“I’m Officially a Long Islander”

Ford-Collage
No folks, those aren’t “booooooos” that you hear across the frozen tundra otherwise known as Long Island. Those are “Lewwwwwww” chants. Ducks fans were overjoyed by Monday’s announcement that Lew Ford will be returning to Long Island’s hometown team in 2015 for his second season as a player/coach and sixth season overall.

Lew has become a fan favorite on Long Island. Whenever Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything” begins playing through the speakers at Bethpage Ballpark, the chants begin. From the fans in the stands to public address announcer Bob Ottone in the press box, everyone knows who is stepping up to the plate. And that has often meant great things for the Ducks.

Ford was the best offensive performer across the entire Atlantic League in 2014 and was awarded the title of Player of the Year following the season’s conclusion. His list of achievements was remarkable. Among the most notable were:

-Setting Atlantic League single season records for games played (140) and hits (189)
-Becoming the first player in Atlantic League history to play in all 140 games during a single season
-Leading the league with 40 doubles
-Finishing second in the league in batting average (.347), RBI (95), runs (100), total bases (278) and on-base percentage (.415)
-Being selected to play in the Atlantic League All-Star Game for the first time
-Earning First Team All-Star honors following the season’s conclusion
-Being named the Atlantic League’s Player of the Month for May
-Being named the Atlantic League’s Player of the Week twice (May 12-18 & June 9-15)

There was some competition from Justin Greene of York, who led the league in batting average, and Lancaster’s Cole Garner, who launched the most home runs. However, when it came down to ranking the best overall player in the league this past season, Ford stood head and shoulders above them all. By winning the award, he became the second Duck ever to do so, joining all-time great Ray Navarrete, who earned the honor during his historic 2009 campaign.

Not only did Ford excel on the diamond, he was very successful in his first year as a hitting coach. His experience and training helped direct an offense that led the Atlantic League in batting average at .279, a full 11 points higher than second place Lancaster. That same offense also was tops in the league in on-base percentage (.345), hits (1,360), walks (458) and at-bats (4,882).

On Monday, we had the chance to catch up with Ford to discuss his outstanding 2014 season on a personal level, the disappointment of missing the playoffs, the upcoming season and some other topics. Here’s our Q&A with “Captain Lew”:

What does it mean to you to be named the Atlantic League’s Player of the Year, and how special is it to hold the league’s single-season records for hits and games played?

“It’s an honor to be named Player of the Year and set records in the league. The records are special to me. The type of records they are speak to the hard work, focus, and grind that I put in every day last year. There were no days off.”

How were you able to will yourself to play every day despite the aches and pains that are inevitable during the season?

“When you play baseball for this long you don’t know what it feels like not to be sore or have aches and pains. It’s something you get used to. I enjoy the challenge of competing at a high level when you are tired, sore, or mentally exhausted. I’d say it is difficult to do. I had done it one other time in my career in 2002, but I was 25 years old then. I never felt the need or asked to be in the lineup every day. KB [Ducks manager Kevin Baez] just made the lineups out.”

How much did you enjoy your first year as Hitting Coach, and what about the role do you think may be different this year?

“I learned a lot in my first year as hitting coach, and I’m excited to do it again. We have a lot of very talented hitters on this team and led the league [in batting] last year. Having a year of experience will help a lot too. We can build off last year and immediately work to improve a few things offensively that we had trouble with.”

In your opinion, what was the main factor in why the team fell short of its goal in 2014? How much are you using last year’s result as motivation this season?

“2014 for me was a disappointment. I thought we had a very talented team that could have won another championship, but we failed to make the playoffs. We had a stretch where we lost 13 games in a row. Many of those games were by one run, and we were leading many of these games also. We win half of those, we are much better off and in a much better mental state as a team. I hope to start fresh this year. Last year is over with. We can learn from it, but we are moving forward. There is not a bitter taste, just excitement for this upcoming season.”

Do you have any goals for this upcoming season on a personal level and on a team level?

“On a team level, the ultimate goal is to win the championship. The other goal would be to win the first half and lock up a playoff spot. On a personal level, my goal is to stay healthy, be focused, and play smart every game. Likewise, I want to help my teammates anyway I can to do the same.”

You’ve been playing baseball down in the Caribbean Winter Leagues. What is the experience like playing there, and how much fun did you have being teammates with former Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano?

“I love playing winter baseball. The atmosphere is amazing in these leagues. It is their country’s ‘Major League Baseball’ and a chance for the fans in these countries to see their MLB players play live at home. I love seeing the talented young players that will be future All-Stars or Hall of Famers and maybe even help them a little on their way. You also see how much these leagues mean to these fans and players.

“Robinson Cano was a very humble person and a great teammate. I loved watching him take batting practice every day. It was simply beautiful. Cano played five games with Estrellas de Oriente in the playoffs. It was his team growing up in the Dominican Republic, and they had not won in 40+ years. He wanted to help them win and also to play in front of the family and fans that had not been able to see him play live in a long time.”

Why have you now made Long Island your new home, between living here consistently and playing with the Ducks? What about it keeps bringing you back?

“Admittedly I knew nothing about New York when I came here from Texas, but I really enjoy it. I would never have had the chance to experience Long Island if not for my relationship with the Ducks. They are a great organization that I’m very grateful to be a part of. Just this offseason, I bought a house here [in Central Islip], so I’m officially a Long Islander.”

How much longer do you feel you’ll be able to continue playing?

“I feel great right now! I never thought I’d still be playing at this age when I was younger, but I can’t see myself stopping anytime soon.”

Stay tuned to the blog during the week for our latest Winter Hot Stove update. We’ll be checking in on the Caribbean Series taking place down in Puerto Rico, where former Ducks pitcher Eric Niesen is playing for Venezuelan champion Caribes de Anzoategui.

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Posted on February 4, 2015, in Player Signings and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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