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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

If I were pitching to Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, I would probably take a long pause before throwing my first pitch.

I know it’s absurd to think of this older man who never threw a ball much harder than low high school level pitching to a generational legend, but let’s play out the fantasy for a laugh or two.

I wouldn’t pause so I could figure out how to get him out. Sure, it’d be nice to do my job well and my teammates might appreciate it if I gave us a better chance to win a game.

Instead, I would need to ponder the moment that history might be calling. I’d be thinking about the best choreographed reaction to him hitting a home run. I mean, after all, the pitchers who surrender his long home runs are, in their own way, famous.

They share the moment between when they release the ball, and he obliterates it into the night sky, sending thousands of people screaming out of their seats, arms in the air, sharing in the majesty that wouldn’t be possible without my meatball pitch sputtering, laughably, towards his powerful bat.

If he sent a ball out of the stadium, I would be joining select company, with so many pitchers around the majors surrendering home runs in a historic year.

I’d be thinking about how I’d look in newsreels or newscasts or digital versions of the Aaron Judge year to remember.

I could imagine ways to overreact. I could throw my glove on the mound, gesture wildly by putting my hands in the air, or shake my head so violently that my manager and the trainer would have to waddle out to the mound to put me in a neck brace.

Or, maybe I’d hold my glove up to my face and appear to yell a stream of expletives into my mitt, as if, somehow, I knew I should have thrown a different pitch in a different spot.

Then again, I could rub my fingers in some dirt and write a capital “AJ” on my uniform, like scarlet letters, except it wouldn’t be anything puritanical, and I would be acknowledging my inferiority.

None of that seems like me, even in my fantasy world.

Being stoic would make me too much of a personality-less pitcher. Let’s face it: even in my imaginary moment of being an above average starter or relief pitcher, the time to focus on me would be incredibly short.

Let’s say I didn’t blink after he hit the home run. Or, maybe, I tracked the flight of the ball carefully, like a zebra eyeing a lion suspiciously in the Serengeti. That might get me on TV and make me more than just another guy who gave up a home run to Aaron Judge.

Maybe I’d wait at home plate and give him a high five or a fist bump to acknowledge a full season worth of greatness. While kids do that in Little League, professional players generally don’t acknowledge the remarkable achievements of their opponents.

When he reached second base, I could put down my glove and clap from the mound, ever so briefly. Then, perhaps, I’d take off my hat and salute him.

Or, maybe I could take a page out of the more subtle but celebrated Mona Lisa textbook. I could give just a hint of a smile as if I were saying, “you beat me and you’re a pretty spectacular hitter. There’s no shame in losing this battle and now we’re weirdly connected, like we’re kind of twins, except that you’re great and going to be remembered forever and I’m just going to be remembered for starting the ball on its magical journey into the history books.”

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Have you seen images of the Greek gods on Mt. Olympus?

Sure, some of them looked like they were having fun, like Dionysus, while others were out hunting or frolicking, annoying their spouses and causing all kinds of havoc on the Earth below.

But when they weren’t getting ready for an intractable war with each other or with the Titans, they seemed bored.

Perfection wasn’t all that inspirational, peaceful or enjoyable.

Maybe the Greeks knew a thing or two about perfection. Maybe we shouldn’t crave or want perfection from our kids, particularly on the verge of the new academic year.

Mistakes provide an opportunity to learn, while adversity also offers a chance to grow and develop resilience.

Failing, striking out, falling down, biting our lips or tongue, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, and getting a question or two wrong on a test provide opportunities to learn.

Your kids and mine are bound to get something wrong. The question doesn’t need to be a reflexive, “why did you get that wrong?” The better question is: “how will you respond to that moment?”

I have been at baseball games where parents are at their worst when their children don’t perform as they (the parents) would like. One parent, who coached with me when his child was around 11 years old, screamed at him for not swinging at a called third strike.

The other kids on the bench looked horrified, while the child sat off by himself at the corner of the bench.

