(Long Island, N.Y.) Years from now when we look back on the 2011 season, Long Island Ducks fans will see it as a great success and one of the team’s best campaigns. But if you followed the team since May, it goes without saying that this was a missed opportunity at what would have been only the franchise’s second Atlantic League championship.
Kevin Baez took over as manager and guided the Ducks to not only one, but division titles in both halves. The squad was dominant all summer long and could have taken it easy after clinching a postseason berth before the All-Star break. But the Ducks repeated their success in the second half and were the overall favorite to hoist the trophy when it was all said and done. They owned the league’s best record (78-47), set a franchise mark for home victories and led the AL in attendance for the 12th consecutive year.
Things appeared to be going as planned, as the Ducks ousted Southern Maryland in the Liberty Division Championship Series in four games and advanced to the finals. The York Revolution awaited them and was not intimidated. A comeback victory in Game 4 in Pennsylvania clinched the second championship for the Revolution and the Ducks once again were left to ponder what went wrong.
The flagship franchise of the Atlantic League has one lone title, and that was back in 2004. The Ducks have been a perennial playoff team, but this was only their second appearance in the championship round.
Mike Loree took home many offseason accolades, such as the Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year, First Team All-Star, Pitcher of the Month (June, 6-0, 1.40 ERA in six starts) and led the league in wins (13), ERA (1.98) and strike outs (131). He had a 2-0, 1.11 mark in three postseason starts, but his last was the one that counted most.
In that pivotal fourth game versus York, Loree pitched six innings of one-run ball and left with a slim lead, but the Ducks could not hold it or muster up much of an offense. “It is disappointing,” the starter told reporters. “It was something that we were working towards all year. We were talking about it from the start to win a championship. We came real close. York is a real good team.”
Perhaps there will be a day when all the good from 2011 will be enjoyed, but the manager feels the same pain as the players when it doesn’t end in a champagne shower.
“As a whole, this feeling is not a good feeling to have,” Baez said to reporters after the season came to a conclusion. “Losing is never fun, but what I told the guys is that I’m proud of them. I enjoyed this whole year. But it’s a bitter feeling when your ultimate goal is to win it and you really felt that this was the year and everything was leading up to that.”
2012 will be another challenge, as every year in the Independent minor league circuit is. The roster changes drastically and to keep solid payers around is a challenge, to say the least. The Ducks will have another day, but this one still stings.