Ray Navarette’s plan as it involved the Long Island Ducks was a short-lived one.
He had come as close as possible to living his dream, but Navarette was released from the New York Mets while competing for their Triple A affiliate.
“I kind of thought my career was actually over,” Navarette said. “I got a phone call from the Ducks and I told myself I’d just finish out the year like Bull Durham.”
That was eight years ago.
The Port Washington resident has become the face of the independent minor league club and owns virtually every offensive record for the defending Atlantic League champions.
What was a month-and-a-half plan turned into a storied and lengthy career with the Ducks, one that is coming to an end next month.
“The entire Long Island community is very special to me now,” Navarette said. “This is my home, I got married here, my family lives out east. This is a great place, it’s been an amazing run. It’s sad that every player has to retire at some point, but eight years with one team, a lot of guys can’t say that.”
Navarette was born in Teaneck, N.J. and was a standout at Seton Hall University, where he batted .393 as a senior. He signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2000 and attended the team’s Spring Training.
After five years in the Pittsburgh farm system, Navarette moved up the ranks in the Mets organization, playing for Triple-A Norfolk in 2006.
“I was as close as you can get,” he said.
Navarette has carved out his niche with the Ducks, batting over .300 four times, including .307 last year at the age of 34. He earned his fifth All-Star appearance a year ago and is the Ducks all-time leader in hits (929), home runs (132), RBI (533), runs (584), doubles (239) and games played (825).
“He is the face of the organization since I’ve been here,” Ducks manager Kevin Baez said. “He’s had outstanding years here, he’s a quality person, a quality player. He loves playing here and having a Long Island Ducks uniform on. He takes great pride in that and it shows.”
Baez said Navarette could play as long as he wants and Navarette admits he could probably compete in the Atlantic League for a few more years. But he wanted to go out while still on top of his game.
“It’s important for me to still play and when people remember me or see me play and say, man that kid could hit or he’s a tough out or he really comes through in the clutch,” Navarette said. “I didn’t want to be a guy who was fading.”
Now, much like Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera, Navarette is on his farewell tour of the Atlantic League. With the Ducks in the second half of their season, Navarette is cherishing every game, every at-bat of his 14th year as a professional baseball player.
“You get close and you think what’s that last at-bat going to be like, what’s that last game going to be like? I just hope we win, I hope my last at-bat on this field is a good one and I picture us winning the championship series,” Navarette said. “I think it would be awesome to leave here holding two trophies, one for each arm.”
Unlike many other professional athletes, Navarette has a clearly paved path when his career ends next month.
A clothing designer, Navarette owns Digmi Clothing Co., named after the nickname he earned in the Pirates organization. Digmi, which Navarette describes as streetware (jeans, T-shirts and hats) just opened its first store in Port Washington and already has a clientele that includes professional athletes Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, David Ortiz and Ray Rice as well as actor Kevin James.
“I’m hoping that one major league hit that I’m missing in my career, maybe we get there somehow with my clothing company,” Navarette said.
Navarette is currently batting .226 with 15 doubles, two home runs and 23 RBI. The Ducks are first in the Liberty Division in the second half of the season with a 3.5 game lead over the rival Bridgeport Bluefish.
The month-and-half Navarette thought he’d spend with the Ducks eight years ago is happening now.
“There’s nothing like walking down the tunnel hearing the sound of your cleats,” Navarette said. “It’s nice to know it’s going to end so you can enjoy every moment. I’m not sad yet. I think I’ll be sad when it’s over.”