By Jon Cerini
Salesian High School
With three Atlantic League Championship titles under its bill, the Long Island Ducks baseball team at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip is on the brink of breaking a record.
On a recent day at the park, Director of Media Relations Michael Polak said that visits to the stadium are nearing 7 million since the franchise was hatched 16 years ago. The team, officials have said, has played a huge part in bringing the community together around America’s pastime.
“The Ducks are getting closer to drawing their 7-millionth fan since they opened in 2000, which would be another huge milestone for the team,” Polak said.
The Ducks’ attendance figures are more impressive because the park hosts one of eight teams in the Atlantic League, which has drawn as many as 35 million visitors in its history, Polak said. So, the Long Island Ducks show off their strong fan base with 20 percent of the league’s ticket sales – and it doesn’t even have the biggest park in the league.
A visit to the stadium on a recent day made clear why the park is a popular destination for Long Islanders: People come for more than just to see the team run around the diamond.
There are bouncy houses for children, between-innings antics – wacky races and contests where fans get to run on the sidelines – and performances by local groups, even post-game fireworks set to popular rock and pop music.
The mascot, QuackerJack, perhaps the most visible team supporter, is a sideshow unto himself, posing for selfies with fans and starring in many of the entertainment skits.
Before the first pitch, everyone rushes to their seats, many decked out in Ducks gear from head to toe.
Some have followed the Ducks for years.
“We go to about 30 games a season, my daughter and I,” said Jane Pino, who has been going to Ducks games with her family for the past 10 years, all the while watching and rooting for the Ducks as they have grown and triumphed.
Marcial Gallimore, a group home aide, brought along several people from the facility.
“We need to take them out,” he said from their seats with a great view at the top of the stadium. “They’re always stuck inside all day,” he said, adding that the group home residents have gone to several enjoyable games.
Not only do fans show their love by coming to games, but they show it in the volume of their voices, the Duck-oriented merchandise that they flaunt from the store and the team spirit of Duck fanatics.
The team’s popularity raises a question: Why the Ducks?
What’s the source of fan loyalty to a team that is barely known compared to the major league Mets and Yankees who play in the New York-area?
Sal Cataldo, of Bay Shore, New York, who has been going to Ducks games since the first season, may have the answer.
“It’s fun, family friendly, it’s affordable … I mean, it’s just all around great,” he said.
It’s not just the convenience and price that attract people.
Olivia Daddona, 15, said it’s the small-town setting and feeling that grabs her attention.
“I’ve just always loved baseball, so I figured why not come here?” she said.