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Ducks planning for 70-game season with limited fans

The Ducks proposed a plan that would allow

The Ducks proposed a plan that would allow them 1,500 fans at Bethpage Ballpark. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Ducks are working with several other independent league teams to play a 70-game schedule that would begin in mid-July and end in late September with a five-game championship series to follow, the Atlantic League announced Friday afternoon.

The Ducks have submitted a plan to county and state officials that, if approved, would allow for 25% capacity — roughly 1,500 fans — to attend the games at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip.

“Our hope is that we are able to announce a schedule by mid-to-late next week,” Ducks president and general manager Michael Pfaff told Newsday.

Other Atlantic League teams included with the Ducks in this schedule of games are the High Point Rockers and Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. Pfaff would not reveal the other non-Atlantic League teams that could round out the six-team group, but said they likely would be located in the “mid-Atlantic” region of the country.

The announcement comes as the Atlantic League faces the reality that all seven of their teams may not be able to open their ballparks in a timely enough fashion to play a season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Atlantic League also includes Texas’ Sugar Land Skeeters, New Jersey’s Somerset Patriots and Pennsylvania’s Lancaster Barnstormers and York Revolution.

“The Atlantic League and other leagues are in similar positions,” Atlantic League president Rick White said in the news release. “There are multiple teams in each league at different stages of reopening; therefore, some who are able to begin play and some who are not. This solution would pair those clubs able to play and entertain fans at their ballparks, providing a high level of professional baseball and affordable family entertainment.”

Said Pfaff: “We’ve had ongoing conversations and we have relationships with teams in other leagues and [Ducks founder/CEO] Frank Boulton has relationships with other owners and other leagues. Those conversations have been ongoing as we all try to gather the best intelligence to open our ballparks.”

Pfaff said an eight-team, 72-game schedule has been contemplated, but a six-team, 70-game schedule is the more likely plan.

Last week, the Skeeters, whom the Ducks beat in the Atlantic League Championship Series last year, announced the formation of a four-team league that will play exclusively in the Skeeters’ home ballpark in Texas and feature teams managed by Roger Clemens and his son Koby and former All-Star pitcher Greg Swindell.

The Ducks presented a plan to Suffolk County, which was then submitted to the state, that includes safety protocols for reopening, including reducing the seating capacity of Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip to 25%, which would allow fans to remain socially distant during games.

At his daily media briefing Friday, County Executive Steve Bellone called the Atlantic League’s plan “safe” and similar to the county’s rules regarding social distancing, reduced capacity and facemasks.

“If you follow the guidelines that the state has in terms of social distancing and wearing face coverings in an outdoor environment that’s about as safe an environment as you can be in,” Bellone said.

With Robert Brodsky

New York Sports