Puckett’s Presence Strengthens Ducks’ Core
The first brick has been laid in the construction of the 2017 Long Island Ducks roster. On Monday, the team announced Cody Puckett as its first player signing for this year, kick-starting the exciting build up to Opening Night. With his return, the infielder will begin a fourth consecutive year with the Ducks. It is certainly not difficult to see that Puckett has become an important piece of the “core” that has shaped this team during its second decade on Long Island.
“I feel like our whole team has been there for a while, not just me,” said Puckett by telephone on Monday. “There is a core group of guys that are more of the leaders, and those guys take on the bigger roles. It’s just fun to go out there and be around everybody.”
Those who have been in the clubhouse and around the team over the past three seasons know that Puckett is more of a quiet leader. He is not the most vocal guy nor does he show a great deal of emotion on the field. Instead, the California native prefers to lift the team through his performance, and he has unquestionably been a model of consistency. Just look at the numbers from those three years:
2014: .298 AVG, 10 HR, 77 RBI, 64 R, 169 H, 17 2B, 138 G
2015: .275 AVG, 9 HR, 53 RBI, 67 R, 147 H, 23 2B, 135 G
2016 .272 AVG, 9 HR, 73 RBI, 62 R, 121 H, 20 2B, 120 G
Despite the success he has had on the diamond, Puckett also knows where he stands among his teammates. While he has helped the Ducks to a Liberty Division championship in 2016, a postseason berth in 2015 and 73 regular season victories in 2014, he has yet to take home the ultimate prize in the Atlantic League. The same cannot be said for others that he shares the clubhouse with, guys like Dan Lyons and John Brownell, for example.
“Those guys have been here and won championships,” Puckett noted. “I just kind of follow their lead, and there is a mutual respect between everybody.”
Even though none of his three seasons has ended on a winning note, Long Island has become home for Puckett. The fans at Bethpage Ballpark have grown fond of his style of play, combining an ability to get on base with power and superb defense to form an overall outstanding ballplayer. He has also been a regular presence in the lineup, playing an average of 131 per season with the Ducks. With the grind that goes through a 140-game schedule along with frequent roster changes, having a player that can be as durable as Puckett goes a long way for any team. Fortunately, that team is the Ducks.
“Long Island has been really good to me, the people there are great and the fans are awesome,” he affirmed. “I wouldn’t want to be with any other team in the Atlantic League.”
Puckett posted strong numbers overall for the Ducks in 2016 as a middle-of-the-lineup bat and primary third baseman. Although his season was limited to 120 games due to minor injuries at the end of May and end of August, his 73 RBI were second-most on the team behind Fehlandt Lentini (75) and sixth-most in the Atlantic League. He also launched nine home runs, equaling his mark from 2015, and eight of them came at Bethpage Ballpark. In the end though, Puckett had mixed reviews about his season.
“I was a little disappointed in the power numbers, but I was pretty good in the RBI department so that was more important,” he recalled. “I just want to get better at hitting with runners on because you can always improve in that. Situational hitting is always big, and games always come down to that.”
Despite wanting to improve, Puckett’s numbers in key situations stood out the most in 2016. With runners on base, he posted a .318 batting average and eight home runs. With runners in scoring position, the average skyrocketed to .371. In 11 at bats with the bases loaded, Puckett hit a staggering .455 with 15 runs batted in. If Puckett can boost those numbers, watch out Atlantic League.
As for the rest of the team, the Ducks found their way into the postseason thanks to clinching the First Half Liberty Division title. Long Island then pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in league history, becoming only the second team in league history to rally from a 2-0 series deficit, as they defeated the Somerset Patriots for the Liberty Division title. However, Puckett’s dream of winning his first Atlantic League championship was dashed when the Sugar Land Skeeters swept the Ducks to claim their first-ever title. Despite achieving his first appearance in the Championship Series with Long Island, the former eighth round draft pick was left unsatisfied.
“Getting there is always a good thing, but after losing, it always leaves a sour taste in your mouth,” Puckett said. “Even if it’s in the Championship Series, it’s never a good thing to end the season on a losing note. You just want to go back out there the next year and finish the job.”
While the team fell short of its final goal, Puckett was confident that the group was good enough to become champions. Faced with a great deal of adversity during the year, losing several key pitchers to outside organizations and other players to injury, Long Island still managed to be one of the final two teams standing. It was that result which made the infielder confident about returning to the Flock.
“We were pretty solid all around last year,” Puckett noted. “Losing our starters in the middle of the year to affiliated baseball and Taiwan kind of hurt us, but besides that, there were new guys who came in and stepped up.”
He went on to add, “I think we had that good group of guys to take it all last year. Things just didn’t work out in our favor at the end, but that’s why you play the games.”
Unlike many of his teammates who flew south to play winter ball in the Caribbean, Puckett’s offseason was a bit more tranquil. The majority of his time was spent in Las Vegas, which he now calls home after moving from Apple Valley, California. Cody’s mother, Kerry, received a new job offer there, and Cody’s father, Rock, made the move with her. He hopes to get a job as an usher at the new T-Mobile Arena, home of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, who will join the National Hockey League in the fall.
Also joining Cody and his parents in Las Vegas was Cody’s girlfriend, Alexandra, a native of Long Island. The couple is currently expecting a baby in the next couple of weeks, and that has allowed them both to spend quality time together while also feverishly preparing for the arrival of the newest Ducks fan.
“It’s exciting,” Puckett exclaimed. “We’ve been getting all of our stuff ready; I think we’re pretty much all set. I’m just waiting for her to give me the word to take her to the hospital.”
They have already decided upon a name, but they’re waiting until the baby comes before revealing it.
Once April hits and Puckett makes his way out East, baseball will surely take over much of his focus. The 2015 Atlantic League All-Star knows he will be returning to the team he wants to play for and a league that has treated him well ever since he arrived in 2014. In fact, it did not take Puckett long to know that this was where he wanted to be.
“After that first year, I thought it was the most fun I had playing baseball in a long time,” he reminisced. “You just go out there and play, and that was awesome for me.”
He later noted, “In the Atlantic League, you get to see a lot of ex-big leaguers and older veterans but you also get to see a lot of younger guys coming up. It’s a very diverse league, and the competition is second to none.”
As for expectations this year, his mission is simple: “I’m looking forward to bringing a championship back there in 2017.”
Posted on January 31, 2017, in Player Signings and tagged 2017, Atlantic League, Bethpage Ballpark, Cody Puckett, Las Vegas, Liberty Division, Long Island Ducks. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.