A native of West Babylon, he we a 23rd Round Pick (681st overall) in the 1998 MLB Amateur Draft of the Toronto Blue Jays.
In 2000, after he was released by the Blue Jays he was signed by the Ducks, and was the table-setter on the 2004 Atlantic League Championship team with his speed and patience at the plate, which also earned him playoff MVP honors.
His hard work, dedication on the field; and personality, and fan interaction off of it made him a fan favorite not only on Long Island but around the Atlantic League.
CM: How did you become a Duck?
JD: After spending two quick years in the Toronto Blue Jays system I was released in the spring of 2000 during the last week. My agent at the time told me that it was a tough time to get me signed with other organizations because everybody was trimming down their rosters so he signed me with the Atlantic League. This is when all the teams would go down to spring training together. All the players signed with the league would spend three days of workouts/tryouts with the teams of league and then all the teams would get together and hold a draft. Long Island selected me and I spent the rest of spring training with them. The last day of this spring training Bud Harrelson pulled me into the office and told me that they had just signed Ruben Seirra who was playing in the Mexican League and because of that they had to release me but Buddy did want me to continue to work out with them since I was a local guy until i found a place to play. Then once we got back to Long Island they told me that Ruben was on hold because the Texas Rangers were in negotiations with him. The day before opening day Buddy told me that i was going to be activated until further notice with the Ruben Seirra talks. I was there for opening weekend. We went to Newark for the first road trip and during the day while in the hotel room I was watching ESPN and I saw the news alerts that run on the bottom that Ruben just signed with the Texas Rangers. I was there ever since.
CM: What was it like to be on the first Ducks team ever?
JD: At the time I was just happy to be on a team in general. As I Look back now 11 years later I can truly say it was an honor and privilege. You can look at any team in any sport, there are championship years, great years, bad years but there is only 1 Inaugural season. You can never take that away. Sure we had our ups and downs during that season, we had a good team, actually had the best overall record the entire season but couldn't make the playoffs. I was part of something special a new buzz, excitement that came to Long Island. I am glad that it's still as strong as it ever was.
CM: What was the atmosphere like that first season?
JD: Electrifying!!! Newsday, News 12 and the entire Ducks media department did a really good job at getting everyone ready with anticipation with the start of the season. Then once we started there was a buzz from people that wanted to see how good these guys really are. I feel that not only did we impress most of the people with quality baseball but the entire Minor league baseball experience, and what it’s like for family entertainment was totally different then what most of Long Islanders were used to seeing at Yankee or Shea (at the time) Stadiums. The front office staff did and continues to do a tremendous job at providing affordable family entertainment to Long Island. Many of you don’t realize how hard they work year long or how many hours they put in during the season. I know they are there about 9am on game days and don’t leave until after the game ends.
CM: The Ducks and Atlantic League were so new then and other Independent league and teams weren't that popular, did you think they would last?
JD: Of course...What is one of most significant factors for success in any restaurant or new business……Location, location, location…. The location of the league and the teams that are in it plays a big part. Good quality baseball is another and the location of the league and teams within attracts the best players available. Some might say we pay the most, but the truth of the matter is we’re not breaking the bank here, for about 80% of the players the Atlantic league is a stepping stone to get back to Organizations. For the best players available where do you think you’re going to get the best exposure? Fargo, North Dakota, Yuma Arizona, or Long Island NY. Nothing against those places or teams it’s just lets face it if you have a scout or GM from a Major League team that’s in town for the Mets game and there is an off day it’s easy for them to take the 45 min drive out to Long Island because he heard that Rickey Henderson, or Juan Gonzalez is playing out there. Then you add like I said before affordable family entertainment in highly populated areas and this is what you have.
CM: 2004 was such a special season, what was your favorite moment?
