SUFFOLK COUNTY

Q&A: Former LI Duck Kevin Baez reflects on baseball career

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Kevin Baez, former New York Mets shortstop in 1990, 1992 and 1993, was drafted by the Mets in 1988. Baez played for the Long Island Ducks from 2002 to 2005 and was a member of the Ducks’ 2004 Atlantic League Championship season. Baez was also a coach as well as a player/coach of the professional baseball team in Central Islip and served as the skipper of the “Orange and Green” from 2011 to 2018 and helped guide the Ducks to back-to-back Atlantic League championships in 2012 and 2013. Currently a resident of Oakdale, Baez works at Matt Guiliano's Play Like A Pro sports facility in Hauppauge as an instructor.

Q: So you worked with Buddy Harrelson in the Mets organization and the Ducks organization. Tell me about your relationship with Buddy.
A: Well, my first year he was the manager for the New York Mets and I got called up to the big leagues, so I got to meet him then. I didn't really know him. I knew of him, obviously, but then we became really close when I became a member of the Ducks family; he was one of the coaches/part owner and we became really, really close throughout the years. Super, super human being; you know, words can’t even do a justice.

Q: What are some of your memories of your time with the Ducks that stand out the most?
A: Well, first as a player, winning the championship in 2004. And then becoming a player/coach and then a coach and then a manager, so not one thing in particular stands out other than what a great organization run by Frank Boulton [owner], Michael Pfaff [general manager], and Buddy Harrelson as well. I didn't know what it was when I first got there – what was the Long Island Ducks and what was Independent ball at the time, I didn't know. But what a great organization and a great idea that Frank Boulton brought up years ago and what a visionary. So, I got a chance to keep my career going and playing a little bit more, and then they gave me a chance to get into coaching and then into managing, so if it wasn't for them, who knows where I would be.

Q: Talk about how the game of baseball has changed since your playing days and how that impacts the way you train young players.
A: Yeah, well, nowadays I think there's less bunting. There's less hit-and-run. There's less small ball. There's more it's ok to strikeout type of deal, more home runs. But I'm still not going to shy from the “fundies,” which is the fundamentals of baseball, because I think that should never die. Keeping the game as simple as possible, try not to complicate it. I was taught from a lot of great men and a lot of great teachers, so I'm just going to keep it the way I was taught, but I do understand teaching kids now; that's exactly what I try and do for them. I try and simplify it for them.

Q: So being a former shortstop, the position used to be a fielder's position; now it's an all-around position. Talk about how that position has changed.
A: Yeah, definitely coming up I was known as a good glove guy and that's what pretty much got me to the big leagues my first time, and I was known as a defensive guy and I became a better hitter later on, but look at the shortstops now – they're all studs (laughs) and they all hit.

Q: So tell me about the current state of baseball on Long Island.
A: I think it's in good shape. From what I hear from the grapevine about Little League's kind of depleting a little bit and that's sad to see, but overall I think it's doing well and I think it's still going to do well in the future and I know that once this pandemic is over with and when we get back to some type of normalcy, we'll get back to the kids playing Little League and high school and middle school, and all the schools just getting back to playing and having fun and enjoying the game that we all love.

Q: So how did you wind up in Oakdale and how do you like living here?
A: Good question! I never heard of Oakdale in my life and then my wife's job moved to Oakdale. We were living in Brooklyn; she was commuting for one year back and forth. Then I actually got a job with the Long Island Ducks, which is near Oakdale, so I think everything happens for a reason, and next thing you know we're moving to Oakdale the next year. So, I bought a house there and have two kids: a 14-year-old and a 10-year-old and we love it. I love Oakdale. I think it's a great little town.

Q: Do you see any big-time potential of players you have prior or currently worked with on the South Shore?
A: Yeah, absolutely. There's a number of kids that whether it's get ‘em to the high school level and then hopefully get ‘em to the college level. After that everything is gravy, but I do have some kids that definitely have the potential to go get drafted and get to the big leagues.

Q: The last question I want to ask is what advice would you give to a young kid reading this who wants to play baseball?
A: You know, go and play. Again, I love this game I've been playing and supporting this game since I was 4 years old, so I love it. I'm excited about it because I just think it teaches not only the X's and O's playing baseball, but it teaches sportsmanship, teamwork, life lessons, work ethic – all the above, and it’s just kind of something that molded me. If it weren't for baseball, I don't know where I would be, but it definitely helped me and I enjoyed it, and now I like to give back and talk to the kids not only teaching baseball’s X's and O's on how to hit, field and pitch, but I also teach them about baseball and how it brings you to life lessons and also do well in school that allows you to play because if you don't do well in school, then you can't play the sport. So that keeps them going and hopefully, they get some knowledge of it.

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