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Ducks ready to start 2012 season

Ducks infielder Ray Navarrete (16). (April 25, 2012)

Ducks infielder Ray Navarrete (16). (April 25, 2012) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Ray Navarrete is coming off what he called "the longest offseason of my career."

The Long Island Ducks second baseman, who hit 27 home runs last season, added, "I've been counting down the days until the season ever since that last out."

Thursday night, the wait is over, as the Ducks open their season on the road against the Somerset (N.J.) Patriots.

After winning the first and second-half Liberty Division titles last season, the Ducks lost in the Atlantic League Championship Series, 3-1, to the York (Pa.) Revolution.

"This was the one thing I truly wanted since I've been a Long Island Duck," said Navarrete, entering his seventh season with the team. "I went to sleep every night last season thinking that we were going to win it all. Just like everybody, from the front office to my teammates, it was a tough defeat."

In search of their second Atlantic League championship, and first since 2004, the Ducks return eight players from last season.

Mike Loree, who led the Atlantic League in wins (14), ERA (1.98) and strikeouts (131) last season, will start the opener.

Reigning Atlantic League batting champion and Chaminade product Kraig Binick is also back in the fold, and like Navarrete, enters this season with championship expectations.

"This is a huge part of why I wanted to come back," Binick said. "You're missing something in your heart. That is something that you live for as a pro, to win a championship and get that ring."

Manager Kevin Baez, a player on the '04 championship team, enters his second season at the helm.

Like Navarrete and Binick, the bitter taste of last season remains.

"We just came up short, and you have to give credit to York, unfortunately," Baez said.

President/GM Michael Pfaff then interjected: "This has not been sitting well."

Losing never does sit well, and Pfaff spent the offseason adding to an already established core.

Perhaps the team's most high-profile acquisition was DH/1B/C Ryan Garko, an ex-major leaguer who spent last season playing in Korea and will open the season as the cleanup hitter.

Baez and Pfaff expect a big season from first baseman Brandon Sing, a career minor-leaguer who has a .309 average and 96 home runs over the past four seasons.

Third baseman Bryant Nelson was acquired from York in an offseason trade for Freddie Thon. Nelson hammered the Ducks in last year's championship series, going 7-for-15 with two home runs.

The Ducks hope Nelson can do the same for them this postseason.

"We're trying to finish the season and win those last few games," Navarrete said. "That is what I'm gunning for."

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