From the desk of: THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE
LONG ISLAND DUCKS: Refortifying The Pond - Calling In Reinforcements After Succumbing to Last Season's Revolution.
REMAINING SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE:
April 23, 2012 - Game Three ~ L.I. Black Sox (semi-pro) vs. Long Island
April 24, 2012 - Game Four ~ NYPD vs. Long Island
April 21, 2012 - Game Two ~ Long Island 7; Bridgeport 2
April 20, 2012 - Game One ~ Long Island 7; Bridgeport 0
The Ducks encountered problems with pitching depth as the 2011 regular season wound down. Their formidable one-two punch of Mike Parisi and Mike Loree were out of the fold after a near season-long dominance of the league. Mike Parisi earned an affiliated promotion for his 2011 efforts and did not return. However, Mike Loree did. His fine season was rewarded in the form a contract from the Pirates organization. But he was able to return to the Ducks in time for the post season run. And with the League's 2011 Pitcher of the Year returning back atop the rotation, the Ducks seemingly still had enough starting pitching to get through two rounds of playoffs.
The Long Island Ducks' regular season was a virtual wire to wire party at The Pond. They ended the 2011 campaign with the League's most potent line-up. Many seemed sure the Ducks had more than enough offense to power them towards their first championship since the 2004 season.
Whether hitting lead-off, or lower in the order, Craig Binick had a tremendous season with the bat, winning the League's batting championship with a .343 mark. Long time Duck favorite Ray Navarette set a few more all-time Ducks records last season as well. After an early season slump, Ray finished strong and ranked second in the circuit with twenty-seven home runs. The Long Island line-up featured four of the top six RBI producers last season.
Then, a Revolution ignited in Pennsylvania, picked up momentum, and spread from the streets of York. The Road Warriors, Somerset, and eventually Lancaster, all fell to the Freedom Division winning Revolution.
After first round victories over Lancaster and Southern Maryland respectively, York and Long Island met in the championship round. For York, they set out to defend their 2010 A.L. title. While the Ducks were returning to the playoffs after missing the 2010 post season.
In the final series, the Ducks' bats ran into a buzz saw as the Revolution pitchers all but shut-down the Ducks' mighty offense. And Long Island never even wound up facing York's ace hurler either. With Long Island's season long hit parade stopped cold and muted, the Ducks watched York celebrate their second consecutive Atlantic League championship.
Say what you will however, last year's was still a tremendously successful regular season and a very entertaining one to boot. Their seventy-eight wins topped the League. Upon winning both halves of the division titles, they were resounding favorites to win their second ever Atlantic League championship. But as we saw, Revolution was in the air.
Over the off-season, many changes have given the line-up that short-circuited in last year's playoffs a very different look. Returning will be Ray Navarette and Craig Binick. Lew Ford and Dan Lyons also return. But gone from last season's Atlantic League leading line-up is catcher J.R. House. Matt Padgett will be playing for the Blue Crabs this season. The oft-injured John Rodriguez is off to the American Association. Kennard Jones is off to Bridgeport. And Matt Esquivel has been playing in Mexico. Absent from this year's line-up will also be sweet hitting Javier Colina. The Ducks will have to replace 252 RBI in the middle of the order with Colina, House, and Rodriguez, gone.
In the top story of the off-season, the ace of the staff; Mike Loree; will indeed be returning for another season with the Ducks. He was last season's pitching triple crown winner with fourteen wins; 131 strikeouts; and a superlative 1.98 ERA. Jason Monti returns looking to earn a starting spot. Shane Youman, a youngster who showed up last season to give the Ducks big wins down the stretch, will not.
Bob Zimmerman and Jeremy Hill return to man the bullpen again. Ehren Wasserman retired, and the heart-attack kid; Bubbie Buzachero; also will not be returning.
I'll take a closer look at the new Ducks' members in my next post. The new look Long Island Ducks 2012 roster is linked: HERE
The 2012 Long Island Ducks' season opens with a four game series, beginning on Thursday, April 26th, on the road against the Somerset Patriots. This marks the Ducks' thirteenth season as an Atlantic League member. The Somerset Patriots, after a rather disappointing 2011 season by their standards, begin their fifteenth season in the League. Long Island's home Opener will eventually come on May 4th against the Camden River Sharks, after the Ducks follow up their opening series against Somerset, with three games in Bridgeport.
The Road Warriors ball club can finally pull over and rest. Their work is done. The expansion Sugar Land Skeeters; from Texas; have arrived to restore the traditional feel of an eight team league again. They will be managed by Gary Gaetti, the former Minnesota Twin favorite. Former Chicago White Sox hurler; Britt Burns; will be their pitching coach.
The Atlantic League's expansion into Texas is an interesting move to say the least. What comes first and foremost to my mind is how this will drive up club expenses. I asked Corey at LIDucksBlog what he thought Sugar Land's impact on the League's economics might be? And in the short term he agreed with me in that it will be a tough going, and maybe even a near fail. But in the long run, he believes there is something to this and that the move west will pan out well for the League.
Keep an eye on Bridgeport. They're in trouble. Unless something changes at the gate, the future of the Bluefish is uncertain. Minus the Newark Bears who took their leave from the circuit last season, over the last two seasons, the Bluefish are the only Atlantic League club not to draw over 200,000 fans, nor average above 3,000 per game. Last season, more rumors started to circulate regarding the team's demise.
This will be the fifteenth season of Atlantic League Baseball. Of the original circuit which started play in 1998, only two member clubs remain; the Somerset Patriots, and the Bridgeport Bluefish. The Camden River Sharks, with beautiful Campbell's Field, and the Ducks, whom routinely lead the circuit in attendance, have given the Atlantic League great stability since joining in 2001 and 2000, respectively.
The newer teams in Pennsylvania are backed by strong fan bases as well. The Lancaster Barnstormers and York Revolution are seven and five year members. Recently, South Maryland has been suffering a dip in attendance since joining the league during the 2008 season. And as mentioned, the Sugar Land Skeeters, this season's expansion team in Texas, rounds out the 2012 circuit. There are still plans on the table for future expansion into Virginia for the 2013 season.
Camden's Campbell Field will host this season's Atlantic League All-Star Game.
LONG ISLAND DUCKS
Southern Maryland Blue Crabs
Sugar Land Skeeters
Camden River Sharks