The 18-year history of the Long Island Ducks has seen a wide swath of players don the team’s orange and black colors. From long-time Major Leaguers to players looking for a second chance at reaching the game’s highest level to those fresh out of college, each season’s roster has been a sort of “melting pot” of the professional baseball world. Despite the hundreds of players that have made their way to Central Islip, there have only been a select few to truly cement their place as one of the franchise’s legendary players. Dan Lyons is most certainly one of them.
After joining the club in a utility role prior to the 2011 season, he has been firmly etched into the shortstop position for the past six years. Lyons has batted in seemingly every spot of Kevin Baez’s lineup card, but while his place among the starting nine hitters may change, his presence among the group has been constant. That consistency will continue to remain in place during the 2018 season, after the 33-year-old re-signed with the team on Thursday, making him the first Duck to put pen to paper this year.
His accolades are plentiful. He is twice an Atlantic League champion (2012, ’13), three times an Atlantic League All-Star Game selection (2012, ’15, ’16) and twice a Post-Season All-Star (2012, ’15). The Minnesota native was named the Championship Series Most Valuable Player in 2012 after his infamous waddle-off bunt single, and he was the league’s first-ever winner of the Rawlings Gold Glove Defensive Player of the Year award. Lyons enters the 2018 season with a franchise record in sight as well, sitting just 68 games shy of equaling Ray Navarrete for the most games played in team history.
We sat down with the greatest shortstop in Long Island Ducks history this week to look back on what he’s accomplished thus far and what he is hoping to achieve this year:
Long Island’s offense has racked up 10 runs and 23 hits over the past two games
7:05 p.m. at TD Bank Ballpark (Bridgewater, N.J.)
The Long Island Ducks take on the Somerset Patriots in Game Four of the Liberty Division Championship Series. They now hold a two games to one lead in the best-of-five series following a 6-1 win in Game Three on Friday night. The regular season series between Long Island and Somerset was remarkably competitive, with the Ducks claiming 11 victories and the Patriots nine. This marks the third straight year that the two rivals have met in the opening round of the playoffs, with each team having won one playoff series. It’s also the fourth time in five years they are facing in the postseason going back to the 2013 Atlantic League Championship Series, which the Ducks won in five games.
An incredible performance by Ducks starter Jake Fisher in the first postseason start of his professional career helped the Ducks to a 6-1 victory in Game Three and a 2-1 lead in the Liberty Division Championship Series.
The southpaw was terrific throughout, mixing up his pitches and location to keep the Patriots off-balance and showcasing a terrific breaking ball. In his nine innings, Fisher allowed just six hits and two walks while striking out nine batters, his most in a Ducks uniform and two shy of his season-high. The 27-year-old threw a total of 115 pitches in the outing, 83 of which were strikes (72.2%). Fisher actually came within one out of becoming the first Duck to ever toss a complete game shutout in the postseason, but he allowed a single to Kyle Roller and an RBI double by David Vidal off the glove of Lew Ford to miss the opportunity.
Long Island’s offense gave their starting pitcher some early comfort, as they plated three runs in the first inning against Patriots starter William Oliver. The Ducks opened the game with four consecutive singles, including a chopper by Ford over the head of Vidal and an RBI single to left-center by Marc Krauss. Angelo Songco drove in the third run of the inning with a fielder’s choice grounder to first base.
Oliver settled in to keep the Ducks off the scoreboard over the next four innings, but Long Island was able to firmly put the game out of reach in the sixth. Alex Burg, who collected his third consecutive multi-hit game in the postseason, doubled to left to begin the inning. Following a sacrifice bunt and a flyout to shallow right, Dan Lyons came through with a two-out RBI single through the left side. Giovanny Alfonzo followed with an RBI double off the wall in left-center that stretched the lead to 5-0.
Anthony Vega rounded out the scoring for the Flock in the eighth with a two-out solo home run over the wall in right off reliever Kyler Newby. Long Island finished the night with 14 hits in the game, as eight of their nine batters registering at least one hit and five turning in multi-hit performances. Krauss led the way with three hits, while Alfonzo, Ford, Burg and Elmer Reyes each added two.
