET

[1] “The Bunt”

78.6%

  [1] Ray is Hits King

56.9%

[2] Navarrete’s HR

21.4%

  [3] Navarrete ’09 MVP

43.1%

         
[1] Inaugural Game

31.3%

  [1] Henderson’s No-No

66.7%

[3] Buddy’s #3 Night

68.7%

  [7] 18-Inning Game

33.3%

Congratulations to each of the four regional champions! As has been the case throughout the competition, voting in some of the matchups was fairly close while others were no contest. Each of the four remaining moments certainly has a case for why it should be dubbed the greatest in franchise history. However, just one will hold that title, and we’ll find out which over the next three days.

The Final Four will feature the regional champs from the left side of the bracket (a.k.a. the Western Bracket) facing one another while the winners from the right side (a.k.a. the Eastern Bracket) doing the same. The top-seed from the Playoff Moments Region, “The Bunt”, will battle the three-seed from the Special Events Region, Buddy’s #3 Night, in the Western Bracket. Then, in a match-up of two top-seeds, Ray is Hits King of the Player Awards Region takes on Henderson’s No-No of the Notable Games Region. Before voting begins, here are the details on each of the remaining competitors:


WESTERN BRACKET

Lyons2
#1 – “The Bunt”

In Game Five of the 2012 Atlantic League Championship Series at Bethpage Ballpark, Ducks shortstop Dan Lyons ended the team’s eight-year title drought in the most unfathomable way possible: A bunt single up the third base line. The perfectly-placed bunt scored Matt Esquivel with the winning run. It remains the only one of Long Island’s four championships to be clinched on their home playing field. Lyons earned Championship Series MVP honors for his heroics.

BuddyNight
#3 – Buddy’s #3 Night

On August 3, 2018, the Ducks celebrated Bud Harrelson Appreciation Night. Buddy’s famous #3 was retired by the organization in a special pre-game ceremony. Speeches were made by Boulton, Manager Kevin Baez, and Buddy’s daughter, Kassie, on behalf of his family. Ducks players and coaches also paid tribute while helping raise awareness for Alzheimer’s, which Harrelson was recently diagnosed with, by donning special purple jerseys throughout the game, each featuring number three on the back.


EASTERN BRACKET

NavarreteHitsKing
#1 – Ray is Hits King

Justin Davies held the record for most hits in Ducks history from the time he retired in 2005 until the 2011 season. At that point, Ray Navarrete had already become the team’s leader in home runs, RBIs, runs scored and doubles. However, on May 22, 2011, he would also become the hits king in dramatic fashion. His go-ahead three-run home run in the ninth inning at York gave him 616 hits in his Ducks career, officially surpassing Davies.

HendersonNoNo
#1 – Henderson’s No-No

Rod Henderson threw the first, and only, no-hitter in Ducks history on May 25, 2001. In a 3-0 win over the Atlantic City Surf at EAB Park, the right-hander went the distance, allowing just two walks while striking out 10 batters. He faced just one batter over the minimum and needed just 108 pitches to seal the deal. The two-year MLB veteran was also the first Atlantic League pitcher to throw a no-hitter.

It’s time to find out which two moments will meet up in the Championship Game of Memorable Moment Madness. Cast your votes on Tuesday and Wednesday for the moments you feel should advance by visiting our Facebook and Twitter pages. Simply click the buttons below to visit them! Once the two have been decided, Thursday’s tournament finale will decide the ultimate champion.

ClicktoVoteFB    ClicktoVoteTW

%d bloggers like this: