Debate: Who is the Ducks’ Biggest Rival?
We hope that everybody enjoyed this past week in the New York area. It featured something that had not taken place in 27 years. Six of the nine major professional sports teams were in action against each other in three games during a span of five days. On Wednesday, the Islanders came away with a 2-1 shootout win over the Rangers in their first-ever meeting at Barclays Center. Friday night saw the Knicks blow out the rival Nets 108-91 in a matchup of the Lopez brothers (Robin and Brook). The week culminated with a dramatic 23-20 overtime win for the Jets over the Giants in a battle between two teams in the thick of playoff chases. It was the first time that these three local rivalry games all occurred in the same week since December of 1988. That year, the Rangers, Knicks and Jets were all winners over their area rivals.
With all of the local flair dominating the headlines this past week, it got us thinking here at Bethpage Ballpark. Who would you consider as the Ducks’ biggest rival? For the first 13 seasons of Ducks baseball, nearly everyone would likely answer that question with the Bridgeport Bluefish. However, recent history has certainly seemed to shift some of the focus toward the Somerset Patriots. It is an interesting debate in which a strong case can be made for both teams. Let’s take a look at the arguments for both sides:
The Bluefish were one of the original Atlantic League teams, and the Ducks entered the fray in the league’s third season. From the moment the Ducks entered, the two have been natural rivals. Separated by a small expanse on the Long Island Sound, the teams quickly developed a cross-sound rivalry in which both teams would take the Port Jeff Ferry when visiting their foe for a series. In addition, no other teams were playing in the New York Metro area at the time, so those two were the closest to each other.
As for the actual matchups, both teams have played some intensely fierce battles to this point. All-time, the head-to-head series stands at a very tight 158-154 in favor of the Bluefish. In addition, arguably the greatest game in Ducks franchise history came against the Bluefish on August 9, 2004. That, of course, was when the Ducks rallied for a 5-4 win to clinch their first-ever playoff berth. On that evening, hundreds of the “Faithful Flock” traveled across the sound to cheer on their team at The Ballpark at Harbor Yard. Both teams also met in the 2006 North Division Championship Series, and the Bluefish, managed by former Ducks coach Dave LaPoint, got some revenge with a 2-0 series sweep of the Ducks. Since 2009, Long Island and Bridgeport have played for the Ferry Cup, with the Ducks holding a 4-3 advantage in Cups won (2009, ’11, ’13, ’14).
On the other side of the argument, the Ducks and Bluefish have met just that one time in the postseason, where rivalries tend to heat up the most. Comparatively, Long Island has faced Southern Maryland four different times in the postseason, all coming in a span of five years (2009-’13). In addition, they’ve faced Somerset twice, the Camden Riversharks twice and the Nashua Pride twice. Since their 2010 Championship Series appearance, Bridgeport has also failed to qualify for the playoffs as a whole. Their struggles in the regular season have lessened the feeling of desperation by fans to achieve divisional and league supremacy. Another good point comes in the fact that Bridgeport will now have a new in-state foe to match up against in the New Britain Bees. One would think the two, who are separated by about 50 miles, would develop an early rivalry beginning in 2016. Somerset correspondingly lost their in-state rivals, the Camden Riversharks, after this past season once the team ceased operations. They will no longer play for the Turnpike Cup, so the Patriots will be shifting their rivalry focus elsewhere. Could it be to the Ducks?
Long Island and Somerset did not share the same divisional rivalry that the Ducks and Bluefish did for 14 seasons. The Patriots were members of the South Division, and eventually the Freedom Division, while the Ducks were a part of the North/Liberty Division through the 2013 season. They did not have those intense divisional matchups that the Ducks and Bluefish frequently shared, and they never met in the postseason until the 2013 campaign. The closest they came was in 2003 when the Flock needed a win over the Pats in one of three games to earn a trip to the playoffs for the first time. Long Island ended up losing all three games and missed the postseason for a fourth straight year while Somerset went on to win the championship.
Despite the lack of postseason affairs, the fact remained that Bethpage Ballpark and TD Bank Ballpark were separated by just 90 miles. It also remained true that both teams did have a long history of regular season matchups and season series that were incredibly close. Through the 2012 season, the Ducks held a 123-122 advantage in the all-time series. As the years progressed, Long Island and Somerset were viewed by many as the top two teams in the Atlantic League, and that feeling of supremacy was desired most by the fan bases of both teams. The emotions finally came to a head in 2013 when the teams met in the Atlantic League Championship Series.
The first-ever playoff meeting between the Ducks and Patriots was arguably the greatest postseason series in league history. Somerset entered as the favorites after a 90-win season, and yet the Ducks jumped out to a 2-0 series lead at home. The Patriots rebounded to tie the series with back-to-back walk-off wins at home, setting up a winner-take-all Game Five in New Jersey. A Ray Navarrete three-run homer and a splendid pitching performance by John Brownell ended Somerset’s magical season and provided the icing on top of Long Island’s incredible playoff run to the title.
The rivalry was truly born in that series, and the following season, the Atlantic League featured some realignment. Somerset swapped divisions, joining the Ducks on the Liberty Division side, while Southern Maryland moved to the Freedom Division. Now, the Ducks and Patriots would be battling for division supremacy each year. Both teams went on to play to a 10-10 draw in a regular season battle that saw 13 games decided by three runs or less. Ultimately, the Patriots made the postseason by winning both halves in the Liberty Division, and the Ducks missed out on the postseason despite having a 73-67 record. Had the division remained the same, the Ducks would have won the first half at 41-29 while Southern Maryland would have been just 29-41.
2015 also saw an intense season series which the Ducks won 11-9 and had 16 games decided by three runs or less. All of that was just build-up to a Liberty Division Championship Series meeting between the two. Long Island once again went up in the series, taking a two games to one lead. However, back-to-back complete game shutouts for Somerset in Games Four and Five earned them the series win en route to their sixth Atlantic League championship.
So, that brings us to the original question. Who do you consider as the Ducks’ biggest rival? Should the original history and longer-standing divisional matchups take precedent in this decision? Or do recent clashes in the playoffs along with the addition of New Britain/subtraction of Camden outweigh the past? Let us know by voting in the poll below and leave your reasoning in the comments section of this post. We’d love to hear everybody’s opinion on this debate!
Posted on December 7, 2015, in Feature Articles and tagged 2015, Atlantic League, Bethpage Ballpark, Bridgeport Bluefish, Long Island Ducks, New Britain Bees, Rivalry, Somerset Patriots, TD Bank Ballpark, The Ballpark at Harbor Yard. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.