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Baseball

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

[email protected]

“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. 

Photo from Stony Brook Athletics

The Stony Brook baseball team entered the day down a game in its weekend set with Hartford on April 2. They finished the day with a pair of wins and a series victory, winning 9-5 and 7-5 to sweep Saturday’s double dip at Dunkin’ Donuts Park.

Shane Paradine finished the day 4-for-7, hitting .571 with a pair of doubles and a home run, leading the Seawolves in all three categories. Colton Book earned the win in game number one, throwing two scoreless in relief while striking out three. Devin Sharkey received the win in game two, a 2.1 inning relief effort.

The big blow for Stony Brook in the opener was a four-run ninth in a seven-inning contest, as Matt Brown-Eiring’s fielder’s choice allowed the go-ahead run to score. He would then score on an error by the third baseman that plated two.

In game two, the Seawolves scored in four of the seven frames, including a pair of runs in three innings. A RBI groundout and wild pitch gave Stony Brook the lead in the fifth before a two-run double in the sixth from Evan Giordano gave the Seawolves much-needed insurance.

“I’m very proud of the guys. The last two weekends, we’ve dropped that first game but we have been able to lock back in and battle back to win the series. Today specifically… it is not easy to sweep doubleheaders but we were able to be physically and mentally tough. We had some guys sick and then some guys get hurt but everybody stepped up and we were able to get the win,” said head coach Matt Senk. ‘Today was a total team effort and I couldn’t be more proud of our team.”

The team returns home for a three-game set with UAlbany. First pitch on Friday is slated for 3 p.m., at Joe Nathan Field.

Devin Sharkey. Photo from Stony Brook Athletics

The Stony Brook baseball team was not able to get it done in its series finale, dropping the final match of a three-game set at Old Dominion in Norfolk, Virginia on March 13.

Stanton Leuthner and Derek Yalon each led the Seawolves with a pair of hits, with Yalon recording a pair of RBI, including a fourth-inning home run. David Alleva recorded his first collegiate RBI, lacing a double to right before Yalon’s run-scoring single gave Stony Brook an early advantage. Leuthner added a third-inning double to score Brett Paulsen in the third, then the Seawolves added two more in the fifth with a Cole Durkan RBI single and Stanton scoring on a wild pitch one batter later.

STATS AND NOTES

  • Leuthner has increased his on-base streak to 14 games to start the season after his 2-for-3 effort.
  • Yalon’s homer is also the first of his collegiate career, driving in RBI No. 20 in his third Stony Brook season.
  • Shane Paradine has recorded a hit in seven consecutive.
  • Stony Brook also worked a season-high seven walks.

UP NEXT
The Seawolves open a four-game homestand on March 23, taking on Iona with a 3 p.m. first pitch at Joe Nathan Field. Conference play begins on March 25 as UMass Lowell comes to town for a three-game set.