The error didn’t happen between the lines. It happened on the bench when the father made a potential learning experience uncomfortable.

Change and growth can be painful. Parents, teachers and friends shouldn’t compound the discomfort.

I definitely live in a glass house. When I evaluate my parenting skills, I recognize deficiencies and have tried to improve.

I have told my children that I recognize that I made mistakes when I’ve said the wrong thing to them.

Maybe, before the new academic year begins, it’d help to have a conversation with our kids about the role they would like us to play. This may turn into something of a negotiation, as interactions with children often are, but at least we can have an idea before we repeat patterns that may not work for our children, of what they’d prefer.

It took me a long time to ask my daughter what she’d like me to say in response to moments of adversity.

Letting our children make every decision won’t always lead to the best outcome. They might, for example, prefer to eat cookies for breakfast and cake for dinner.

Giving them a chance, however, to suggest ways we can do exactly what we’re trying to accomplish, by supporting them, encouraging them, and helping them improve, may create a better and healthier dynamic for them.

The pursuit of perfection is tiring and is bound to lead to disappointment. Chasing ways to be better, however, and seeing growth opportunities can be rewarding.

We as parents made countless mistakes when we were our children’s age. We can’t prevent them from making mistakes. While we might also share stories about the discomfort brought on by our errors, we can’t even prevent them from doing the same stupid, inappropriate, ill-advised and awkward things we did, no matter how much we plead with them to learn from us.

What made those Greek gods so compelling were the stories of their imperfections. I’m not sure they learned from their mistakes, but, as the Greek chorus suggests in tragedies, maybe we can.

Frank Boulton, third from right in front row, cuts the ribbon with County Executive Robert Gaffney, second from left in front row, state Senator Owen Johnson, third from left, and other officials in April 2000. Photo from the Long Island Ducks

By James Teese

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“Fans come first.”

Buddy Harrelson’s oft-stated line was true when he and Frank Boulton founded the Long Island Ducks and “fans come first” remains a baseball and business mantra for a thriving organization that still draws legions of fans to the ballpark — over eight million since the team played its inaugural season in 2000.

Patrick Czark, 10, of Setauket, shows off the bat he received for being the first child in line for tickets in 2012. Photo by James Teese

With deep community ties — Boulton from Brightwaters, Harrelson in Hauppauge — the high school baseball player turned successful bond trader and New York Mets World Series champion — created and grew what has become one of Long Island’s great attractions. And the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), also founded by Boulton, became a reality as an independent league as the owner negotiated to bring a ballpark and a team to Suffolk.

“So, I started working on the Atlantic league in the early to mid 90s,” Boulton said. “It took me about five years to get everything put together in the ballparks and the ballparks being built for the Atlantic League.” 

Already an owner of minor league teams, Boulton always wanted to bring a ball club to his Long Island home, seeing the potential as he had elsewhere.

“We saw that [in other locales] we had the same kind of families in Wilmington, Delaware as in Long Island … very similar,” he said.

He saw similar “socioeconomic groupings” and “thought that with our density of population [on Long Island] and the fact that we really didn’t have anything like [a minor league team].”

“At the time, you know, there was no aquarium,” he said “People would go to the beaches … we were an island … with beaches, sailing, even water skiing. But being a baseball guy, I just saw the demographics were just too ripe here.”

“And I wanted to take what I learned on the road,” he added. “Just like a Broadway show when they first take a show on the road.”

In fact, part of the move to create the ALPB and the Ducks was spurred by the New York Mets organization vetoing an unaffiliated minor league team within 75 miles of their own ball club. Boulton had originally hoped to move his New York Yankees farm team to Suffolk; the Yankees were OK, the Mets were not.

Public private partnership

Now known as Fairfield Properties Ballpark, in 2000 the Ducks played under the banner of EAB Ballpark. It was, and remains owned by Suffolk County, which also collects the monies from the naming rights.

