The Long Island Ducks hosted their annual ‘Fan Day’ on Saturday, April 22, at Fairfield Properties Ballpark ahead of what management and fans alike are hoping to be a strong season.
The event is one of many that will advertise the team’s stellar lineup that gives management hopes of a much better season than last. Perhaps the most notable feature of the team is one of 11 currently-slated ex-Major League members, former Met and All-Star Daniel Murphy.
The infielder acknowledged he’d be arrogant not to learn a thing or two about leadership from fellow former Met, his new manager Wally Backman. “Murph” was chock-full of humorous and unpredictable, but nevertheless prescient quips at the panel this weekend— demonstrating an endearing level of personal availability to the media that writers and fans longed for during his MLB tenure.
Confronting that he is now “the old man” in the clubhouse, Murphy, 38, told The Messenger how he envisions organically schooling his fellow Flock on all things hitting and “big league” mentality.
“I like to hang out in the cages— quite a bit,” he said. “It’s kind of my office. I just like to talk baseball… When you’re out there, and you’re curious about something, and you’re just mixing it up with the guys, you’re going to learn from them as much as they are from you.”
The former Met debuted with New York in 2008. At the time, he was only the fifth Mets rookie to record 10 hits in his first 20 at bats. Over the course of the 2015 National League Championship Series (NLCS), Murphy became the second person, the
first being the legendary Lou Gehrig, in MLB history to hit a home run in six consecutive postseason games. He also broke the Mets franchise record for most home runs in the postseason.
In 2015, Murphy rejected a Mets qualifying offer to become a free agent. He then played for the Washington Nationals from 2016-2018, the Chicago Cubs in 2019, and the Colorado Rockies from 2019-2020. In March 2023, Murphy came out of retirement to sign with the Long Island Ducks.
When asked what he would like to get out of this season with the Ducks, Murphy responded: “I would like to have fun— like a child does.”
He also referenced the inspiration that he, like many other players, can be to people watching the games, especially the younger people in his family. He cites fear as an inimitable motivator in his experiences:
“Without fear, there is no opportunity for bravery.”
Murphy hopes his family, as well as fans, can see and understand that subtly profound take on challenge and advancement.
President and General Manager of the Ducks Michael Pfaff said that the team’s impressive roster makes the games an even more apparent source of family entertainment. He also says that with nearly half a million dollars in renovations, namely new speakers all around the stadium and a new scoreboard, tickets are still the classic $15 asking price.
“At just $15 a ticket, it’s cheaper entertainment than the movies. It is truly the last bastion of affordable entertainment for families on Long Island.”
The panel before the game consisted of six high-profile baseball individuals: Frank Boulton, founder and CEO of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball and owner of the Long Island Ducks; Michael Pfaff, President and General Manager of the Ducks; Lew Ford, outfielder and hitting coach for the Ducks; Wally Backman, former Met and
current manager of the Ducks; Ian Clarkin, former Yankee and current starting pitcher for the Ducks; and Daniel Murphy, former Met and current first and second baseman for the Ducks.
Wally Backman returns for this fourth season with the Ducks this year. He was named the Atlantic League’s Manager of the Year in 2019 after breaking the franchise’s single-season wins record. Since Backman’s leadership, more than 35 Ducks have had “their contracts purchased by or joined Major League organizations/foreign professional leagues.”
Perhaps Backman’s greatest accomplishment is that of being a legendary Met, one of the many who contributed to the team’s highly-regarded performance of the 1980s, including their 1986 World Series victory. In addition to nine seasons
with the Mets (1980-1988), he also spent a season with the Minnesota Twins (1989), the Pittsburgh Pirates (1990), the Philadelphia Phillies (1991-1992), and the Seattle Mariners (1993). Overall, he has played in 1,102 games. In his more than 20 seasons of managerial experience, he has amassed a 1,345-1,251 record, a .518 winning percentage.
