A Homecoming of Sorts

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Carmine Giardina, one of the newest signings by the Long Island Ducks for 2015, is a Long Island native. Sort of. He was born in Manhasset on February 20, 1988 and spent the first two years of his life on Long Island. However, he then moved to Florida with his family and has lived there ever since. They first set up camp on the east side of the state in Boca Raton before heading west to Tampa when he was eight. He now lives just outside of the city in Valrico, Florida, but he’s excited to get back to his original home this year.

“It’s awesome!” he exclaimed via telephone. “My Dad’s whole side of the family is still up on Long Island, and they’ve never had the chance to see me play. I know all of them are really excited to come out to the games.”

The left-handed pitcher signed with the Ducks on Monday, giving the Flock their third lefty reliever and fourth southpaw pitcher for the upcoming year. He’ll join fellow bullpen mates Tommy Organ, who opened eyes with the Flock 2014, and Patrick Crider, who is coming off of a career year this past season. The other lefty on the pitching staff is three-year Ducks veteran Eric Niesen. Giardina has handled a couple of different roles throughout his four-year professional career, and he can be a strong weapon for the Ducks at key points during games.

“I’m just a typical lefty reliever,” he noted. “I throw a fastball, slider and changeup from a three-quarter arm slot, so I have some deception and can be a little tougher on lefty hitters. My role in the minor leagues has been as a sixth or seventh inning bridge guy to the set-up man or closer and as a lefty specialist. ”

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Getting to play for the team that calls his original birthplace home is undoubtedly a major factor in why Giardana agreed to sign with the Ducks. However, there was another paramount reason as to why the lure of playing on Long Island enticed the lefty. In an area that includes nine major professional teams as well as a host of other minor league organizations, Giardina’s favorite is the only one that calls Long Island its home (at least for now).

“It’s good timing that I’m coming to play there with the Islanders in the playoffs because I’m a huge Islanders fan,” he said. “It’s kind of weird since I was only up there for a couple of years and am a huge fan. It’ll be fun to be up there as that whole playoff ride is going on as well as playing for the Ducks. It’ll be a good time!”

He better hope that saying the Isles are already in the playoffs doesn’t become a curse! As of Wednesday, they had still yet to clinch a spot.

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His love for the Islanders can be traced back to his days as a youngster in Florida with Long Island roots. Giardina’s father, Sal, is a native Long Islander and graduate of Wantagh High School. He is also a diehard Islanders fan. Before Carmine was born, Sal was avidly cheering on his favorite team during their run to four consecutive Stanley Cups during the early 1980’s. When Carmine entered the world, he passed along his love for the Isles, even when they moved over a thousand miles south.

“I grew up watching all of the hockey games with him,” he recalled. “We used to have the NHL package and watch all of the games. When they came to Tampa to play the Lightning, I would go to all of the practices and games. I think I have an Eric Cairns hockey stick and a Pierre Turgeon jersey back from when I was little. It’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun watching them!”

Despite the Giardina family living far away from Uniondale, N.Y., they would find a way to return and watch their beloved Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum. According to Carmine, he and his Dad usually return to Long Island every couple of years to visit his Dad’s side of the family. He estimates that he has been to about five or six games at the ‘ol barn.’

However, after this season comes to a close, the Islanders will be packing up and moving to Brooklyn, vacating the place they’ve called home since 1972. For some fans, especially those who have followed the team since its early days, they are upset the team is leaving town. For others, they like the idea of moving to a new, more comfortable arena. The Giardina family offers that same difference of opinion.

“I think it’s a good move for them!” Carmine stated. “Obviously, I don’t have the ties like a lot of Long Islanders do, but from a personnel standpoint, a lot of players are probably excited to go there with the new building. I know a lot of players were hesitant to sign a long-term contract because they didn’t know where the Islanders were going to be. Now, they kind of have more stability, and they can use the Boychuk and Leddy signings to help keep players there.”

As for Sal, he responded, “I’m upset. I’ve been going to games there since 1972, and I think that they are a staple for Long Island. I’m disappointed to see them leave that building, especially with all of the history that has happened there.”

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Much is to be seen as to how the Islanders fare the rest of the way and to how the players and their fans adapt to a new home. For Carmine though, the focus will be on his new home with the Ducks. 2015 will be the 27-year-old’s first experience with independent baseball after spending his first four years trying to climb the organizational ladder with the Angels. He reached as high as Double-A Arkansas in 2013 and 2014, but he was ultimately released by the organization following Spring Training this year. With a new opportunity at his doorstep, Giardina is ready to jump into the new experience and atmosphere.

“I’m excited for more of a team atmosphere,” he said. “It’s not as ‘business-like’ as Major League Baseball where everyone is worried about who’s moving up and down, stuff like that. This is baseball in its purest form. I work out with [Ducks pitcher] Sergio Perez in the offseason. We throw together and I’ve been talking to him, and he has nothing but good things to say about it. I’m excited to get up there.”

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Perez got his first taste of independent baseball with the Ducks in 2014, and he found success quickly, posting a 1-1 record with a 2.37 ERA in 20 games out of the bullpen. Giardina and Perez’s relationship can be connected back at the University of Tampa, where both played collegiate baseball. Although they never played together (Perez pitched there from 2004-06, and Giardina was there in 2009 and 2010), the two were able to share their experiences at their alma mater.

“He got drafted in 2006 when I graduated high school, but then he was always around at our practices in 2009 and 2010,” he reminisced. “He’d be getting ready for his season, and as we moved into pro ball, we would go back to Tampa and throw bullpens. It’s good to throw with each other. We know what we need to do to be successful because we know what both of us look like when we are really good or pretty bad. We know what each of us needs to do to adjust.”

He is not the only newcomer on the pitching staff for the Flock. As of Wednesday, six of the 10 pitchers signed for 2015 have never before played with the Ducks. In addition, pitching coach Marty Janzen will also be making his Long Island debut. With a new mentor guiding him in a new location for both, Giardina is eager for the opportunity to mesh early and learn as much as he can.

“From what I’ve heard Janzen is great,” he affirmed. “I was talking to my college coach, Sam Militello, and I think he and Marty came up in the Yankees system together. He knows Marty, and he’s had nothing but good things to say about him. He’s got the experience, and it’s great to learn from someone like that.”

With new opportunities and the chance to return to his original home, Giardina is primed for the chance to become a big part of the Ducks pitching staff and get back to his roots. However, being that he has not pitched on Long Island before or experienced the Atlantic League, he is trying to keep things simple heading into the year. When asked about his goals for this season, Giardina just wants to be successful.

“I want to go out there and get outs when I’m called on,” he said. “That’s really all of our goals as pitchers. For me, it’s just to be consistent every outing and hopefully win some games. It’s all about winning [in the Atlantic League]. I know the team has had some success recently, so hopefully we win again. Playoffs are always fun!”

If his beloved Islanders oblige, Giardina might be enjoying a double dose of fun in 2015.

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Posted on April 8, 2015, in Player Signings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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