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The 2017 season is around the corner as spring training is underway at Bethpage Ballpark
With the start of the 2017 Atlantic League season slated for next Thursday, the Long Island Ducks began spring training on Monday. With a roster full of fresh faces and familiar returners, the Ducks have their sights set on a fourth Atlantic League championship this year. Spirits are high and minds are focused after a defeat in the ALPB Championship Series last year left the Ducks just shy of their ultimate goal.
Monday brought the first day of workouts, where the team took the field at Bethpage Ballpark for the first time for batting practice, defensive drills and simulated games. Former big leaguers Nate Freiman and Nolan Reimold dazzled in smacking the ball out of the park, while Fehlandt Lentini sprayed line drives to all fields. Catcher Alex Burg introduced himself to his new teammates by crushing homer after homer over the left field fence.
Starting pitchers John Brownell and Keith Couch looked sharp in their simulated games, and Taiwanese import and former Los Angeles Dodger Chin-Hui Tsao displayed strong command in his bullpen session. Most exchanged pleasantries and introductions, coupled with a sense of optimism for this year that made the day feel as much like an orientation as it did a practice.
More of the same took place Tuesday morning, as Freiman got things going with an impressive power display – going deep twice to dead centerfield in his first round of batting practice. Cody Puckett found his power stroke crushing long balls over all three levels of advertising in left field.
On the mound, Dennis O’Grady induced weak contact in his simulated game, keeping hitters off balance with an assortment of fastballs, curves and off-speed offerings.
Overall, the Ducks spring training roster is comprised of 17 pitchers, three catchers, six infielders and four outfielders. Eight players on the team have MLB experience, and there are nine players returning from last year’s ALPB Championship Series roster.
(Name, Position, Highest Level…* indicates Spring Training Invitee)
David Aardsma, RHP, MLB
John Brownell, RHP, A
Keith Couch, RHP, Triple-A
Patrick Crider, LHP, Ind.
Eury De La Rosa, LHP, MLB
Amalio Diaz, RHP, Triple-A
Jim Fuller, LHP, Triple-A
Matt Larkins, RHP, Ind.
Tyler Levine*, RHP, Ind.
Dennis O’Grady, RHP, Triple-A
Rafael Perez, LHP, MLB
Rob Rogers*, RHP, Triple-A
Jack Snodgrass, LHP, Triple-A
Zac Treece, RHP, Ind.
Chin-Hui Tsao, RHP, MLB
Tyler Wilson, RHP, A
(Name, Highest Level…* indicates Spring Training Invitee)
Dominic Blanco, A
Alex Burg, Triple-A
Nate Irving*, A
(Name, Highest Level)
Giovanny Alfonzo, A
Nate Freiman, MLB
Marc Krauss, MLB
Dan Lyons, A
Cody Puckett, Triple-A
Elmer Reyes, Triple-A
(Name, Highest Level)
Delta Cleary, Jr., Triple-A
Fehlandt Lentini, Triple-A
Nolan Reimold, MLB
Angelo Songco, Double-A
Spring training for the Ducks continues right through Opening Day, and will include four exhibition games. Three of the four contests will be held at Bethpage Ballpark, with the game against Bridgeport free to everyone. The other two are free for season ticket holders, with a $5 donation to the QuackerJack Foundation applying to the general public.
Thursday, April 13 – 10:30 am – Ducks at Bridgeport Bluefish
Saturday, April 15 – 1:00 pm – Bridgeport Bluefish at Ducks
Monday, April 17 – 12:00 pm – Long Island Black Sox at Ducks
Tuesday, April 18 – 12:00 pm – Long Island Black Sox at Ducks
The Ducks begin their season on Thursday, April 20 with a seven-game road trip at the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs and the Somerset Patriots. They return home for on Friday, April 28 to host the New Britain Bees at 6:35 pm. Gates open at 5:35 pm, and make sure you are part of the first 1,500 fans through the gates to receive your Rich Hill Bobblehead, courtesy of P.C. Richard & Son.
When Long Island Ducks outfielder Fehlandt Lentini was growing up playing Little League baseball, he was always thinking about getting to the next base. Often he would purposely get into pickles so he could advance a base. He was fast, aggressive, and admittedly, a little reckless at times.
Now entering his 17th professional season – and fourth with the Flock – Lentini is still fast and aggressive, but has gotten wiser in the ways of baserunning. With 450 stolen bases in 13 years in open classification circuits, the California native is the all-time independent baseball stolen base leader. At 39 years old, he shows little signs of slowing down, going 51-for-56 in stolen base attempts in 2016.
