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2006-06-14 / Columnists

Fowl Ball! Weekly report on the DUCKS

Gonzo Makes Ducks Debut
by Jason Eisenberg

Stocker and Ahearne continue early -season success

It took a little longer than expected, but Juan Gonzalez has finally played his first game as a member of the Long Island Ducks. The slugger joined his new teammates in Lancaster last Tuesday as planned, but was surprisingly left out of manager Don McCormack's lineup for each of the first two games in the series a g a i n s t the Barnstormers.

O n Thursday evening, Gonzalez made his first official appearance in a Ducks uniform, batting sixth and playing right-field. He then played two of the next three games over the weekend and is already making immediate contributions to Long Island's offense. Through three games, the former major league all-star has batted .364 at the plate, with one walk, four runs scored and two RBI.

Juan's performance during his first week with the team is even more impressive considering he did not have any spring training to get in shape. He also had not played any professional baseball since last season, when he appeared in five minor league games and one in the majors with the Cleveland Indians before being shutdown for the rest of the season with a serious hamstring injury. With such a long layoff, it is great news for both the Ducks and Gonzalez that his timing at the plate has come back so quickly.

As a whole, the Ducks did not have a great week as a team but there were some notable individual performances. Long Island finished with a 3-3 record which includes losing two of three in Lancaster and winning two of three in Camden. Some of the highlights from the week were Todd Erdos picking up two saves to become the Ducks all-time leader in that category and new addition Greg Modica pitching seven strong innings to lead Long Island to a victory in his first start with the team. On the offensive side, Erick Almonte, Henry Rodriguez and Dominick Ambrosini all had a particularly effective week at the plate.

As for the current week, Juan Gonzalez was scheduled to play his first game at Citibank Park on Tuesday as the Ducks opened a six game home-stand. Long Island plays three games against Lancaster and then three over the weekend against Somerset, finishing with a Father's Day matinee on Sunday. This gives the home fans plenty of chances to come out and see Gonzalez and his teammates as they try to hold on to first place in the division. STOCKER AND AHEARNE THRIVING ON LONG ISLAND

Last week, the Ducks reached the midpoint of this season's first half and there are two players who have clearly stood out just a little more than the rest so far. Outfielder Mel Stocker and starting pitcher Pat Ahearne, both in their first year with Long Island, have emerged as the most consistent players on the roster through this early portion of the 2006 season.

Going into play this week, Stocker is leading the entire Atlantic League with a batting average of .365 and is second in the league with 14 stolen bases. He is also currently in the midst of a leagueleading 18 game hitting streak which is now (before Tuesday's game) just two games shy of tying the Ducks franchise record of 20 straight games. Stocker's speed and ability to reach base has helped the Ducks fill a hole in the leadoff spot which was left when Justin Davies retired at the start of the season. It is not an easy task for a newcomer to replace the most popular player in team history but Stocker has certainly lived up to his predecessor.

Two people who are not surprised by Stocker's success are manager Don McCormack and co-owner/assistant coach Bud Harrelson. Prior to the start of the season, both Harrelson and McCormack pointed to Stocker as being the one player who impressed them most during spring training. "Mel is a big base stealer and even though he is on the smaller side he still has some power with the bat," Harrelson correctly predicted back in April, "He can run like the wind and has a strong arm in the outfield so he will help us in many ways."

As far as the pitching staff goes, Pat Ahearne has been by far the most consistent starter up to this point in the season. Since joining the starting rotation, Ahearne has a perfect record of 5-0 which ties him for the league lead in wins and has an ERA of 2.77 while pitching for a team which, on average, gives up close to five runs a game. "Things have worked out pretty well so far, but my main focus is on preparing for each of my starts and making my pitches," Ahearne said after a recent start, "I just want to do my best to get a win for the team every time I go out there."

Ducks manager Don McCormack has been very impressed with Ahearne's performance so far this season. "He has been in fine form," McCormack said after Ahearne's last home start, "His slider has been working along with the rest of his pitches and tonight he even executed well when he was sick, so Pat has obviously turned out to be a great addition to our staff this season."

EXTRA INNINGS

It is becoming more evident with each week that, at least for now, the South Division is far stronger than Long Island's North Division. This has obviously worked to the benefit of the Ducks, who have been playing mediocre baseball for a few weeks now yet still remain in first place by two and a half games over Bridgeport. In comparison, there are two teams in the South with better records than Long Island, and Somerset, the third place team, is only one game behind the Ducks.

 Ducks team officials announced that American Idol contestant Kevin Covais, a native of Levittown, will sing the National Anthem at Citibank Park this Friday, June 16th prior to the start of Long Island's game against the Somerset Patriots. "We are excited to bring Kevin back to our ballpark," says Ducks general manager Michael Hirsch. "He won our American Anthem contest a year ago, then won America's hearts singing on American

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