The bitter taste of watching the Atlantic League Championship trophy go to another team was still strong when a different trophy entered Bruce Kern’s career. The trophy was, perhaps, just a little more recognizable than the one Kern and his Ducks teammates fell one round short of holding last year. There was less silver and more gold — and it was one that another New York team, the Mets, almost had their hands on last fall.
Kern, 28 of Yaphank, spent all of last season pitching for the Ducks, compiling a 9-6 record with a 3.51 ERA as both a starter and a reliever. He was good enough to impress local Kansas City Royals scout Paul Gibson, who convinced the World Champions to sign the right hander to a minor-league contract in January.
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And it was then, in spring training, that Kern saw the World Series trophy.
“You see it and think ‘Man, I could be a part of this,’ ” Kern, a Bellport High School alum, said. “I feel like that’s why you play baseball — to win that trophy. Being around players who have worked so hard to get there, it’s surreal.”
Kern spent the majority of his time with the minor leaguers, away from the hoopla of major-league camp. However, he did get small brushes with the big club, one when he got to watch Royals starter Edinson Volquez throw five innings.
“They’re just more seasoned,” he said of major leaguers. “They’re smarter. But, it’s all the same stuff . . . That’s the biggest thing I learned, they’re not super-human people. They’re just like us. They got opportunities and made the best of those opportunities. They’re up there playing in front of 50,000 people every night.”
Late in spring training, Kern was released. But not, he was told, because of on-field performance.
“They took me in and told me there was really no room,” Kern said. “Because of my age, they wanted to put me in Double- or Triple-A. No one got hurt and they had guys who they had money invested in. I was the new guy and, because of that, I was the odd man out.”
The Royals also told Kern that, should their roster situation change, they would be open to bringing him back.
“I didn’t hang my head low,” Kern said. “I wasn’t upset. If anything, it fueled me more. I knew that I was good enough to be there. It just didn’t pan out. Knowing that I have a home here with the Ducks makes everything a little easier.”
Kern, who has started the season as a reliever, re-signed with the Ducks on April 11. Entering this weekend’s series with the Bridgeport Bluefish, Kern had allowed one hit and struck out three in two innings of work.
Week in review
The Ducks swept three games from the Lancaster Barnstormers this week. They entered the weekend series with Bridgeport on a six-game winning streak.
After their series finale with Bridgeport Sunday, and an off day Monday, the Ducks host a three-game set with the Somerset Patriots at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip.
The Patriots won the first four games of the season two weeks ago, putting the Ducks in an early hole in the Liberty Division first-half standings. Entering Friday’s game against Bridgeport, the Ducks stood six games behind Somerset. The first-half champion earns an automatic playoff berth.