On their face, Lentini’s stolen base numbers are impressive, but when you dive further in, just how much impact he has had on his teams in just this one phase of the game becomes awe-inspiring. Beyond the glitz of the 46-for-46 perfect season in 2014, lays an impressive 539-for-643 (83.8%) career stolen base record at all levels. To put that into perspective, only one Major League Baseball player has ever attempted 500 stolen bases in his career with a better success rate – Hall of Famer Tim Raines (84.6%).
Lentini’s 51 steals as a 38-year-old becomes an even greater accomplishment when one notes that only two MLB players stole as many bases last year – Jonathan Villar, 25, of the Milwaukee Brewers stole 62; and Billy Hamilton, 25, of the Cincinnati Reds swiped 58. No player age 38 or older has swiped 50 or more bases in a season since a 39-year-old Rickey Henderson stole 66 bases with the A’s in 1998.
However, to fully grasp the impact of Lentini’s stolen bases, one needs to be introduced to two sabermetric concepts – break-even rate and stolen base runs. Simply, the break-even rate is the success rate of stealing that you need to have to have a net-positive impact on your team. The rate is around 75%, a number which Lentini easily surpasses on the whole.
Stolen base runs (or SBR) is a slightly more complicated concept. It is derived from efforts from baseball researchers Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin, whose seminal 2004 work, The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, was groundbreaking and revolutionary in baseball statistical research.
Tango, et. al. studied years of actual baseball data and were able to assign an expected run value to every single occurrence on a baseball field. Their exhaustive calculations determined that a successful stolen base was worth approximately 0.2 runs, while getting caught stealing cost your team around -0.6 runs.
With this knowledge, we can calculate that throughout his career Fehlandt Lentini has been worth 45.4 SBR during his 16-year career. Using another sabermetric finding, that 10 runs equates to roughly one win, we see that Lentini has been worth 4.54 wins throughout his career just with his base stealing ability. In his 13-years in independent baseball, Lentini has racked up 42.6 SBR, including an incredible 15.8 with the Ducks.
For some more historical MLB perspective, Tim Raines was worth 74 SBR in his 23-year career, Rickey Henderson’s 25-year career resulted in 80.2 SBR, and Lou Brock, incredibly, was worth just 3.4 SBR in his 19 years.
When compared to these titans of basestealing, Lentini’s expertise can truly be appreciated. Of course comparing across leagues and eras makes this a highly imperfect comparison, but it is useful for broad context. In an era where stolen bases are becoming a thing of the past, Lentini is able to make a huge impact on his team with just this one small phase of the game.
His goals are straightforward.
“Promote as many players as possible to MLB organizations, make everyone else’s job easier and win a championship.”
That, in a nutshell, is the plan of Billy Horn, who became the new pitching coach for the Ducks this week. He will join manager Kevin Baez and coach Bud Harrelson on a staff that has brought Long Island’s only professional baseball team incredible success, namely five playoff berths, four Liberty Division titles and two Atlantic League championships in the past six seasons. Horn is eager to join a franchise that continues to be competitive, but being part of a team so close to home for the first time in his career is a dream come true.
“I am very appreciative and thankful for being selected as the candidate,” he said. “I just thought it was the perfect fit for me, being a New York City guy. I’m really excited! I love New York City and everything that it brings with it.”
Horn spent the past two seasons as the first-ever pitching coach for the Ottawa Champions of the Can-Am League. Working under former Yankee Hal Lanier, he helped put baseball on the map in Ottawa. Most notably, he led the team to a postseason berth this past season and a pair of improbable series victories en route to the Can-Am League championship. In fact, to reach the pinnacle, Horn’s squad would have to pull off some heroics that the Ducks are surely familiar with.
“I’ve always been a big Rocky Balboa fan; I love the underdog mentality,” Horn noted. “Everyone thought we were going to lose in the first round of the playoffs against New Jersey. They had won 60 games last year whereas we had finished just over .500, but we came out and beat them. Then we lost Games One and Two in the championship to Rockland and our mentality was ‘Don’t let us win Game Three.’ We were 3-14 against them in the regular season, now 3-16 overall, so it was all about ‘let’s just have fun.’ We came out, won Game Three and the rest was history.”
Despite dropping the first two games of the series at home, Ottawa found a way to win three straight road games to clinch the title. It was a feeling and a moment that Horn will cherish forever.