When asked about the team’s impressive major-league roster this year, Backman said that people are “shocked to see so many MLB players.” Backman also said that changes this year are a direct result of failures last season:
“Last year was a disappointment. We had younger players on the field, and it gave us a
product we did not want. That one is my fault. The team this year has had more preparation, they know what they need to do, and all these guys know how to play the game. Last year was a disappointment, but it will definitely not happen this year.”
When questioned on what makes the team so attractive to a litany of Major League players, Backman’s answers speaks to the venerable organization of the Ducks: “History makes the Ducks attractive to play for. Their history speaks for itself, and the players know that. The players want to play for winners, and we help them get what they want for the next level [Major League Baseball].
Regarding assurance of an optimistic season, Backman responded: “Leadership, work ethic, and chemistry. When you have good chemistry, you have a great team.”
Backman also referenced his time as a manager for the Mets’ affiliate teams in relation to his experience with the players and his various connections in baseball.
The panel took turns answering questions on the new rules imposed by the league, some of which have been panned by fans for ruining the classic feel of the game.
Ian Clarkin, starting pitcher for the Ducks, says that the pitch clock needs “getting used to,” but that his fight is primarily with the strike zone, and that hasn’t changed as a result of the clock.
“The games I struggled with the most were when I took my time. It’s easy to get inside my own head. The pitch clock takes some of that pressure off and just keeps things moving.”
Clarkin was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 2013 Draft where he played for affiliated teams. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 2017, then played on affiliate teams for the Cubs in 2018. He signed a Minor League deal with the San Diego Padres in 2020, followed by a Minor League stint with the Colorado Rockies later that year. After a brief contract with the Seattle Mariners, Clarkin signed with the Ducks on April 18.
Clarkin speaks highly of the team, the Ducks, and the game itself: “I love playing with the big-league guys, I love their perspective on the game. There’s just something about this game that keeps you coming back.”
After the press conference, The Messenger took to the field during warmups and spoke with Stephen Woods Jr., a Dix Hills native who returns to play ball on Long Island after several years of affiliated innings elsewhere— plus repping Team Italy in the 2023 World Baseball Classic.
“Right now, we know that the Ducks have always been that special thing on Long Island,” Woods declared. “We grew up watching them, my dad actually happened to play for them, so we grew up going to the stadium. Now, after ‘the Classic,’ I’m just able to come here, compete, get better and see what’s in store.”
Woods then broke to The Messenger he was “back on a starting schedule,” his first regular innings of the sort since the first part of 2021.
“The really nice thing… [players on the team with local roots]— told me ‘you have to keep battling, because you find the love of the game again here.’ Because when you get back to affiliated ball, you’ll have been reminded how to have fun while fighting again.”
He also admitted the joyful “craziness” of calling Matt Harvey a teammate last month with Team Italy, followed by calling Daniel Murphy one heading into the 2023 season. “Wow, I’m getting two legends now,” Woods reflected, having grown up a Mets fan that rooted for both the former All-Stars early on in their careers. “I can’t wait to learn all about how he [Murphy] goes about his business.”
Speaking about business, Murphy did share that the expected rise in ticket sales — per the combination of the mentioned $15 affordability and star power this year’s squad wields — speaks to how the Ducks and Mets fans view the organizations: with high regard.
“The game humbles you and it feels great to be back playing with Major League players,” Woods added. “I’m grateful.”
So were those that poured out to Fairfield Properties Ballpark before the rain poured in to put a damper on the first preseason game. The exhibition’s start time was wisely pushed up to 5:00 p.m. That evening, the Ducks faced off against the California Dogecoin, named after the meme-based cryptocurrency.
To the music of Star Wars, the teams made their entrances and the game began— while the threat of rain, via gloomy clouds, hung overhead during an otherwise splendid Saturday at the ballpark.
The Ducks will begin their 2023 season on the road in North Carolina vs. the High Point Rockers on Friday. After the three-game set, they will return home to Central Islip on Tuesday, May 2, for opening night against the Staten Island FerryHawks.
First pitch will be at 6:35 p.m. Tickets for the game, and all Ducks games, are available by visiting the Fairfield Properties Ballpark box office, calling (631) 940-TIXX.