GAME THREE HIGHLIGHTS:
ON THE MOUND:
For the second night in a row, the Ducks will send a Jake to the mound. Jake Dunning will start for the Flock in Game Four of the LDCS, as he makes his first postseason start in a Ducks uniform. The right-hander made 14 appearances (seven starts) with the Ducks in 2017, compiling a 2-3 record with a 3.64 ERA and 43 strikeouts to 14 walks in 49 and one-third innings. He tossed six scoreless innings against the Bridgeport Bluefish on September 10 and began his final outing of the year with six innings of one-run ball on September 16 in Sugar Land. However, he was tagged for three runs in the seventh that caused him to take the loss in a 5-3 defeat. Dunning worked out of a bases loaded, no-out jam in the second to allow just one run on a groundout. In the seventh though, he surrendered back-to-back singles and a two-run triple by Joe Benson. The bullpen then conceded two more runs. Tonight will be the former big leaguer’s first-ever outing against the Patriots.
Somerset will send Patrick Johnson to the mound, in need of a win to keep their season alive. The right-hander made seven appearances (five starts) with the Patriots and posted a 2-2 record with a 4.76 ERA and 28 strikeouts to eight walks in 22 and two-thirds innings. His ERA is a bit inflated from his second outing, where he allowed nine runs (eight earned) on seven hits in one and two-thirds innings to the York Revolution. However, since then, 29-year-old has given up only four runs over 20 innings across five games (1.80 ERA). In his last start, he allowed a run on four hits over five innings while striking out five in a 9-2 win at Bridgeport in the regular season finale. Johnson has faced the Ducks just once, coming in his first outing with Somerset. He threw a scoreless inning as the starter in game one of a doubleheader on August 16 but gave up two walks and hit a batter in the frame.
Fans can follow all the action for tonight’s game, and every Ducks playoff game in 2017, on the Long Island Ducks Broadcast Network. Streaming HD video and audio via BoxCast will be available on the team’s official Facebook page through Facebook Live, on the Ducks’ official YouTube channel and at LIDucks.com in the Video Center. In addition to updates in this post, fans can follow a pitch-by-pitch account of tonight’s game via Pointstreak’s Game Live application by CLICKING HERE.
DUCKS GAME NOTES:
For tonight’s full Ducks game notes, please CLICK HERE.
Long Island Ducks
#6 Giovanny Alfonzo – 3B
#13 Elmer Reyes – 2B
#20 Lew Ford – LF
#34 Marc Krauss – 1B
#26 Angelo Songco – DH
#23 Alex Burg – C
#5 Delta Cleary Jr. – CF
#11 Anthony Vega – RF
#12 Dan Lyons – SS
#45 Jake Dunning – RHP
#91 Aharon Eggleston – LF
#8 Alfredo Rodriguez – SS
#19 Olmo Rosario – RF
#40 Kyle Roller – DH
#14 David Vidal – 3B
#5 D’Vontrey Richardson – CF
#13 Carlos Guzman – 1B
#4 Yovan Gonzalez – C
#15 Justin Trapp – 2B
#34 Patrick Johnson – RHP
LIVE GAME UPDATES:
UPDATE (7:21): END 1: Both pitchers work a scoreless first inning to begin Game Four.
UPDATE (7:42): BOT 2: Jake Dunning escapes a second-and-third, no-out jam to keep Somerset off the scoreboard! A 5-4-3 double play ends the inning!
UPDATE (7:57): TOP 3: A bunt single coupled with a fielding error scores Delta Cleary Jr., and Giovanny Alfonzo delivers an RBI single! Ducks take a 2-0 lead!
UPDATE (8:07): BOT 3: Dunning escapes again! After allowing a pair of two-out singles, he strikes out Kyle Roller for the second time tonight!
UPDATE (8:46): END 5: Five scoreless innings thus far from Jake Dunning to protect Long Island’s 2-0 lead! He has struck out three.
UPDATE (9:00): TOP 6: Angelo Songco laces an RBI double to right-center, scoring Marc Krauss to extend the lead to 3-0!
UPDATE (9:17): BOT 6: Somerset gets on the scoreboard thanks to a two-out infield single from Carlos Guzman. Ducks lead is now 3-1.
UPDATE (10:11): BOT 8: Somerset rallies for a pair of two-out runs to tie up the ballgame. 3-3 as we head to the ninth.
