19 seasons of Long Island Ducks baseball have come and gone. Players from all around the world and of all varieties of baseball experience have worn the Ducks uniform since the first pitch on April 28, 2000. In that time, they have played in front of nearly 8 million fans in Central Islip, and millions more around the rest of the country. Those players and coaches have also earned three Atlantic League Championships, seven Division Championships, 13 half-season Division Championships and over 1,300 victories. As the Ducks 20th Anniversary Season, presented by Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, approaches, it is time to determine which members of the Flock have stood above the rest.
One of the most important positions on any team is that of the closer. The person filling this role needs to be confident and poised getting the ball in the most high-leverage situation during a game. When a team has the lead over the final inning or two, it’s his job to secure the victory and keep the opponent at bay. Throughout their history, the Ducks have had some big names fill this role. Just last year, 16-year MLB veteran Francisco Rodriguez, who has the fourth-most saves in Major League history, took on the role of Ducks closer. This week, we look back at three of the very best closers to wear the black and orange. Here are the nominees:
Although the Ducks missed out on the playoffs during their inaugural season in 2000, their closer did everything in his power to get him to the promised land. Matt Wagner joined the brand new Long Island Ducks that year after making 15 appearances (14 starts) in the Majors with Seattle during the 1996 season. He proceeded to turn in a year that, to this day, is arguably, the greatest season ever by a Ducks closer. Wagner tied for the Atlantic League lead with 61 appearances and ranked first with 36 saves, 11 more than any other pitcher in the league that year. The save total still ranks as the franchise’s single-season record today. The former third round draft pick went 3-3 with a 2.26 ERA and struck out 69 batters while walking only 18 over 63.2 innings of work. He deservedly was selected play in the Atlantic League All-Star Game, and his performance was a major factor in helping Long Island post a league-best 82-58 record, which remains as the franchise record for most wins in a season. Wagner went on to pitch for three more seasons, including 2002 with the Road Warriors and 2003 with both the Newark Bears and Atlantic City Surf.
Another former big leaguer is our second nominee for the position. Bill Simas spent six seasons with the Chicago White Sox from 1995-2000, appearing in 308 games, before joining the Ducks in 2004. In Long Island’s Fifth Anniversary Season, he helped deliver the team and the community its first Atlantic League Championship. The right-hander led the league with 17 saves that year and posted a 1.95 ERA over 44 appearances. In 50.2 innings, he struck out 53 batters while walking only 14. Simas also recorded some big-time saves, closing out Long Island’s win in Bridgeport on August 9, 2004, to clinch the Ducks first-ever postseason berth and both of the team’s playoff series clinchers (all of which were one-run games). The former sixth-round draft pick returned to the Ducks in 2009 and earned an Atlantic League All-Star Game selection. He led the league once again with 27 saves and ranked third in appearances with 60. Simas ended the season with a 5-4 record, a 2.76 ERA and 53 strikeouts to 16 walks over 62 innings. The following season, he served as the team’s pitching coach before simultaneously being activated as a pitcher in July. At 38 years old, he went 2-1 with a 3.30 ERA and four saves. Simas’ 48 career saves in a Ducks uniform remains the franchise’s all-time record. Simas is currently the pitching coach of the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.
From one championship closer to another, Leo Rosales rounds out our 20th Anniversary Team closer candidates. Rosales, who pitched for three seasons at the MLB level with the Arizona Diamondbacks (2008-10), was acquired by Long Island from the Camden Riversharks in September of 2012 in exchange for outfielder Reid Gorecki. The trade would go down as one of the most important in team history. Rosales pitched three scoreless before leading the Ducks to an Atlantic League championship during the postseason. He recorded three saves in six games, including the winner-take-all Game Five during the Liberty Division Championship Series. One year later, Rosales went 2-2 with a 2.35 ERA and 18 saves in 39 appearances, earning an Atlantic League All-Star Game nod. The righty was dynamite in the playoffs once again, tallying four saves in five appearances, none bigger than closing out Game Five of the Atlantic League Championship Series at Somerset to clinch a second consecutive title. Rosales got off to a terrific start in 2014 with the Flock as well, totaling nine saves in 13 games and a 1.35 ERA before his contract was purchased by Leones de Yucatan of the Mexican League. He has since spent two more seasons pitching in Mexico and is now a pitching coach for the Single-A Tri-City Dust Devils in the San Diego Padres organization.