“It was unbelievable winning a championship, especially in Ottawa where they had not won a professional championship in 21 years,” he reminisced. “It was very, very special, and that’s something that I want to bring over and have again this year with Long Island.”
Horn’s journey to the Ducks in fact began during that championship season. Throughout the year, he was frequently in contact with Ducks President/General Manager Michael Pfaff regarding players on both teams. Although the two sides never struck a deal, it created a connection in the baseball world. This offseason, Horn began thinking about coaching opportunities outside of Ottawa. Ultimately, an innocent text ended up paving the way to a new position.
“I just decided to text Mike out of the blue and asked him to keep me in mind if he knows of any openings in the Atlantic League as a pitching coach,” Horn recalled. “He ended up telling me to send him my resume because they were looking for a coach.”
As the interview process trekked onward, Horn remained hopeful of a promotion from the Can-Am League to the Atlantic League. In his journeys throughout baseball, he has continued to build a rolodex of contacts to network with and help him advance in his career. One of those was all-time Ducks great Doug Jennings, who he first faced when playing baseball in Italy. The two would go on to coach high school baseball together at North Broward Preparatory School in Florida and have continued to remain in touch. Sure enough, Jennings would go on to become vital in Horn’s hiring by the Ducks.
“I was working in Vero Beach looking at players, and Doug knew I was there,” Horn noted. “He contacted me to let me know his stepson was looking for an opportunity. When he came up, I had asked him if he still knew anyone with the Ducks because I was interviewing for the pitching coach job. He told me that he did and that he was going to make a call on my behalf if I didn’t mind. I said, ‘Of course not! I highly appreciate it.’”
Thanks in part to the recommendation of Jennings, along with several others who reached out to the Ducks on Horn’s behalf, Long Island had found its new pitching coach. Although his time in Ottawa and the relationships built there were unforgettable, Horn was excited for the opportunity to move up to the Atlantic League and take on new challenges. He was also positive that Long Island was the ideal landing spot for him.
“Long Island is just first class all the way,” Horn affirmed. “Everyone that I have spoken to, whether it be managers, coaches, or friends of mine that have played at every level, has said that if you’re going to go anywhere from Ottawa, it’s got to be Long Island. They treat their players, their staff, their coaches and their fans right.”
He went on to say, “I’m also really looking forward to working with Buddy. I’ve heard that Buddy is a fantastic guy and is an old-timer just like Hal. He’s been around the game for a long time, and working with guys like him and Kevin and Mike, who know the game and know players, is something I love.”
While Horn can’t wait to join the coaching staff on Long Island, his coaches are sure to grow fond of the work ethic and style that Horn brings to the table. His enthusiastic and welcoming personality are both clearly evident when communicating with him, but it’s his eagerness to help others and take on many responsibilities that will go a long way.
“I’m just a hard working guy,” Horn stated. “I’ll probably get there every day at 10:00 a.m., go to the gym, work out, work on looking for players and work with the pitching staff. My job is to just take care of whatever the players need, whatever the coaching staff needs, whatever the front office needs or whatever my clubhouse manager needs. That’s just the kind of person I am.”
The relationship between a manager and a pitching coach is extremely important. It is imperative for both to be on the same page, share open dialogue on a consistent basis and be able to trust one another when important decisions need to be made. For the pair of New Yorkers, it seems that Baez and Horn will have no problem gelling and creating a formula that will yield positive results from the pitching staff and the team as a whole.
“Kevin and I have spoken, and everything that I have done previously with Ottawa is exactly what he is looking for in regards to me coming to Long Island,” said Horn. “Things like staying in constant communication with him in regards to health and who needs a day off on the staff are important. I think it’s going to be a very smooth transition. We’re both very laid back but want to win every single game, work hard all day and are looking to win a championship.”
In addition to bonding with the coaching staff, it will be paramount for Horn to develop a harmony with his pitchers. The 37-year-old will be faced with the task of developing a bond with many players that have reached the Major Leagues or have spent extended time with Major League organizations. Horn’s professional career saw him play a few seasons in the Italian Baseball League and one year with the Long Beach Armada of the independent Golden Baseball League. Although he may not have the same credentials as some of his predecessors, Horn has forged a technique that he believes will work well.
“I tend to be fairly quiet in the first couple of weeks that I’m there,” Horn noted. “I have a very laid back and relaxed approach with my players. A lot of them have worked with guys who have been to All-Star Games and won Cy Young Awards. I really have to take the hands-off approach and make a really good first impression for guys to trust my philosophies.”
