The Long Island Ducks have finished off their 17th season of play in the Atlantic League, a year that featured some incredible moments on the field and record-setting milestones off of it. After battling through the adversity of several key injuries and multiple players having their contracts purchased, the team put together a rally to advance to their fourth Atlantic League Championship Series in the past six seasons. Bethpage Ballpark also welcomed its 7 millionth fan since the gates opened in April of 2000, as the Ducks became the first Atlantic League franchise to reach that mark. Although their championship dreams came up a little bit short against the Sugar Land Skeeters, there was plenty for the Ducks and their fans to be proud of this past season.
Let’s take a look back on some of the incredible accomplishments achieved by the Ducks during the 2016 season:
* During the final regular season home game at Bethpage Ballpark, which was also Fan Appreciation Day, the Ducks became the first team in the Atlantic League to welcome their 7 millionth fan through the gates. Victoria Sardegna of Riverhead passed through the turnstiles on that Sunday afternoon to become the lucky fan that helped Long Island reach the milestone. In addition, the Ducks hosted 13 past-capacity crowds during the season and have now welcomed a league record 663 sold out crowds all-time. On July 3, a franchise record 7,602 fans packed the “Duck Pond” to watch the Flock close out the first half with a 5-2 win over the Skeeters. The crowd surpassed the previous mark of 7,582 set on July 4, 2009. Overall, the Ducks led the Atlantic League in attendance for the 14th time in 17 seasons at 5,265 and welcomed a total of 366,117 fans through the gates in 2016 (regular season and playoffs).
* For the second consecutive season, a lucky fan went home $10,000 richer after coming to a Ducks game. On Wednesday, May 25, Tyler Colvin hit a grand slam during the fifth inning of Long Island’s 15-5 win over the Bridgeport Bluefish. Being that the fifth was the designated “grand slam inning” as part of Winning Inning Wednesday, Andrew Kratzer of Wantagh was the lucky fan to take home the big prize. One year earlier, Ducks season ticket holder Ginny Steel of Amityville won $10,000 after the Ducks scored seven runs in the seventh inning of their 10-9 win over the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs on June 10.
* With a first half record of 40-30, the Ducks captured the 2016 First Half Liberty Division title, finishing two games ahead of the Somerset Patriots. The achievement guaranteed the Ducks their 11th postseason berth in franchise history, all coming in the past 13 seasons. It was also the first time the team won the first half since doing so in 2012 when they finished with a record of 39-31. Overall, it was Long Island’s fifth First Half title.
* In the playoffs, the Ducks became just the second team in Atlantic League history to overcome an 0-2 deficit and win a postseason series. Long Island fell behind against Somerset in the Liberty Division Championship Series after dropping Game One, 3-2 in 11 innings, and Game Two, 10-0, both on the road at TD Bank Ballpark. Pushed to the brink of elimination, the Ducks rose to the occasion at home and completely shut down the Patriots’ lineup. The Ducks pulled off 7-1, 2-0 and 5-1 victories to claim their fifth division title in franchise history. Somerset had previously been the only other team to pull off such a comeback, doing so in the 2001 Atlantic League Championship Series against the Newark Bears.
* A grand total of seven Ducks players had their contracts purchased by outside organizations in 2016. Prior to the start of the season, pitcher Bruce Kern’s contract was purchased by the Kansas City Royals while infielder Mark Minicozzi’s contract was purchased by Vaqueros Laguna in the Mexican League. Long Island’s first player to have his contract purchased during the season was infielder Nate Freiman, who went to the Boston Red Sox organization. He would then go on to help Team Israel secure a berth in the World Baseball Classic next spring. In July, four starting pitchers would go on to have their contracts purchased. Among them were right-hander Mark Blackmar (Washington Nationals), Jack Snodgrass (Texas Rangers), Darin Downs (Uni-President Lions, Taiwan) and Kern (Brother Elephants, Taiwan). Finally, Eury De La Rosa’s contract was purchased by the Houston Astros in August.
* John Brownell etched his name even further into franchise history by surpassing three team records, all of which had been held by lefty great Randy Leek. After surpassing Leek for the most strikeouts in team history during the 2015 campaign, Brownell took over the team lead in wins, games started and innings pitched in 2016. The wins that the right-hander achieved to both tie and surpass Leek in that category were vintage performances as well. Brownell threw a complete game on June 5 against Sugar Land to equal the record, yielding just one run on four hits and a walk while striking out seven. Then on July 2, also facing the Skeeters, he pitched eight and one-third innings of one-run ball to overtake the record and lead the Ducks to a 6-1 win. Coincidentally, that was also the victory that secured Long Island’s First Half Liberty Division title.
* Fehlandt Lentini put together one of the best seasons of his professional career, one that has now spanned 16 seasons. The third-year Duck led the Atlantic League in hits (179), runs (108), doubles (42) and at bats (571) while also becoming one of three players in league history to play in all 140 games during the regular season (Lew Ford, Ducks, 2014 and Jovan Rosa, New Britain, 2016). In addition Lentini ranked second in the league in total bases (260), extra-base hits (57), stolen bases (51) and stolen base percentage (.911), third in triples (6) and fifth in batting average (.313) and runs batted in (75). The 39-year-old earned his second Atlantic League All-Star Game selection and went on to bat .281 with two doubles, two RBI, three runs and two stolen bases in the postseason.
* Mike Dowd was voted by fans as the Delmonte-Smelson Team Most Valuable Player. The catcher impressed in his first season with the Flock all around the field. He led all Atlantic League qualifying catchers with a .284 batting average. He has also set career-highs in hits (94), runs (37), at bats (331) and games played (95). His four homers and 43 runs batted in also tied career-highs, set in 2013 and 2012, respectively. Behind the plate, he has helped guide a pitching staff that led the league in earned run average (3.87), strikeouts (1,084) and lowest opponents’ batting average (.260).
Everyone with the Long Island Ducks organization would like to thank each and every fan who came out to the ballpark and showed their support for the team throughout the 2016 season. Without your devotion to the team, both at home and on the road, none of the above accomplishments would have been possible. Before you know it, the 2017 season will be upon us; we can’t wait to see you all back here at Bethpage Ballpark for the 18th season of Ducks baseball!