Boulton has nothing but praise for the state and county officials who helped make the stadium a reality.

“As a young man, I had been involved with the YMCA,” Boulton said. “I’ve been involved in many different community endeavors …So I got to meet a lot of elected officials. I had worked with [State Senator] Owen Johnson and … without Owen Johnson, this ballpark probably wouldn’t have been built.” 

Johnson went to the New York State Empire Development Corp.

“We gained $14.3 million dollars, economic state, a grant for which Suffolk County [gained the benefit],” he added. Bob Gaffney was the County Executive at the time, and he and his guy [Deputy CE] Eric Kopp … were very instrumental. They were both big baseball fans, Bob and Eric. The county level [of government] was great!”

Then-Commissioner of Public Works for the County, Charles Bartha, remembered a fast-paced project.

“[The ballpark] was designed and built in just 14 months from when the grant was signed,” the engineer said. 

The lead architectural firm was BD Harvey, he said, a national firm that was one of only a handful that did work on big ballparks. 

The county’s officials had “a strong feeling and confidence in Frank [Boulton’s] ability to promote and run [the team and ballpark.]”

The county, said Boulton, “has seen a return on its money from day one.”

Lined up for tickets

The Czark Family. Photo by James Teese

After a decade, the fans still lined up. In 2012, this reporter recalls, some light snow and low temperatures did not deter faithful fans on a Saturday morning for the opening of the then-named Bethpage Ballpark ticket office. 

The Czark Family from Setauket comprised the first fans in line for a second consecutive year, having arrived Thursday morning.

“I was not ready [for the snow] but we got through it.  We were online about 48 hours,” Christopher Czark said. “The kids just enjoy coming out to the ballpark. The Ducks always have something new every year. The girls like Sundays when they get to run the bases and meet the players. It’s a great experience for them.”

Getting fans and community involved

During games, fans are a part of the show. In-between every inning, the Ducks hold what they call “fan-interactive promotions” on the field. The activities, which fans sign-up for, are sometimes sweepstakes, other times funny contests such as ’dizzy bats” or ”musical chairs,” and sometimes a celebration of a young fan’s birthday — joined by QuackerJack and serenaded by the on-field host.

Even for family members less enthusiastic about baseball, there is constant action and entertainment. Sunday is Family Funday, including the post-game opportunity for kids to line-up by first base and run the bases to home plate.

And special games are followed by numerous Postgame Fireworks Spectaculars, a favorite for thousands of fans who regularly fill the ballpark for the pyrotechnic display.

More seriously, at every home game the team recognizes local veterans as well as active-duty service men and women, this year with the Suffolk County Office of Veteran Affairs and New York Community Bank, in a program called “Heroes of the Game.” 

“The feedback we received from fans, veterans, sponsors and the community has been tremendously positive,” said Ducks President and General Manager Michael Pfaff.

In fact, when the public address system marks the moment, the fans — in a county which is home to nearly 100,000 veterans — consistently rise to deliver a standing ovation.

Outside the ballpark, QuackerJack and team members are often seen in the community, participating in local parades and charity drives, visiting hospitals, schools and more.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ducks hosted numerous donation events at the ballpark, and acted as a vaccination site.  Programs to aid the community are ongoing and effective fundraisers, whether its “Home Runs for Hunger” or “Breast Cancer Awareness Night,” the Ducks are a vibrant and contributing force in the surrounding communities.

Ducks fans all

After being refused the chance to relocate his Yankees farm team, Boulton had a realization: “If I had had a Yankee team, I would have been splitting the baby. So, now we have Yankee fans that are Ducks fans, and we have Mets fans that are Ducks fans.”

And just plain Ducks fans, of course. 

Whether it’s through promotions, the reasonably priced tickets and concessions, or the free parking, the Ducks endeavor to provide a cost-effective choice for a family’s scarce disposable dollars.

Twenty-one seasons and counting, and fans still come first.

James Teese has written for numerous Long Island news outlets and has covered the Long Island Ducks since their first Opening Day.

