Weekend Debate: Top Kevin Baez Moments
Happy Friday Ducks fans! On this January 10, 2014, we here at Bethpage Ballpark are celebrating the birthday of manager Kevin Baez. Today, the Atlantic League veteran and former New York Met turns 47 years old. Baez has been one of the most recognizable faces in a Ducks uniform since coming to the Duck Pond in 2002, the team’s third year of existence. Now over a decade later, he is getting ready to embark on another season of Ducks baseball, their 15th Anniversary Season.
As a player with the Flock, Baez had many great moments during parts of four seasons with Long Island. From a championship to an All-Star Game MVP award to countless exciting games, the list goes on and on. Then, during the 2005 campaign, he became a player/coach before moving to a full-time coaching position in 2006. He eventually became the team’s manager in 2011, and his success since taking over that role has been incredible. Two more championship rings are now added to his resume along with memories that Ducks fans and his players will never forget. Let’s take a look back at some of Kevin’s top moments as a player as well as during his coaching career with the Ducks.
2004 was a magical year for many reasons with the Ducks, but one night that will stand out for Baez was that of Wednesday, July 14. At Campbell’s Field in Camden, New Jersey, the Ducks shortstop was representing the North Division at the Atlantic League All-Star Game. Playing for Buddy Harrelson, who was managing the North Division squad that season against Somerset’s Sparky Lyle, Baez put together a 2-for-4 performance with two RBI and scored the go-ahead run, leading the North to a 10-8 victory over the South Division. The win broke a two-game losing streak for the North Division, and Baez’s performance earned him the Most Valuable Player Award in the Midsummer Classic.
Later during that 2004 season, Baez and the Ducks earned their first ever postseason berth with a thrilling victory over the Bridgeport Bluefish to decide the First Half champion. In the postseason, Long Island defeated the Nashua Pride two games to one to win the North Division before heading to face Camden for the Atlantic League title. A pair of walk-off wins put the Ducks on top two games to none, and on the field where Baez won MVP honors earlier that season, he helped lead the Ducks to a series sweep and the franchise’s first ever Atlantic League championship. Baez hit .263 in the postseason during the 2004 campaign and his hit by pitch in Game Three of the Series brought home the game-winning run. Not to mention, his defense at short was also critical in leading the Ducks to the trophy and his first-ever championship in 17 seasons of professional baseball.
Major League franchises twice came calling for Baez during his time with the Ducks. The first was in 2003, Baez’s second season in the green and orange. The shortstop hit .293 in 92 games that season and was named to the Atlantic League All-Star Team. Because of his success, the Cincinnati Reds signed the then 36-year-old on August 3, and he would go on to play 10 games with Triple-A Louisville. Four years later, Baez was serving as the infield coach for the Ducks when the Mets came calling. Baez reported in May to the Mets’ spring training facility in Port St. Lucie and then coached in New York’s minor league system during the summer. The team which he played three seasons and 63 games for now was giving him another chance once his playing days were complete.
There was a great deal of pressure on Kevin Baez in 2011, his first as a manager for the Ducks. Following a disappointing 2010 campaign, the former Duck infielder was tasked with leading the Ducks back to the postseason after the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Baez and a talented roster of veteran leadership and energetic youth set out on a mission from day one and put together one of the best regular seasons in Ducks history. Long Island went 40-23 in the First Half to secure a playoff spot and kept their foot on the gas in the second half, posting a 38-24 record. For the first time in franchise history, the team had won both the first and second half titles in the Liberty Division. Baez then went on to lead the Ducks to a 3-1 series win over Southern Maryland in the first round of the playoffs. While their magical run eventually ended in Game Four of the ALCS against York, there’s no discounting the success that first season was for the newest Ducks skipper.
2012 presented a bit more of a roller coaster ride for Baez in his second year as manager. He led the Ducks to another outstanding first half at 39-30, becoming the first manager in Ducks history to win back-to-back First Half titles and three consecutive half-season titles. He also joined Dave LaPoint as the only mangers to earn playoff appearances in each of their first two seasons managing the Flock. However, the second half was a bit of a struggle for Baez’s team, and Long Island went into the playoffs as an underdog unlike the 2011 campaign. However, the team rallied behind their skipper and won a thrilling five-game series over Southern Maryland before heading to the Atlantic League Championship Series. There stood the mighty Lancaster Barnstormers, who had just set the league record for wins in a season with 88. That didn’t matter though, as the Ducks rallied from 1-0 and 2-1 series deficits to win in five games and earn the team’s first title in eight years. Doing it on their home field at Bethpage Ballpark in waddle-off fashion made the victory that much sweeter.
If the 2012 season was highlighted by an underdog toppling a huge favorite, 2013 would be no different for Baez and Long Island. In his third season as manager, the Brooklyn native once again had to deal with some bumps in the road. The Ducks did not win the First Half title this time and fought hard in the Second Half to keep their grasp on first place and win the Liberty Division. Back in the postseason for a third consecutive season, Baez’s team once again came together at the right time and found the success they had been looking for all year. The Ducks won their first five playoff games in 2013, including a three-game sweep of the Blue Crabs in the Liberty Division Championship Series. Despite a couple of walk-off losses to Somerset in Games Three and Four of the ALCS that could have easily destroyed the team’s hopes of back-to-back titles, John Brownell, Ray Navarrete and a cast of heroes lifted the Ducks in Game Five to win the series three games to two once again. Baez had now been to three consecutive Championship Series as well, doing something only one other manager in Atlantic League history had done before (Sparky Lyle, Somerset, ’99-’01; ’07-’09).
So, which of these memories was your favorite of Baez during his career thus far with the Ducks? Are there any other memories that stick out in your mind of Long Island’s skipper? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section on this story and be sure to vote in the Fowl Poll at the bottom of the page. Also, feel free to leave your birthday wishes for Kevin, and we will be sure to pass those along!
Posted on January 10, 2014, in Weekend Debate and tagged All-Star Game, Atlantic League, Bethpage Ballpark, Championship, Duck Pond, Kevin Baez, Long Island Ducks, Major League Baseball, MVP. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.