UPDATE (10:40): BALLGAME OVER! Ducks score in the top of the ninth and win it 4-3! They take the series 3-1 and are the 2017 Liberty Division champions!!
“Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”
The phrase was first utilized by former United States President Theodore Roosevelt with regards to his foreign policy in the early 1900’s. In fact, he even used the proverb in an address to the Minnesota State Fair back in 1901 prior to being appointed President. Although it may be coincidental, it’s no surprise that the phrase can be perfectly applied to the mentality of Long Island Ducks shortstop, and Minnesota native, Dan Lyons. The most consistent presence in the team’s lineup since he arrived in 2011 has been able to adopt this philosophy and translate it into his unquestionable role as the clubhouse leader.
“I think, especially at this level, players don’t react as much to the ‘rah rah’ type of leadership,” said Lyons in by telephone on Tuesday. “They want to see somebody go about their business the right way and get the job done on the field. From there, people will follow suit. That’s the leader I’ve always seen myself as, and I think that’s what a lot of players tend to follow.”
Those who have been around him know that Lyons is not the type of player who gives big speeches in the clubhouse or displays intense emotion on the field. They also know that he is the guy to come through when it matters most and someone who has frequently produced year in and year out. Despite batting just .248 during the 2012 season, he delivered time and time again. From his walk-off single to clinch the First Half Liberty Division title to his game-winning hits in Games Two and Five of the Atlantic League Championship Series, Lyons made his presence known on the field.
The past two seasons have been his best in a Ducks uniform. 2015 saw “Shorty” post career-high totals in nearly every category. He batted .301 in 131 games, launched 11 home runs while driving in 73 runs and stole 18 bases in 22 attempts. Not to mention, his defense, which had always been very strong, impressed so much that he received the league’s inaugural Rawlings Gold Glove Defensive Player of the Year Award. Although his numbers decreased slightly in 2016, in part due to injuries during the year, Lyons still batted .272 in 102 games, hit seven home runs, collected 49 RBI and posted a .972 fielding percentage. Ultimately, his leadership was a big factor in helping the Ducks to a fourth Liberty Division championship in his six seasons with the club.
“I think, especially the last two or three years, I’ve viewed myself as having more of a leadership role with the organization and in the clubhouse,” Lyons noted. “I feel like I have a lot to offer my teammates from being around for so long and getting to know what the pitching is like and what to expect from fans and opposing players. I definitely feel like I’ve taken on more of a leadership role, and I’m going to continue to do that.”
When Lyons came to the Ducks in 2011 after being released by the Washington Nationals, he immediately spoke about his desire to help the team win a championship. He also, understandably, hoped to find his way back to a Major League organization and ultimately achieve his big league dream. While that goal still remains very much a part of him, he has grown fond of having a place outside of the Land of 10,000 Lakes that he can truly call home.
“It’s nice to have that comfortability with an organization like the Ducks,” exclaimed the University of Minnesota alum. “It really gives me something to look forward to in the offseason when I’m getting ready for the next year.”
Some guys decide to hang up the cleats when they see their chance at the Majors dwindling. For them, the glitz and glamour seem too far away to justify the grind of the baseball season. Lyons comes from a different breed though. His fuel comes from the desire to win and rekindle the memories and celebrations that echoed throughout Long Island in 2012 and 2013.
“I’m realistic with the knowledge that it’s getting tougher and tougher getting back into a Major League organization now,” he said, “but that’s not going to change my approach. I’ve always been the kind of guy that’s going to want to go out and prepare to win, not so much put up the numbers and try to get signed. I’m out here trying to win. I find I’m a lot happier when I win, so I just want to be happy.”
One of the keys to happiness for the three-time Atlantic League All-Star this year will be staying healthy. At the outset of the 2016 season, Lyons picked up right where he left off in 2015. He compiled a .319 batting average through the first half of the season and went to the All-Star Game hitting .329 at the time. However, Lyons struggled following the break, going hitless in five consecutive games (17 at-bats). He ended up missing 10 games at the end of August due to injury, and nagging bumps and bruises kept him from finding the same groove he had during the first half.
“I had some injuries that knocked me down a little [in the first half] but was still able to play through,” he recalled. “Once the All-Star break came, some of those injuries got a little too much, and I wasn’t able to perform at the level I was accustomed to the year before.”
