(L to R) unknown, Ducks co-owner Bud Harrelson, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Michael Pfaff.
Michael Pfaff holding the Atlantic League Championship trophy with Ducks manager Wally Backman.
(L to R) Co-owner Bud Harrelson, former manager Kevin Baez, Michael Pfaff, player Lew Ford, unknown.
(L to R) Michael Pfaff, Wally Backman, Ducks co-owner Frank Boulton.
Since 2000, the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball have been one of the region’s premier sports franchises. For 18 of those 20 years, Michael Pfaff ’95SVC has worked for the organization in various capacities; he currently serves as President and General Manager.
After seven years working for the National Football League (NFL), Mr. Pfaff, a native of Manhasset, NY, was looking for an opportunity to work in the public relations department for a professional sports team. “The Ducks had tremendous success right out of the gate when Frank Boulton and Bud Harrelson launched the team,” Mr. Pfaff recalled, adding that he was hired as Director of Communications in 2002, and his relationships with Mr. Boulton and Mr. Harrelson have only grown stronger during his tenure with the organization.
“I figured I would be there for a year or so, prove that I could run my own department, and then get a job with the NFL and run my own department there. Here I am, 18 years later,” he said with a smile. Mr. Pfaff realized that in minor league baseball, “You may be the high-wire act, but you also have to pitch the tent. Everybody does everything. Everybody wears a lot of hats, and I kind of liked that.”
Very early in his career he realized that no matter what title a person held at the Ducks, they were all community ambassadors for the team. “It started at the top with Frank and Bud, people who are immersed in their communities and support so many different charitable efforts while representing the brand,” he explained. Soon, Mr. Pfaff found himself going out into the community, speaking to leaders about how they can be involved with the Ducks.
“It does not necessarily mean they are buying a sign or a print ad,” Mr. Pfaff stressed. “It could be buying tickets for their church. Everybody is going to have a good time at a Ducks game.”
Mr. Pfaff’s operational responsibilities grew over several years, and he was named General Manager in 2006 and President in 2011. Under his stewardship, the Ducks have won three Atlantic League championships and became a stepping stone to the major leagues, both for young players as well as established players looking to reinvent themselves.
An Athletic Administration (now known as Sport Management) major, Mr. Pfaff came to St. John’s because “it offered unmatched internship and volunteer opportunities that provided me with real-world experience, interaction with great organizations, and a path to full-time employment in my chosen field.”
While at St. John’s, Mr. Pfaff interned with the NFL’s Communications Department in New York City.
“It provided me with a tremendous learning experience and the opportunity to interact with leaders in the field while working for the world’s strongest professional sports brand,” he noted.
Upon graduation, Mr. Pfaff was hired by the NFL and worked there for seven years.
Mr. Pfaff credited the late Bernard P. Beglane, founder of the University’s Athletic Administration program, with mentoring and aiding him in his search for a suitable internship. “Dean Beglane certainly had the largest impact on my future course as a professional,” he recalled. “Without his connections and willingness to use them for the benefit of his students and program, none of what I accomplished would have been possible.”
He added, “I found St. John’s to be the right choice for me at the time based on the school’s ability to put me in a position to work in my chosen field. It really helped put me on a path to success. I would be happy to talk to anyone about how St. John’s may be able to help them do the same!”
In his time at the Ducks, Mr. Pfaff has helped grow the brand while providing families with reasonably priced entertainment. “We do not price ourselves up against the Mets and Yankees, we price ourselves against the movies.”
Mr. Pfaff confronted a particular challenge this year when the COVID-19 outbreak forced the cancellation of the Ducks season. However, that has not stopped him from engaging with the community.
“All of our efforts throughout the summer have been about keeping the lines of communication open with the fans, staying relevant, and letting them know that even without the Ducks playing baseball, the ballpark and the organization are still there for them—and will be when we open in 2021.”