Then-Long Island Ducks manager and part owner Buddy Harrelson acknowledges...

Then-Long Island Ducks manager and part owner Buddy Harrelson acknowledges the crowd at a Ducks game. Credit: Newsday/Ari Mintz

He never tired of signing “Bud Harrelson” again and again, day after day, for the autograph-seekers who flocked to Long Island Ducks games at their stadium in Central Islip. He was a friendly face of the Atlantic League team he co-founded and co-owned.

Harrelson was a friendly face, period, an approachable former big-leaguer living in Suffolk, the home base he embraced since 1969, when he was playing shortstop for the Amazin’ Mets.

“He had a unique connection with the fan base of not only the ’69 Mets and the Met fan base but everybody here on Long Island,” Frank Boulton, the Ducks’ principal owner, co-founder and CEO, said Thursday from Fairfield Properties Ballpark. “Before the games, Buddy would come out and he’d sign until he had to go back to the dugout or go coach third base. He made himself available to all the fans all the time. That was a very unique thing.

“People would come up to him, people like 45, 50 years old, and say, ‘Hey, you remember me? You spoke at my Massapequa Little League banquet.’ And he’d go, ‘Yeah, I remember you.’

“Whether it was here at the ballpark or at the grocery story, he was just a warm human being who appreciated the fact that people knew him as this scrappy player who loved Long Island and loved the game of baseball.”

So Thursday was a sad day. Word came that this beloved man with deep Long Island ties had passed away at the age of 79 while in hospice care in East Northport.

“On a personal basis, it’s a big loss,” said Boulton, Harrelson’s good friend and baseball business partner since 1991. “But he suffered greatly with Alzheimer’s. People like to say, ‘He’s in a better place.’ I truly believe Buddy is in a better place now.”

The ex-Mets player, coach and manager spent time as an East Northport and a Hauppauge resident. He originallywas from California.

“But he considered himself a Long Islander,” Boulton said.

Harrelson ultimately became synonymous with the Ducks.

“As an organization as a whole, it’s a tough day to have news like this,” said Michael Polak, the team’s vice president of communications. “ . . . He helped make professional baseball on Long Island a reality.”

Harrelson teamed with Boulton, who is from Brightwaters, to help create the independent Atlantic League, now entering its 26th year, and the Ducks. They debuted in 2000 with Harrelson as the manager, just for that season. He then was a coach with them until his number was retired in August 2018.

A No. 3 patch will be on the Ducks’ uniform sleeves this season in his honor.

“Buddy will always be a piece of the fabric of the Long Island Ducks,” Boulton said. “Without Buddy, there probably wouldn’t be a Long Island Ducks.”

Harrelson showed his charitable side across Long Island.

“He was at all the golf outings for every charity that ever asked him to do anything,” Boulton said. “He literally had a hard time saying ‘no, thank you.’ He worked with countless charities on Long Island to help raise money. One of the biggest things in his life was the Make-A-Wish Foundation.”

Michael Pfaff, the Ducks’ president and chief business officer, who has been with them since 2002, spent a lot of time with Harrelson. Pfaff marveled at how he could “make people feel special.” He said Harrelson “set the bar high” as far as the team “giving back to the community.”

“To me,” Pfaff said, “it’s an honor and a privilege to carry on his legacy by playing Ducks baseball.”

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