At 32 years old, age is beginning to become somewhat of a factor for Lyons. His ability to play the game at a high level is certainly still there, but playing through injuries and recovering rapidly is becoming more challenging, as is the case with any player as they get older. Knowing this, Lyons has made it a point to focus his goals for this season on maintaining his physical health.
“Injuries are going to happen no matter what, it’s just about how your body bounces back from them,” he stated. “We’ve seen guys in this league who have gotten older by baseball standards do very well and stay healthy. I think, especially as you get older, it’s very important to get out there and do something active every day away from the field or when you get to the field to get some type of a workout in.”
With that in mind, Lyons plans to change his approach when facing the injury bug this season.
“Sometimes, it’s tough to want to go in and work out before a game when you’re hurting; you just want to rest,” he said. “I think last year, I was more concerned with resting to get better rather than going out and doing some activities to get my body in better shape. My goal this year is to go out there and do a little bit more.”
2017 will be Lyons’ seventh season on Long Island. He has won championships, been to All-Star Games and received many terrific honors. In addition, he has become the leader of a franchise that has seen so many great players don the uniform in just 17 seasons. Though time wears on and the mileage increases, Lyons is nowhere near ready to think about putting the car in park.
“I have the drive to continue to want to get better,” he noted, “and I also still like playing the game. As long as I have both of those, I’ll be able to stay in the lineup, be competitive and make a difference on the field.”
Couple his sage wisdom with his consistent performance, and it’s easy to see why Lyons is a true leader.
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!
By MIKE ASHMORE
Special to “Quack of the Bat”
Yes, the Long Island Ducks have been in this exact position before.
But before they can think about a second consecutive playoff series in which they’d have to win all three games at home to come all the way back, they first need to focus simply winning Game Three.
“Right now, it’s just taking it one game at a time,” said manager Kevin Baez. “(Nick) Struck takes the ball tomorrow, and we expect a good outing and to get a ‘W.’”
When the first pitch is thrown at Bethpage Ballpark at about 6:35 p.m., it will be Struck facing the Sugar Land Skeeters; the 26-year-old right-hander will be just six days removed from a pivotal gem against Somerset in which he allowed just one run on two walks and four hits over seven stellar frames to extend a series that Long Island ultimately won.
In the clubhouse after that Game Three performance in the Liberty Division Championship Series, Struck seemed unaffected by the moment, and surely the Ducks are hopeful he can carry that attitude into Friday night, despite stakes that are now as high as they get in the Atlantic League.
“(There was) no pressure, I’ve got 24 guys behind me,” the fast-working Struck said at the time. “I just wanted to set the tone early, make good pitches and give our offense a chance to win.”
Added Baez: “He goes out there and he’s just a great competitor and really wants the ball. He understands that he’s just got to simplify his game; pitch your game, don’t try to do anything out of the ordinary. It’s the old clichés, one pitch at a time and one inning at a time. If he keeps pitching like he’s been pitching, we should be OK.”
More than OK, really.
With a Game Three win, Baez would then have the option of going to ace John Brownell on full rest after a heroic Game Five effort in which he and Patriots southpaw Will Oliver both dueled on three days rest, or turn to Jarret Leverett, who actually one-upped Struck with seven innings of shutout ball in Game Four.
“We’re hoping Struck can give us the outing he gave us last time, and then it gets to Game Four and we move on from there,” Baez said. “We’ve got Struck, Brownie and Leverett in waiting, so we feel good about having them on the back end. But we’ve got to take care of business (Friday).”
With his pitching rotation lined up seemingly perfectly for another chance of achieving the improbable – A completed comeback would win bring Atlantic League Championship trophy back to Central Islip for the third time in five seasons — Baez was asked if he could use last week’s incredible comeback as a rallying point for his players before Game Three gets underway.
“I don’t really have to remind them, but I’m sure I’ll say something when we stretch on Friday,” he said.
“The guys know we’ve got to win or we go home, but we’re going back (to Bethpage Ballpark) where we like to play, and we play well. We hope we get the same results. We have to. We lost two on the road, but in the last series, we did the same and won three. But, it’s a new series and a new team. Hopefully, we can do it again.”