By Bill Landon

The Royals got rolling in the bottom of the second inning with bases loaded and no outs when Frank Andriani was hit by a pitch, forcing Nathaniel Mullen home to take a 2-0 lead in the Long Island Class C Championship against Carle Place June 3. 

The youngest roster member for the Royals let his bat do the talking in the bottom of the 3rd when Evan Raymond the 8th grader drove in two runs to put Port Jeff out front 4-0. The Frogs avoided a shutout in the top of the 4th, scoring a run but struggling against senior Luke Filippi’s heat from the mound, who notched eight strike outs in the win.

The Nassau County champs threatened in the top of the 5th, loading the bases with one out, but Filippi, no stranger to pressure, pitched his way out of a jam as Carle Place stranded three. Again, with bases loaded in the bottom of the 5th, freshman Joe Aronica ate a pitch, plating the runner on 3rd for a 5-1 lead. Mullen hit one deep to right in the bottom of the 6th, driving home Daniel Owens the junior for a 6-1 lead. With three outs of life left in the top of the 7th, Filippi fanned the Frogs in order to clinch the LIC title game. 

Photos by Bill Landon 

By Bill Landon

It took extra innings to decide game one of the Suffolk A championship series between Rocky Point, the No. 1 seed, and visiting Mt. Sinai, the No. 3 seed May 28. 

With bases loaded in the bottom of the 8th inning, Rocky Point junior Dominick Carbone was hit by a pitch forcing in the winning run for the 5-4 final.

Photos by Bill Landon 

By Bill Landon

The Royals of Port Jeff looked to finish their regular season with a win, and win they did.

The Royals defeated Shelter Island with a 10-run margin of victory May 13. Royals head coach Jesse Rosen achieved a milestone this season, notching his 100th victory as his team cruised to a 16-2 record.

The win clinches the League VIII title, securing a top seeding for the postseason, which begins May 17.

— Photos by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

It was another beautiful edition of the “Live Like Susie” remembrance and fundraiser Saturday May 14th at Rocky Point High School, where the annual charity baseball game between the Rocky Point and Mount Sinai varsity teams was played in remembrance of Susie Facini.

Facini was a Rocky Point graduate who passed away suddenly in 2011 of a cardiac event; she was 19 years old.

There was plenty of grilled hot dogs, hamburgers and salads along with T-shirt sales and raffles to raise money for local scholarships in Susie’s name.

The only requirement to receive a scholarship was to be nice, according Bernadette Facini, Susie’s mom.

Photos by Bill Landon

It was a battle of the unbeaten Tuesday, April 19, when the Panthers of Miller Place, 5-0, hosted East Hampton, 9-0, in a league VI matchup.

In dominant fashion, the Miller Place pitching staff put on a shutout performance. Starting pitcher Jason Strickland had four complete innings for the win and Tyler Hodella picked up the save in a 6-0 Panther victory.

Despite their winning streak, there will be no rest for Miller Place this week as they have games scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. 

Photos by Bill Landon 

Newfield’s bats barked early, scoring four runs in the first inning to open the first of a three-game series at Huntington High School in a League III match-up April 18.

The Wolverines were able to keep the Blue Devils at bay stretching their lead to 9-1 after four innings to win the game, 14-1.

Logan Prisco got the win pitching four innings with 10 strikeouts. Joe Hackal went 3-4 from the plate with three RBIs as Stephen Lumme also went 3-4 with two RBIs.

The win lifts Newfield to 6-4 in league, while the loss drops the Blue Devils to 0-6.

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The Patriots of Ward Melville took a four-run lead in the early going of the third game of a three-game series against Commack at home Friday, April 8, but the Cougars rallied late in the game to edge ahead of the Patriots to win the League II matchup, 7-5.

Ward Melville went 1-2 in the series and retake the field with a road game against Walt Whitman for the first of the three-game series April 11. First pitch is 4:15 p.m.