Deciding a winner will certainly not be easy! All three nominees have pitched in the Major Leagues, dominated with the Ducks and garnered Atlantic League All-Star honors. Two of the three have also won ALPB championships. It’s now your turn to help determine which of the three will be the closer on the 20th Anniversary Team. Cast your vote over the course of the next week by clicking the button below and choosing your favorite candidate. The winner, along with the remainder of the 20th Anniversary Team, will be unveiled at the beginning of the 2019 season!
Be sure to check back again next week, as we’ll unveil the final three nominees for the 20th Anniversary Team, highlighting the top managers in Ducks history.
The weather is getting warmer, the birds have migrated back north, and spring, at long last, seems to be in the air. That means one thing, Ducks fans: Baseball! Players officially report to this weekend, and spring training workouts begin on Monday. Then, just 11 days later, the team hits the road to open up the regular season against the Somerset Patriots on Friday, April 25. Two exciting weeks are about to unfold here on Long Island and around the Atlantic League.
With the start of the season now tantalizingly close, there are only a few spots left on the Ducks 15th Anniversary Team. Last week, fans cast their votes for the best reliever (non-closer) in team history. On Opening Night at Bethpage Ballpark (Friday, May 2), fans can see all the winners in a special spread in the 2014 Long Island Ducks Commemorative Yearbook, which will be available beginning on May 2.
This week, we take a look at the best closers in franchise history. Included among the nominees are the a two-time Atlantic League champion, a 2004 ALPB champion, the first closer in Ducks history, a former Yankee and a pitcher affectionately nicknamed, “Bubbie.” Here are the nominees:
Buzachero spent parts of three seasons with the Ducks (2009, 11-12). His debut season saw the right-hander appear in just three games, pitching three and one-third scoreless innings. Before April was finished, he had earned a contract with the Toronto Blue Jays organization. Buzachero returned as the closer in 2011, and he put together an outstanding campaign. In 52 appearances, the Tennessee native earned 22 saves and compiled a 7-2 record with a 3.26 ERA and 39 strikeouts. He went on to pitch five postseason games as well, compiling a 1.23 ERA and picking up the win in Long Island’s Liberty Division championship-clinching win over Southern Maryland. After pitching in Australia during the winter and Austria during the first part of 2012, he returned to Long Island for a third season. While his time lasted just four games (one start), the righty’s 2011 campaign makes him worthy of being on this list.
Erdos, a five-year Major League veteran that spent three of those with the Yankees, pitched in parts of three seasons with the Ducks (2005-07). In his first year, the right-hander earned Atlantic League Relief Pitcher of the Year honors. He set a league record with 64 games pitched that season and also led the league in saves with 32 and games finished with 56. Erdos compiled a 3.96 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 61 and one-third innings, earning an Atlantic League All-Star Game selection as well. The Pennsylvania native went on to post a 5-3 record with eight more saves in 25 games during the 2006 season before his contract was purchased by the Brother Elephants in Taiwan during the month of June. Though he struggled during the 2007 campaign over 30 games, Erdos’ standout 2005 season was one of the greatest in franchise history. He retired as the Ducks all-time leader in saves, a record he held until 2009 when another closer on this list (Bill Simas) broke it.
Rosales is the only nominee that is currently on the Ducks active roster and has been a part of back-to-back championship teams on Long Island. He came to the Ducks in a late-season trade during the 2012 season and immediately filled a closer role the team needed. After tossing three scoreless innings in the regular season, he pitched six more games in the postseason, earning saves in all three victories over Southern Maryland in the Liberty Division Championship Series. The righty went on to earn the win in Game Five of the Atlantic League Championship Series to clinch the Ducks first title since 2004. The Los Angeles native returned again in 2013 and put together an All-Star season, going 2-2 with a 2.34 ERA, 18 saves and 45 strikeouts in 38 and one-third innings. He was even better in the playoffs, earning four saves total, three of which came in the ALCS against Somerset. The last of those saves came in Game Five against the Patriots to seal another championship for the Ducks.
