Long Islanders whose idea of the perfect summer evening is to root, root, root for the home team at a Ducks game know that it pays to come early -- and stay late.
The fan-friendly fun at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip starts the moment you pass through the turnstile. Just as the early bird catches the worm, prompt fans amass the goodies (schedule at liducks.com) with such giveaways as bobbleheads, T-shirts and plastic duck quackers often being doled out to the first 1,500 or so attendees.
Gates open 60 minutes before the first pitch. This is the time to get autographs and possibly be chosen for an on-field promotion. Staffers roam the stands inviting lucky fans to take part.
So if you hanker for your five minutes of on-field fame, you can race with QuackerJack, the team mascot, a 6-foot-tall duck. There is usually at least one on-field event per inning.
A mascot for all seasons
QuackerJack is by far the crowd favorite, especially with the youngsters, says Michael Pfaff, president and general manager of the Ducks.
When he's not on the field, QuackerJack can be found signing autographs on the upper concourse, posing for photos and generally making children's dreams come true.
"I like his big, fluffy tail," says Catherine Truglio, 8, of West Babylon, who was meeting QuackerJack for the second time. "I like coming cause he's here. He makes it fun."
Oh, and about that race that QuackerJack just can't seem to win . . .
"Something always happens to him," Pfaff says. "He trips, gets distracted, goes the wrong way."
Even so, he brushes himself off with no hard feelings and a hug for the winner.
If you're looking to collect additional signatures, head to the ballpark's autograph booth about 15 minutes after the gates open to get select players to sign for you Monday to Saturday. On Sunday, the entire team signs autographs on the field.
"It is fun for the fans because they can get close to their favorite player," says Dan Lyons, 29, a shortstop in his fourth season with the Ducks, who are part of the Independent Atlantic League. The team has won three League championships. "I remember when I was a kid and met my favorite player. Never forgot it. I want to give that feeling to some kid."
Fireworks and family fun
If you try to beat the traffic by leaving early, you might miss a spectacular nearly 15-minute fireworks display. Because they're set off right outside the park, the fireworks appear so close overhead that you want to just reach out and grab them.
"We consider ourselves part of the community," Pfaff says. "What we want to be is affordable family entertainment."
Laura Mazurkiewicz, 41, of Holtsville, who was attending a recent Saturday night game with her husband Frank, 44, and children Andrew, 4, and Anna, 3, agrees. The family usually comes to a Ducks game once or twice each season, and they've started a tradition of taking in a game with friends. "This year, there are three families meeting at the game," Mazurkiewicz says.
"You feel comfortable bringing your family here," adds Kathy Mileski, 41, of West Islip, who attended with her children ages 7-14. "It is OK if my teen runs around with his friends."
As long as he's back in his seat for the fireworks.
Long Island Ducks
WHEN | WHERE Southern Maryland Blue Crabs vs. the Long Island Ducks, 6:35 p.m. Sept. 9-11; Lancaster Barnstormers vs. Ducks, 6:35 p.m. Sept. 16-18; Blue Crabs vs. Ducks, 7:05 Sept. 19-20 and 1:35 p.m. Sept. 21, Bethpage Ballpark, 3 Court House Dr., Central Islip
INFO 631-940-3825, liducks.com
ADMISSION $11 box seat, $12 field box seat and $15 club level; free parking