Horn will also be a new face in a clubhouse that could potentially feature several players with previous experience on Long Island and in the Atlantic League. With this in mind, Horn knows it will helpful to rely on those veterans while sprinkling in his philosophy.
“When it comes to the pitchers and their workouts, it’s their own program. They do their own thing, and these guys are all professionals. I’m not going in there blank. I’ve been doing my homework on the league and know a few managers around the league. At the end of the day, my thing is that you’re dealing with people. There are going to be times where we might have guys who have more of an ego, but I try to handle everything with class, dignity and pride.”
Horn went on to add, “I’m all about togetherness and family because when you’re on the road for six or seven months, this is your family. Everyone has to be on the same page, and I’m not looking to come in there and reinvent the wheel. I’m here to help these guys, and whatever they need, it’s my job to get it done. Anything I can do to help these guys get better as ballplayers and as human beings, I’m going to do it.”
Welcome to the family, Billy!
Our countdown of the Top Moments of 2016 is down to the final day. We have relived some of the best memories from this past season, including on-field success, attendance milestones and exciting promotional events. Did you happen to miss the first six moments on our list? No problem! Let’s recap them:
The time has now come to reveal our Top Moment of 2016! So many incredible games were played during the 2016 season, and over 350,000 fans helped make each and every night at Bethpage Ballpark a special occasion. It was very difficult to decide which of these wonderful days and nights was worthy of being dubbed #1 on our list. Ultimately, we decided that it had to be the night that we completed one of the greatest comebacks in Atlantic League history.
“The Comeback is Complete!” – September 25, 2016
When the Ducks began the 2016 season, many players and coaches claimed that the ending of the 2015 campaign left a bitter taste in their mouth. After posting an astounding 80-59 record during the regular season, leading many to believe they would eventually become champions, the Ducks fell in heartbreaking fashion to the Somerset Patriots in the Liberty Division Championship Series. Despite holding a 2-1 series lead, their divisional foes rallied for a pair of shutout victories to claim the series en route to winning a league title. It was the team’s goal to get back to the playoffs, beat Somerset if they them faced again and bring the championship trophy back to Long Island.
As fate would have it, the Ducks won the first half of the 2016 season while the Patriots claimed the second half. That set up a first round playoff rematch between the two teams that had met in two of the past three postseasons, needing all five games to determine a winner. With the Ducks winning the series in 2013 to earn the league championship and the Patriots getting the victory in 2015 to win the division title, something would have to give in 2016.
The series did not start well for Long Island, as the Patriots took the first two games in their home ballpark. A walk-off home run in Game One and a dominant pitching performance in Game Two put the Ducks on the brink of elimination. Despite needing to win three consecutive games at home to keep their season alive, the Flock never pushed the panic button. Nick Struck and Jarret Leverett both stepped up on the mound, combining to allow just one run in 14 innings of work. Offensively, Lew Ford, Tyler Colvin and Anthony Vega each launched homers to help even the series at two games apiece. Sure enough, the Ducks and Patriots would need a decisive Game Five to determine the Liberty Division champion.
Both teams took the field on Sunday, September 25 full of excitement and anxiousness before a raucous crowd in Central Islip. They each turned to their Game One starter as well with the hopes of advancing to the Atlantic League Championship Series. John Brownell quickly retired the Patriots in order, and the Ducks responded by putting the Patriots in an early hole. A run-scoring wild pitch, RBI doubles by Lew Ford and Ruben Gotay and an RBI single by Tyler Colvin gave the Ducks an early 4-0 lead and sent the fans into a frenzy. One inning later, Vega scored on another wild pitch from Will Oliver to push the advantage to five.
That would be more than enough for Brownell, who retired the first 12 batters he faced and surrendered just one run in five and two-thirds innings of work. Patrick Crider, Zack Treece and Amalio Diaz kept the Patriots off the scoreboard for the next two and one-third innings to put the Flock three outs away from the division title. Todd Coffey came on to pitch the ninth and quickly struck out Bryan LaHair and Kyle Roller. Carlos Guzman kept the game alive with a double, bringing Eric Farris to the plate. Coffey worked the count to 1-1 before Farris swung away:
The Ducks had done it! With their 5-1 win in Game Five, the Ducks became just the second team ever in Atlantic League history to rally back from a 2-0 series deficit and win. The only other? Somerset in the 2001 Atlantic League Championship Series. After a euphoric celebration on the field, the Ducks marched up to the home clubhouse at Bethpage Ballpark to enjoy their second champagne celebration. While the team still knew they had more work to accomplish, the atmosphere was one of pure joy.