Simas, who was chosen for the Ducks All-Time Team during the 10th Anniversary Season in 2009, was the first Ducks closer to receive a championship ring. The righty first joined the Flock in 2004 and posted an impressive 1.95 ERA and 17 saves. Despite signing mid-season with the Seattle Mariners organization, Simas returned to Long Island in September and played a pivotal postseason role in helping the Ducks win their first Atlantic League championship. The California native then spent the next four seasons either playing abroad or out of baseball before returning to the Ducks in 2009. The four-year Atlantic League hiatus did not hurt Simas as he led the league in saves (27) and compiled a 5-4 record with a 2.76 ERA. He returned in 2010 as the pitching coach, but some early season injuries forced the Ducks to activate him early on. Although he hadn’t planned to pitch, the right-hander still put together a 2-1 record, a 3.30 ERA and four saves in 29 appearances. The six-year major league veteran finished his Ducks career as the franchise leader in saves (48) along with a 9-9 record and a 2.59 ERA over 133 appearances.
Wagner was the first closer in Ducks franchise history. Although he only played one season at the Duck Pond during the inaugural 2000 campaign, the former big leaguer wowed everyone with a 2.26 ERA and a league-leading 36 saves. Wagner’s 2.26 ERA was the second lowest in the league for a reliever (Al Sadler, 1.53 ERA) and his 61 appearances tied him for the league lead with Frank Thompson (Newark). In addition, the Iowa native recorded 69 strikeouts compared to just 18 walks over 63 and two-thirds innings of work that year, good for a 9.8 strikeout-per-nine innings ratio. After his time with Long Island, the righty spent three more years in independent baseball, including time in the Atlantic League with the Road Warriors (2002), Newark (2003) and Atlantic City (2003).
While the decision this week might be the toughest among all of the positions to this point, it is also final specific player spot on the 15th Anniversary Team. Following this week, only the Manager spot and the Final Vote position remain. A friendly reminder: if there is a closer that you feel is deserving of a nomination and is not on this list, you can write-in a player by selecting “other” in the poll below and typing in your choice. We’re two weeks away from Atlantic League baseball. Stay tuned all of next week for news, photos and video from spring training at the Duck Pond!
One of the most important parts of the on field mission of the Atlantic League is to provide players with a forum to continue their baseball careers and give them a chance to get back into affiliated baseball and eventually the Major Leagues. The league has had over 600 players throughout its history signed by big league organizations, and the Ducks, for example, have had over 50 signed, with 14 players reaching the Major League level after playing on Long Island. However, not all of those making it back into affiliated baseball are doing so as players.
Several Ducks alumni can now be found in the coaching ranks and front offices of affiliated minor league baseball teams. The newest addition to an affiliated coaching staff was Dan Meyer, who announced last week via Twitter that he had accepted a pitching coach position in the Atlanta Braves organization.
I couldn’t be happier to have accepted a pitching coach position with the Atlanta Braves. Feels great to be back…
— Dan Meyer (@Dmy53) November 19, 2013
Meyer will be the pitching coach with the Danville Braves, who are in the rookie-level Appalachian League and just celebrated their 20th Anniversary this past season. The left-hander actually began his career as a pitcher with Danville in 2002 after getting drafted by the Braves with the 34th overall pick (first round) that same year. He would go on to post a 3-3 record with a 2.74 ERA in 13 starts. Just two years later, he found himself on a Major League mound, pitching a pair of scoreless innings in 2004 with Atlanta.
The New Jersey native ended up making 103 appearances (seven starts) over five big league seasons with the Braves, Athletics and Marlins. He eventually joined the Ducks at the start of the 2012 season and pitched in 18 games (eight starts). Meyer eventually suffered a season-ending injury in July. However, he is not the only former Duck to recently join the coaching ranks of affiliated ball.
One notable former Duck to continue in baseball after playing with the Flock is Jamie Pogue. Long Island’s backstop in 2003, 2007 and 2008 is now the bullpen catcher/catching instructor for the St. Louis Cardinals, a position he has held for the last two seasons. He came within two games of a World Series ring this season as St. Louis went to Game Six of the series before falling to the Boston Red Sox. Pogue played in 245 games over his three seasons with the Ducks and hit .257 with 17 home runs and 85 RBI before retiring as a player. He also spent time in the Atlantic League with the Bridgeport Bluefish and Nashua Pride. In fact, here is a picture of Jamie during the 2013 World Series (photo courtesy of Mike Ashmore):
Morales is currently serving as the bullpen catcher for the Cleveland Indians, who shocked the baseball world in 2013 by reaching the playoffs as one of the American League’s Wild Cards. He spent three seasons as a catcher with the Ducks (2000-02) and was selected to Long Island’s 10th Anniversary All-Time team in 2009. He combined for 63 home runs and 261 RBI in 367 games during that span. Morales spent his third season on the Indians coaching staff in 2013. He began his coaching career in 2006 in the Dominican Summer League academy for the Arizona Diamondbacks, was the hitting coach at rookie-level Yakima in 2007 and spent three seasons from 2008-10 at Class-A South Bend of the Midwest League in the Diamondbacks organization.
