The Long Island Ducks clinched the Atlantic League Championship in thrilling fashion Sunday, and were still flying high at Wednesday night's official championship celebration.
More than 100 Ducks fans gathered at the YMCA Boulton Center in Bay Shore to interact with players, coaches and management, collect official championship memorabilia and pose with the Atlantic League Championship trophy, something they've been waiting to do since the team's only other title in 2004 at Camden.
"What made this even more special was that we got to do it at home in front of our fans," team founder and CEO Frank Boulton told fans. "You folks came out and at the end of it, we play the game of baseball for the enjoyment of the people who come out with their families."
Fans participated in a Q & A session with Boulton, general manager Michael Pfaff, manager Kevin Baez and infielders Ray Navarrete and Bryant Nelson, and listened as the Ducks leaders discussed the excitement of winning a championship, facing Roger Clemens in a September game at Sugar Land, and dedicating their season to former Ducks manager and Mets catcher Gary Carter.
As expected, the fans were focused on their champion Ducks, and got a sense of the team's emotions during the deciding fifth game of the championship series against Lancaster, when shortstop Dan Lyons redeemed himself after an error in the top of the ninth by delivering a walk-off bunt single in the bottom of the inning that scored the winning run from third.
"For that split second, on that ball when [Lyons] fielded it cleanly, we thought we were all about to celebrate," Navarrete told the fans. "Our dugout wasn't quiet though, we bought into the fact that we were supposed to win in the bottom of that inning . . . it was a movie unfolding and it's a testament to how this year was and how this team was."
Fans were also treated to a video of Ducks season highlights and autographs from Baez, Navarrete and Nelson.
"We're excited about the championship, that's why we're here," said Vinny Blakla, 55 of Huntington, a partial season-ticket holder for seven years. "Clinching the playoff spot in the first half and this run all the way until the fifth game. We want to make sure the Ducks fans are behind the team."
Nicholas Grue, 8, of Centereach said of the team's championship: "I was so excited I wasn't talking. I felt like they did it, they overcame."