JD: There were so many moments that were special, but I would have to say that the one day playoff at Bridgeport on August 9th was the best. There was so much riding on that one game. All the cards were against us at that point. We had all the momentum going into the end of the first half only for it to be taken away and postponed. We lost some key players between the first half and August 9th. Bridgeport was playing really well at that time in August and we had to go there. One of the best feelings I ever experienced was celebrating on that field for the first time. I also believe that the fact that we have never made it to the playoffs up to that point played a big factor because I remember the year before missing the playoffs the very last day of the season and not wanting to have that feeling again. Having all the Duck fans there was a big help and awesome, the feel in the stadium was crazy. Oh yeah, don’t let me forget that ferry ride home with all the duck fans, for those of you who were there on that ferry you know what I’m talking about.
CM: Who was your favorite teammate?
JD: Wow that’s a pretty risky question....lol I hope no one gets offended. Truth is I have definitely had my fair share of teammates within the revolving door roster that the Ducks had through the years. I’ve had a lot of great teammates like Doug Jennings, Kimera Bartee, Patrick Lennon, Tom Hage, Kevin Baez, Francisco Morales, Cole Liniak, Rusty MacNamara, to name a few but I would have to say Jason Johnson and Thomas Caputo were my two closest friends. I’ve had both of them as roommates many times on road trips. Tom and I were close in the off season as well, partly because we both lived on Long Island and gave baseball lessons in the off season. In fact I used to rent an apartment in Tommy’s basement for two years. He was also one of my groomsmen during my wedding. I probably spent the most time with Jason Johnson on the road, we spent many nights and days expressing our desires of becoming law enforcement officers once we stopped playing baseball. Jason is also the one that introduced me to North Carolina and suggested that I come down to Charlotte to take the police test.
CM: Last season Ray Navarrete broke your Ducks all-time hits record, and has become the face of the franchise, what is your relationship with Ray? (Picture courtesy of http://www.liducks.com)
JD: Ray Navarrete.....I hate that guy!!!....lol. Just kidding, actually Ray is a really great guy on and off the field (which I know you’re aware of already) and there is no question why he is the face of the Ducks now. His play on the field speaks for itself but being the face of the Ducks is more than just playing well. I was said to be the face of the Ducks while I played but we all know I wasn’t the best player on the team. It’s doing the little things like staying late to sign autographs even though you know that all the food will be gone when you do get up to the locker room, going to hospitals to put smiles on the faces of kids and adults that haven’t smiled in awhile, reading books at local schools or just walking the concourse before and after the game greeting fans. I played against him when he was with Somerset that one year. So I knew who he was when he came to LI but never had the privilege to play alongside him (I think we would have made a great one two punch at the top of the lineup). We have developed a friendship the last couple of years from the times I have come back to Long Island. If I could hand pick a player to break my records and be the face of the Ducks I couldn’t pick a more standup guy.
JD: Since you've retired from baseball, what are you doing?
CM: Well most people knew when I retired it was to move the family down to North Carolina and take a job with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. I’ve been on the force now for 5 ½ years. Currently I’ve been assigned to the Special Operations Division – K9 Unit. I’ve been a K9 handler for 2 years now. My partner is a 3 year old German Sheppard Dog named Korzar. He was born in the Czech Republic and is the most loyal partner anyone can have. Last year I realized that I missed baseball again and started a baseball team down here for the Police department. Last year was our first season and we were 19-6 overall and finished 4th in the 2011 World Police and Fire Olympics this past year. You can follow us on Facebook under “Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Blue Hornets” and like us.
Personally I’m enjoying being a husband and father. The thing about baseball is that you never really ever got to enjoy a summer. It wasn’t until I retired that I actually had off on a 4th of July, Mothers and Fathers day, Memorial and Labor day, or could just take a week off and go on vacation. Don’t get me wrong I was getting paid to play baseball, poor me right....lol. But now I can take time off, call in sick, take vacation almost any time I need. Most of all I enjoy being there for my wife and kids. I miss playing for the Ducks but I have no regrets retiring when I did, it was my time.
Thanks Justin and best of luck to you and your family!