Since graduating from Bellport High School in 2006, Bruce Kern has played various levels of professional baseball, everywhere from California to North Carolina. He's yet to encounter an atmosphere quite like the one provided by the fans at Bethpage Ballpark, though.
"It's incredible. Like nothing I've had before," he said with a smile. "The New Yorkers here, they know baseball. And they love it."
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Playing in front of 5,574 Sunday, Kern earned the win in the Ducks' 9-4 victory over the Somerset Patriots, their 19th win in their last 20 home games. In its previous three games, the Ducks welcomed three consecutive crowds of 7,000 or more for the first time in the franchise's 16-year history. Lew Ford, who went 4-for-4 with two homers and three RBIs, said an electric home-field atmosphere brings a certain expectation.
"Every time we come out to the ballpark here, we're expecting to win," Ford said. "The fans are expecting us to win, too. That's a good atmosphere for performing well."
The Liberty Division's first half-winning Patriots (50-20), who set an Atlantic League record for most wins in one half, struck first. Michael Burgess' three-run home run in the first inning gave them a 3-0 lead.
But the Ducks (46-23) responded in the bottom half. Bryan Sabatella led off with a double and scored on Ford's seventh homer, a liner that cleared the leftfield wall by five feet.
In the fourth, Ford, who upped his league-leading average to .361, blasted another one over the leftfield wall to tie the score at 3. It marked the first time that Patriots starter Sean Bierman allowed three earned runs in a game this season.
"He mixes it up pretty good, but I was able to see a lot of pitches that first at-bat," Ford said of his seven-pitch turn in the first. "That helps you out the rest of the game."
The Ducks never trailed after Prentice Redman's run-scoring single in the fourth gave them a 4-3 lead.
Kern, typically a reliever who was making just his third start of the season and his first in three weeks, settled in after the first. He allowed four earned runs, six hits and a walk in six innings, striking out eight. The Patriots couldn't solve his curveball.
"That's my strikeout pitch," Kern said. "Early on, I tried to save it, but then I felt like, 'Why am I trying to save it?' Let's use it and get some zeros.
"It's fun to win in front of this crowd."