The defending Atlantic League champion Long Island Ducks began their 14th season with a bang as the Central Islip-based minor league team signed three former big-name major leaguers for their 2013 roster.
The players, Vladimir Guerrero, hit 449 home runs, knocked in 1,496 RBIs and had 2,590 career hits. Dontrelle Willis was the 2003 National League Rookie of the Year. Catcher Ramon Castro played for the Mets, in addition to the Marlins and White Sox.
Guerrero is expected to join the Ducks after the team’s initial games. Willis and Castro are in uniform, with Willis scheduled to pitch the team’s home opener, as they open their slate of 70 home games with a three-game series against the Sugar Land Skeeters Friday, Saturday and Sunday, April 26-28.
“I always loved playing at Shea and it was a no brainer for me to come here because of the talent level,” Willis said. “I have friends from Long Island who are fired up.”
The trio joins a team that also includes Pete Budkevics, Josh Barfield, the son of former major leaguer Jesse Barfield, and Ray Navarette, who is in his franchise-record eighth season with the Ducks.
Budkevics is the only native Long Islander on the playing roster. Raised in Deer Park, he played baseball at LIU Post and now lives in Freeport. “It means a lot, as I grew up on Long Island and know about the Ducks,” Budkevics said about playing for his “hometown” team. “I want to be a good teammate and offered to show these guys around Long Island. A lot of my friends are excited.”
One Duck who doesn’t need a road map to drive from his Port Washington home to Bethpage Ballpark is Navarette. The team’s old reliable, Navarette holds franchise career records for hits, runs scored, RBIs, home runs, doubles games played and league All-Star game appearances. “I take pride in the [league’s] history and there is yet to be a player to win two rings, that’s why I came back,” he said.
Former player Kevin Baez returns for his third season as manager, along with pitching coach Steve Foucault, also in his third season. Ducks part owner and former Met Bud Harrelson will coach and pitch batting practice. “I am excited about the season,” Baez said. From top to bottom our lineup has speed.”
Hurricane Sandy damaged the ballpark’s roof and three inches of water washed through the upper level. All storm-related damage has been repaired and the stadium is ready for another season.
New league rules concerning time between pitches and the number of meetings that managers, coaches and players can have with pitchers during a game seek to speed up the games.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday games will be broadcast on WRCN/103.9-FM. The broadcast team will include Chris King and David Weiss. Both have been involved since the team’s inaugural 2000 season. Also in the booth will be Michael Polak, in his fourth year of broadcasting Ducks games, and broadcast assistant Tom Felice.
The Ducks, who play in the eight-team Atlantic League, began their 140-game season April 18 with a seven-game road trip to Texas and Pennsylvania.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.liducks.com or at the box office at Bethpage Ballpark at 3 Court House Drive, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., or call (631) 940-TIXX (8499).