Speaking of players selected to the Ducks 10th Anniversary All-Time team, another member that’s now coaching in affiliated ball is Kimera Bartee. The former outfielder is now an outfielder/base running coordinator in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system and recently served as manager of the Class-A State College Spikes in 2011. Bartee played with the Ducks in 2003 and was then a member of Long Island’s 2004 Atlantic League championship squad. In 226 games with the Flock, he hit .324 with 35 home runs and 175 RBI. This past season, the Ducks hosted Kimera Bartee night at Bethpage Ballpark where he was honored before the game and threw out a ceremonial first pitch. The Nebraska native reached the Major League level in 1996 and played four seasons with the Detroit Tigers and one apiece with the Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies.
Add a third member of the All-time Team to this list in closer Bill Simas. The right-hander went from being an integral part of the Ducks bullpen in 2004 and 2009 to a pitching coach in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. In 2013, he was promoted to the staff of the Class-A Great Lakes Loons after spending two seasons with the rookie-level Ogden Raptors. His coaching career actually began with Long Island in 2010 when he served as the pitching coach under Dave LaPoint and was even activated at one point that season to pitch out of the bullpen. For his Ducks career, the right-hander was 9-9 with a 2.59 ERA and a team-record 48 saves. Simas also spent six seasons in the big leagues and compiled a 3.83 ERA and 23 saves in 308 games with the Chicago White Sox.
Simontacchi, a former Major Leaguer and Ducks pitcher in 2008, can now be found in Peoria, Illinois as the pitching coach for the Class-A Peoria Chiefs in the Cardinals organization. His pitching staff finished the 2013 campaign with the Midwest League’s second-best ERA at 3.54. With the Ducks in 2008, the righty pitched in seven games (three starts) and posted a 6.11 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 17 and two-thirds innings. He also spent the 2010 season with the Lancaster Barnstormers before deciding to retire. In the Major Leagues, he spent three seasons with the Cardinals, including the 2004 National League championship campaign, and one year with the Washington Nationals. He pitching in 93 games (53 starts) and had a 5.09 ERA.
One of the keys to the 2011 Long Island Ducks was catcher J.R. House, and he is currently the hitting coach for the Hillsboro Hops, the class-A short season affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. House tore it up at the plate with the Ducks, batting .305 with 19 home runs and 81 RBI, one of the best seasons ever by a Ducks catcher. He led a dominant Long Island pitching staff to their first division playoff title and Championship Series appearance since 2004. After retiring following the 2011 campaign, he joined the Diamondbacks as the hitting coach with their rookie-level affiliate, Missoula. The former big leaguer, who spent parts of five seasons in the Major Leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles, helped lead the Osprey to the 2012 Pioneer League championship.
UPDATE: J.R. House has been promoted to manager of the Class-A Hillsboro Hops for the 2014 season, according to Jamie Quinn.
Jamie Quinn signed on at the beginning of the 2013 season as a minor league video coordinator with the Diamondbacks. He served as the team’s bullpen catcher in 2009 and 2010 before becoming the bullpen coach in 2011 and 2012. During his four seasons, Quinn helped prepare a Ducks pitching staff that earned three postseason berths, two Liberty Division championships and an Atlantic League championship. He also received an opportunity to get some playing time in 2010, appearing in five games.
Congratulations to Dan Meyer on the new position and the best of luck to all of the other former Ducks in coaching or front office positions with affiliated teams around baseball. It’s always exciting to see former Ducks players living their dream of returning to affiliated baseball, whether as a player or a coach. If you know of any other Ducks alumni who are currently serving as a coach in a Major League organization, please leave us a comment on this story or send us a contact form.