Having the Atlantic League All-Star Game on Long Island without the face of the Ducks would have been like throwing a house party without the homeowner being invited.
With the game returning to Suffolk County Sports Park Tuesday night for the first time since 2002, that possibility existed after Ray Navarrete missed the first 26 games of the season with a heel injury. The 32-year-old Atlantic League MVP returned in late May and hit .264 with a team-high seven home runs and 23 RBIs.
Despite his injury-shortened season, Navarrete was voted into the game as part of the Liberty Division team, ensuring that the longest tenured Duck would be at the Duck Pond, as the ballpark is often called, along with the rest of the Atlantic League's finest.
Navarrete, appearing in his fourth All-Star Game, entered the game playing first base in the fifth inning and went 1-for-2 as the Liberty Division defeated the Freedom Division, 7-1.
With temperatures hovering near triple digits, a past-capacity crowd of 6,436 took in the game. There were seven major-league scouts in attendance.
"When I got hurt, I thought I probably lost my opportunity to play in the All-Star Game here in my stadium, in front of our fans and I was pretty disappointed," said Navarrete, who singled up the middle in his first at-bat. "The fans have been really supportive and took notice to some of the things I did in the short time I got back. I'm pretty fortunate to be participating."
Joining Navarrete on the Liberty Division squad were Ducks teammates John Rodriguez (0-for-1), Erick Monzon (1-for-2, RBI), Brendan Monaghan (1-for-2), Joe Esposito, and Randy Leek, who was selected by manager Butch Hobson to start the game.
Leek earned the win, needing just 15 pitches - 11 for strikes - to throw two perfect innings with one strikeout against the Sparky Lyle-led Freedom squad.
Said Leek, "I didn't even know you can get a win for throwing two innings starting a game."
Leek left with a 2-0 lead after Southern Maryland's Casey Benjamin hit a leadoff home run on the first pitch he saw from York's Jesus Sanchez in the bottom of the first and Travis Garcia singled in the second to drive in Bridgeport's Steve Moss. Moss later hit a two-run homer to make it 5-1 and was named MVP.
Monaghan doubled in his first at-bat in the sixth and came around to score on a ground-rule double by fellow Duck Monzon. Esposito tossed a perfect ninth inning to close out the game.
As for Navarrete, who admits that although he hasn't been as productive this year as he's been in the past, this invite was the most meaningful.
"This All-Star Game means the most to me for a lot of reasons," Navarrete said. "For myself and the rest of the guys that call Long Island our home, it's an opportunity to showcase our stadium and our fans. It's a pretty special night.
"I've always told the front office that I can't imagine what it would be like for us Long Island guys to be able to play in front of our home fans. When they announced my name when I walked up to hit, I heard how loud the fans were cheering and that's once in a lifetime. It doesn't matter what league you're in, that's a pretty special moment, so that means the world to me."