The Long Island Ducks, in their 20th anniversary season and first under manager Wally Backman, overcame a myriad of roster defections to Major League Baseball or foreign organizations in the first half of the Atlantic League campaign to win 42 of 69 games to finish atop the Liberty Division standings.
Ten of the 11 Ducks to sign with MLB, Mexican or Chinese clubs in April, May and June were pitchers, including last year’s Atlantic League All-Star Game starter Bennett Parry and Tim Melville, who in 2017 became the 16th player in franchise history to reach MLB after playing on Long Island.
“It feels good and this is only step one,” Backman said after the Ducks clinched their fifth straight playoff appearance and 14th all-time. “The success we’ve had doesn’t happen very often when you lose that many players.”
It was an intense race to the finish line in the first half. All four teams in the Liberty Division entered July with a better-than-.500 record and there was a chance first place, along with the guaranteed playoff spot that comes with it, wouldn’t be decided until a July 19 makeup game. But when High Point defeated Somerset on July 6, the Ducks’ ticket was punched.
“There were three quality teams battling it out,” said first-year outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who brought 414 games of MLB experience, including 263 with the New York Mets. “To come out on top is really cool,” he added. “It’s a good accomplishment, but obviously the end-of-season championship is the goal.”
Player Pos. MLB/Foreign Team Assignment
Josh Lueke P Mexican League Leones de Yucatan
Alec Asher P Chinese PBL Uni-President Lions
Sean Nolin P Seattle Mariners Tacoma Rainers (AAA)
Darin Downs P Mexican League Acereros de Monclova
George Kontos P Washington Nationals Fresno Grizzlies (AAA)
Bennett Parry P Mexican League Pericos de Puebla
Jose Cuas P Arizona Diamondbacks Hillsboro Hops
Tim Adleman P Detroit Tigers Toldeo Mudhens (AAA)
Ivan DeJesus Jr. INF Chicago White Sox Charlotte Knights (AAA)
Tim Melville P Colorado Rockies Albuquerque Isotopes (AAA)
Jon Niese P Seattle Mariners Tacoma Rainers (AAA)