Kraig Binick found himself a long way from home earlier this season.
Binick, a 28-year-old Hicksville product who has played parts of the last three seasons with the Long Island Ducks, was playing in Campeche, Mexico (about five hours west of Cancun) with the Campeche Pirates of the Mexican League.
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"It's an experience,'' Binick said. "You get to play in different places, and I think it made me better overall as a person as well. You go down there and it tests everything you have. You've got no one to help you, you don't know the language, there's different food, the style of baseball is different and you need to perform as a foreigner, and it tested my ability.''
Binick, who played in the Mexican Pacific League two years ago, said he returned to Mexico this season to earn more money and for the challenge of competing in the Mexican League, which MiLB.com compares to a Triple-A affiliated league.
"It's a different type of league,'' he said. "Pitching is a little different. They're crafty, they'll throw pitches in any count. The teams are very competitive and it's a cutthroat league, but it was a lot of fun.''
Binick said the baseball culture in Mexico varies from city to city, as does the way the players are treated. There were nights when the team stayed in nice hotels and others when they had to deal with bedbugs and thin mattresses. Some ballparks had new facilities; others were in desperate need of renovations.
Security also was an issue.
"Basically you're just trying to order food, get a taxi and make sure all your valuables are safe and then play the best you can,'' Binick said. "One time we were in Campeche and one of our players had gotten off the bus and a couple of drunk guys punched him and threw a rock in his face just for the heck of it, but he carried himself professionally and the whole team had to come out there and deal with it . . . There's not really [team] security.''
But despite that rare run-in with a few fanatics and the language barrier, Binick said he loved the fan experience while playing in Mexico.
"The fans aren't there for any of the off-the-field or between-innings stuff [entertainment] that goes on. The fans are there for the game, and that's the best part about it,'' Binick said. "You interact with the fans all the time. They're big-time baseball fans, believe it or not, and I try to talk to them best I can and sign autographs . . . I took Spanish in high school but I almost failed, so I learned it the hard way."
Binick hit .269 with a .359 on-base percentage in 55 games with Campeche, stealing 18 bases in 23 attempts with 35 runs scored. He played for Acereros del Norte in Monclova, located about 150 miles west of the southern Texas border town of Laredo. He struggled in nine games (6-for-36) and was released, returning to the Ducks on July 2.
"I didn't perform well enough in Mexico, and it worked out that I could come here and play in centerfield and have another job,'' Binick said. "It's special to me. The Ducks gave me an opportunity to play in front of my fans and family here on Long Island. And it propelled my career to be able to get to play in Mexico. I was able to do special things for the Ducks, so I'm glad to be back.''
In his first season with the Ducks in 2011, Binick hit .343, won the Atlantic League batting title and led the league with 42 stolen bases. His numbers dipped in 2012, but he batted .405 in the playoffs to help lead the Ducks to the Atlantic League title.
Through 18 games with the Ducks this season, he has yet to make an error in the outfield.
Binick plans to return to Mexico for winter ball, but his priority is to help lead the Ducks back to the playoffs. Then he'll take a brief break before the winter.
"The winter league [in Mexico] is definitely even more competitive, but I haven't had a rest,'' Binick said. "I've played 400-something days in two years, so I'd like a day off.''