Fowl Ball! Weekly report on the DUCKS
The first half of the 2006 Atlantic League season has been a homecoming for first-year Duck Kevin Haverbusch. Long Island's new outfielder has finally been given the chance to play professional ball only a few miles away from his hometown of Massapequa, where he was born and raised.
A few weeks before the season began, the 30year-old Haverbusch received a call from Ducks co-owner Bud Harrelson asking him to join the team. "I basically signed that day," Haverbusch says, "I couldn't wait to get the season started." Haverbusch is glad to be home again and has enjoyed playing in front of his family and friends on a consistent basis for the first time since high school.
Haverbusch says he first became interested in baseball around the age of four and it was not long before he was playing in the local little league every year. He was a member of the baseball team at Massapequa High School and won a few conference titles during his time there. It is even evident that Haverbusch still keeps an eye on his former high school as he proudly mentions that Massapequa won the baseball state championships this past season.
The next stop for Haverbusch was the University of Maryland, which he attended on a baseball scholarship. His play in college led to him being drafted by Major League Baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates in 1997. "Getting chosen is something that will always be special to me," Haverbusch says, "Very few people have the chance to say they got drafted by a Major League team, so it is definitely an honor."
Haverbusch got his professional career off to an amazing start by being named MVP of the New York-Penn League while playing for Erie, a minor league affiliate of the Pirates. Over the next few seasons, he moved up the ranks to Double-A and then finally to Triple-A. Haverbusch would eventually join the Atlantic League in 2004 and play the next two seasons for the Nashua Pride, putting up some of his best career numbers. At the end of the 2005 season, Nashua decided to move their team into a different league, opening the door for Haverbusch to sign with the Ducks and continue his career on Long Island this season. Now, halfway through his first season in the organization, Haverbusch says that playing for the Ducks has been a great experience so far. "The coaching staff has been awesome and the front office too," says Haverbusch. "(Ducks owner) Mr. Boulton is great and gives us everything we need. All of the facilities here are first-class, so we really can't complain about anything."
However, the real difference between playing in Nashua and on Long Island is the crowd support and playing atmosphere at Citibank Park. While Nashua was among the smallest draws at the box office in the Atlantic League, the Ducks regularly fill their ballpark with standing room only crowds. "I know from growing up in New York and on Long Island that these people are passionate about their baseball," Haverbusch states, "The fans that come to watch us play really get into these games so it is really nice knowing that when you do something well, it will be appreciated by a bunch of people."
On a personal level, Haverbusch got off to a disappointing start during the first month and a half of this season. "For lack of a better term, I was just horrible, maybe the worst hitter in the league and I was not used to that," says Haverbusch. But things have started to come around over the last month as he hit over .300 for most of June. "I have played ten years and almost always been around a .300 hitter so I expect that from myself again this year," says the Ducks outfielder. His stats over the last week or so show that Haverbusch might be starting to get more comfortable at the plate. After having no home runs and only nine RBIs through 34 games to start the season, Haverbusch has now hit two long balls and knocked in seven runs over his last eight starts. "I dug myself a huge hole and now I have to climb my way out of it and I will," says Haverbusch.
As for the team's performance so far, Haverbusch says that he and his teammates have played well but believe that they are capable of even so much more. "We have enormous talent on this team from player number one to player twenty-five," he says, "so when it really does click we are just going to roll." Even with so many players coming and going through the first half of the season, Haverbusch says he has barely even noticed because all of the new additions have fit right in with the group. "It really speaks volumes about the character we have in our locker room because even with all of the changes we all get along and are still very cohesive as a group."
Haverbusch credits his parents as the main reason why he plays the game of baseball. "They got me started and supported me so I have always just wanted to make them proud," he says. Haverbusch also says he is proud to be from Massapequa and speaks very fondly of his hometown. "It is really a great area filled with hard working people, good schools and high quality little leagues," he says, "It is a nice place to grow up and it would be impossible for me to mention how many wonderful memories I have from my time living here." Now Kevin Haverbusch is hoping to add another memory by winning a championship with the Long Island Ducks. "Last year we lost in the finals when I was with Nashua, so this time I would like to be on the winning side and I cannot think of a better place to win a title than here on Long Island." Ducks Undefeated on Road Trip, But Lose Ambro and Erdos
It was a bittersweet week for the Long Island Ducks as the team won six straight games and reclaimed first place in the North Division, but also said goodbye to two more of their best players.
Dominick Ambrosini became the fourth Duck this season to get picked up by a Major League team as the outfielder was signed by the Florida Marlins and will report to their affiliate in Jupiter, Florida. The 25-year-old Ambrosini, who is a native Long Islander, put on quite a show last week in his final two games as a Duck. He went a combined 5-for-8 at the plate and added an incredible seven RBIs. Ambrosini leaves Long Island with a 12 game hitting streak and a .329 batting average on the season, which ranked second best in the entire league.
The Ducks also bid farewell to pitcher Todd Erdos, who has been the team's closer since the start of last season. Erdos has agreed on a contract to go pitch for the Brother Elephants of the Taiwan League, but he leaves Long Island as the Ducks all-time leader in saves (40).
Without Ambrosini and Erdos, the Ducks literally swept right through the state of New Jersey, winning three straight in Newark and then doing the same over the weekend in Somerset. Henry Rodriguez returned to the Ducks lineup in a big way, Kevin Tolar and Mike Crudale were both effective in the role as closer and Tony Fiore won his first two starts as a Duck, all contributing to Long Island's success over the past week.
However, even with a six game winning streak, the Ducks lead over the Bluefish is only a half-game heading into the final week of the first half. Bridgeport countered Long Island's perfect week by winning five of six games during the same time frame. The pennant race comes down to a seven game home-stand for Long Island which began on the Fourth of July and ends next Monday. If the past two months are any indication, there is a good chance that the division winner might not be determined until that very last night.