There were so many key contributors to the comeback being completed. From Kevin Baez making the right moves at the right time to key performances on the mound by the Ducks’ pitching staff to clutch hits from the offense, everyone had a big role in earning the Liberty Division championship. Several of the key playmakers spoke about how proud they were of each other and how much they wanted to savor what they had accomplished:
Thank you all for recapping the Top Moments of 2016 with us and for helping make this past year such a memorable one. We could not have accomplished all we did, both on and off the field, without the support of such passionate fans. From our family to yours, have a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year! We can’t wait to see you all in 2017!
Just two more great memories remain on our Top Moments of 2016 countdown! It has been a fun countdown thus far with all of the outstanding achievements and exciting wins that took place throughout the year. Most recently, we unveiled our #3 moment: the 6-1 win over the Skeeters on July 2 that saw the Ducks clinch the First Half Liberty Division title and John Brownell become the winningest pitcher in franchise history. Before we can drink some egg nog, light candles and flip the calendar to 2017, we must find out our final two moments on the list.
The Ducks have attracted more fans to their games than any other team in the Atlantic League. In fact, they have been one of the most successful franchises in all of professional baseball, filling the ballpark to near-100% capacity since the inaugural 2000 season. As the 2016 season began, the team was approximately 350,000 fans away from reaching the magical 7 million fan milestone, knowing that if it would be reached during the regular season, it would likely come in one of the final few games. Sure enough, fate would have it that the moment would come during home game #70.
A Fanatical Finale – September 11, 2016
With a postseason berth wrapped up and a first round rematch with the Somerset Patriots set, there was no too much that needed to be determined in the final weeks of the 2016 season. With several team records achieved and plenty of wins accumulated, many in the Ducks organization hoped to be able to celebrate another accomplishment with their fans who made it possible. Entering the final three home games of the season, Long Island sat just over 16,077 fans away from reaching the magical 7 million fan mark. That meant the team would need to average over 5,300 fans per game during the final home series to achieve the milestone.
Not only were the Ducks eager to reach the mark, but the fans showed a great desire to see the team reach the mark as well. Past-capacity crowds of 6,802 on September 9 and 7,220 on September 10 put the Ducks just about 2,000 fans shy of the mark entering the home season finale. It was undoubtedly clear that the moment would indeed come in 2016. As the gates opened on a beautiful Sunday for Fan Appreciation Day, folks began streaming through the gates in hopes of being the lucky one to push the Ducks over the brink. As the counter kept clicking, it finally reached the milestone number when Victoria Sardegna passed through the turnstiles. The Riverhead resident, attending the game with her son, T.J., and his dad, Tim, was overjoyed upon learning the news.
The family received a day at the ballpark they would never forget. As the lucky 7 millionth fan, Victoria was presented with a commemorative team jersey with the words “7 Million” displayed on the back and the number “16” to represent 2016, in which the milestone was achieved. All three received the opportunity to enjoy the “Best Seat in the House” for the entire game, and Victoria’s name was displayed on the scoreboard. Finally, she received an autographed bat from the entire team, a $250 gift card from Bethpage Federal Credit Union and a luxury suite for her and 19 of her closest friends for Opening Night of the 2017 season on Long Island.
To top it all off, the Ducks gave her a victory to celebrate the day. Long Island opened up the game with an RBI double by Dan Lyons and a sac fly by Lew Ford in the first inning. They increased the lead to 4-0 in the fourth thanks to a two-run home run by Cody Puckett. Nick Struck also was strong on the mound, striking out eight batters in six and two-thirds innings and not allowing a run through the first six innings. York threatened to ruin the day when Bryan Pounds hit a three-run homer in the seventh, but that was as close as they would come. Lyons’ triple in the eighth pushed the lead back to two, and Amalio Diaz sealed the game in dramatic fashion, striking out three consecutive batters with the tying runs in scoring position. It was a thrilling end to a memorable day at the ballpark in Central Islip.
President and General Manager Michael Pfaff commented after welcoming the lucky fan, “There is truly no better day to reach this milestone and recognize the tremendous support of Long Islanders than on Fan Appreciation Day. We are proud to have welcomed 7 million fans since our inaugural season and eternally grateful for all that have shared this experience with us.”
Tomorrow, we unveil our Top Moment of 2016! You won’t want to miss it, as it was one of the greatest days in franchise history and a memory that fans, players, coaches and front office staffers will never forget. Come back and visit “Quack of the Bat” on Friday afternoon as we look back at our #1 moment from this past year.