It may not quite be the rivalry between the New York Mets and New York Yankees or what the Brooklyn Cyclones had when they’d face the old Staten Island Yankees, but a budding rivalry is starting to take shape between the Atlantic League’s newest team and one of its most successful clubs.
The Staten Island Ferry Hawks and Long Island Ducks met for the first time this week out on Long Island in what has been dubbed the “Battle of the Belt,” aptly named for the Belt Parkway which you’d have to travel along to get to either ballfield. While the moniker sounds ominous, the reality is that the two teams are still getting to know one another, and quite frankly, the bad blood just isn’t there yet between the Ferry Hawks and Ducks.
“This is a new one so we got to be ready for it. I think it’s exciting for New York, the New York people, the New York fans,” Ferry Hawks manager Edgardo Alfonzo. “It’s all about the fans. They enjoy (the rivalries). You as a player, coach, or whatever, you want to give the best to them. They are the ones that create everything. They pay to come watch the best team on the field, but you as a player you always want to beat anybody.”
It may take some time before things ratchet up between the two clubs, who play in the independent Atlantic League. The Ferry Hawks are new to the area after Staten Island was granted an Atlantic League franchise last year. They replaced the Staten Island Yankees, who had been the New York Yankees Single-A affiliate before minor league baseball went through a shakeup last year.
Now the Staten Island Ferry Hawks are trying to prove they’re the top dog — or in this case top bird — in the area when it comes to the Atlantic League.
“I think whenever you’re playing the closest team to your home ballpark there is automatically some sort of rivalry,” Said Ferry Hawks pitcher Alex Katz, who is from New Hyde Park and played for the Long Island Ducks last season. “Obviously this is our first matchup in the history of the Atlantic League between the Ferry Hawks and the Ducks. But I think there’s a rivalry already. Just hearing the ‘Battle of the Belt.’ that just gives more motivation to win the series.”
While the rivalry is only in its infancy, it has taken on some unique circumstances. This season, both ball clubs employ former Mets greats, with Alfonzo leading the expansion team in Staten Island and Wally Backman managing out on Long Island.
Backman of course won a World Series with the Amazins in 1986 and spent nine years in Queens. Alfonzo played for the Mets for eight years and was well emersed in rivalries with the Yankees, as well as hated division rival Atlanta.
“You can lose to any team except the Braves and the Yankees for example too,” the Ferry Hawks manager recalled. “That creates the atmosphere. It’s good. It pushes you to play your best game every time.”
Surprisingly 2022 marks the first time that two New York-based teams have played in the Atlantic League. Plans to bring a second team to the area fell apart in 2011 in a failed effort by Nassau County and the New York Islanders to build a new arena on the site of the Nassau Coliseum and build a minor league ballpark as part of the plan.
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With the Staten Island Ferry Hawks arrival, New York will finally get its chance at another baseball rivalry, though this might have a much friendlier feel. Backman and Alfonzo have known each other for some time having both coached in the Mets organization and the Ducks skipper is happy to lend a hand to his counterpart if needed in Staten Island.
“I’m sure there’s some competition there between Alfonzo and myself,” Backman said. “We were together with the Mets and it’s almost like if you need some help and I have some help, maybe we can help each other a little bit. Normally rivalries don’t do that, but me and Fonzie are different type of rivalries cause we coached together. It makes it a little bit different.”