Lifestyle Changes Paying Off for Lyons
Since missing the postseason in 2010, the Ducks have made a commitment to developing and maintaining a core group of players in hopes of bringing championships to Long Island. John Brownell, Lew Ford and Bobby Blevins have been among the key contributors to this group. However, the first member of that core was Dan Lyons. Since arriving in 2011, he has brought the Ducks to four playoff appearances in five seasons, two championship victories and another Championship Series appearance. And like Brownell, his return to the Ducks has become more a question of “when” rather than “will.”
“It has become sort of a formality,” Lyons said via telephone after re-signing with the Ducks this week, “But each season, you still get that excitement every time you turn the papers in. Obviously, I’m very excited and thankful for the opportunity to come back and play ball. Long Island’s become my second home, and it’s really a place where I feel comfortable. As long as I’m still able to play, I think I’ll be a Duck.”
Lyons has never been shy to discuss his affinity for the Ducks, an organization that gave him the opportunity to continue his career after being released by the Washington Nationals in March of 2011. He used his first year on Long Island to prove that he was worthy of a starting role, and since that point, he’s been the most consistent presence in the Ducks lineup. Having the starting role and being around those familiar faces in the clubhouse has afforded him a comfort level that keeps him coming back for more.
“I’ve just been real comfortable there,” he noted. “I’ve built a lot of good friendships through baseball, and we’ve been able to keep a lot of the core guys around for a while. It’s just something that you look forward to every year, coming back to see all the guys.”
The Minnesota native has collected memorable hits (see: 2012 Atlantic League Championship Series), made dazzling plays and developed into a quiet leader among the Ducks. However, despite winning a pair of titles in 2012 and 2013, his production was tailing off. Lyons’ batting average dropped 35 points from 2011 to 2012, and the following year, it dipped another 31 points to .217. In addition, he was limited to just 107 games in 2013 due to injuries, a drop of 20 games from the previous season. He also went homerless and drove in just 27 runs during the regular season. The joy of winning championships had been partially overshadowed by a decline in statistics and health. Lyons knew that if he wanted to continue his career and stay on Long Island, he needed to make a change.
“I made my health a huge priority,” he recalled. “I felt a lot of that slipping away in 2013 and decided that if I was going to continue to play, I had to change something.”
He continued to say, “I started feeling like my age was playing a factor even though I really wasn’t all that old. My body just wasn’t recovering like it used to. It would take a lot more out of me to work out than what I was accustomed to. My body started to break down a little faster, and I had to make a change in my diet. I started taking some great supplements with Advocare, and I feel like that’s really made me a lot stronger and get a lot more out of my workouts. Doing my best to try and eat healthy has also really helped.”
The change has paid dividends for the 31-year-old, none more evident than the season he put together in 2015. After increases across the board statistically in 2014, Lyons erupted and became one of the Atlantic League’s best a year ago. He began the year in his usual spot at the bottom of the lineup and hit .302 during the season’s first full month of May. Things only improved during the team’s unconscious 23-6 month of June, as he batted .360 during the month, second on the team only to Ford and his .369 average, and he hit four home runs that month alone. To put that in perspective, Lyons had never hit more than four home runs IN A SEASON while with the Ducks and not since he hit seven for the year in 2008. He had become one of the most reliable hitters in Long Island’s lineup, and the Atlantic League rewarded him with his second All-Star Game selection and first since 2012.
“It’s always a lot of fun to be recognized and be honored by the league,” Lyons said. “A big thing that I really enjoy in the All-Star Game is that you get to compete with a lot of the guys you’re competing against. You get to start building relationships with some of the other guys that you normally wouldn’t because for the entire season, you’re going to battle against those guys. They bring the top players in the league together, and you really get to see what you’re all about when you’re playing with and against the top competition.”
In the second half, Lyons continued his monster season. The month of August saw him bat .345 while posting team-highs in homers (5), RBI (21), runs (30) and doubles (9). In addition, the second half saw Lyons get bumped up in the batting order, especially after Ford was signed by Tijuana in the Mexican League. Manager Kevin Baez noted how consistent he had become at getting hits and driving in runs that he moved his shortstop into the heart of the order. By season’s end, Lyons had started 52 games between the top six spots in the order, including 37 in the three-hole. Even with the move, he continued to produce.
“I went about my approach the same way as I would in the nine-hole,” Lyons remembered. “I had [Fehlandt] Lentini and Delta [Cleary, Jr.] on base for most of that second half which was nice to get some of those speedsters on there so you could drive in some runs. As far as approach goes, I try to keep my approach the same all the time no matter where I am in the lineup. You can’t change who you are based on where you hit in the lineup, but I was happy to have that opportunity to hit third. It shows that Kevin had faith in me to be one of the top offensive guys, and I think I was able to do that.”
As the season came to a close, Lyons had put together a magnificent offensive year. He finished among the Atlantic League’s Top 5 in several categories, including batting average (.301), RBI, (73), runs (74), total bases (215), triples (7), extra-base hits (46), on-base percentage (.375) and slugging percentage (.462). His 11 homers were four more than he ever hit in a single season, and his 140 hits were a career-best by 11. Referring back to his new lifestyle, he noted, “I felt a lot healthier on the field and was a lot stronger. With all of that, I was able to put myself in a good position to compete at the highest level. I felt like last year that really came to fruition.”
But offense is not all Lyons was impressive at. Defensively, he was excellent as well. Among all shortstops that played at least 100 games in the Atlantic League last year, the University of Minnesota alum had the highest fielding percentage (.976) and the second-most assists (355) and putouts (183). His 13 errors were 10 fewer than his 2013 total and just two more than his lowest amount as a Duck, 11, which he committed in 45 fewer games back in 2011. The league recognized his defensive prowess as well, selecting him for the first-ever Red, White and Blue All-Defensive team and naming him the inaugural Rawlings Gold Glove Defensive Player of the Year.
“I’ve got to tip my hat to the Atlantic League and Rawlings for finally rewarding and recognizing defense,” Lyons exclaimed. “A lot of times when you talk about great baseball players, you get caught up in all of the offensive stats. All the stuff that doesn’t go on the scorecard kind of gets thrown by the wayside and nobody really thinks about it. To be recognized as the top defensive player, it’s outstanding. I’ve always prided myself on my defense, and I feel like that’s really helped me stay in the game as long as I have. It really is a big honor, especially in the first year of the league having this award, to be named the Defensive Player of the Year.”
Despite all of the accolades, Lyons’ season did not end with a third championship as planned. His bat, like those of many of his fellow teammates, went cold in the final two games against the Somerset Patriots in the first round of the postseason. After pushing the Pats to the brink of elimination, the Ducks were unable to finish off their rivals and watched them go on to win a sixth championship. For Lyons, the feeling was eerily similar to what was endured after losing the 2011 Championship Series at York.
“We had a great group of guys, a great team,” he recalled. “I feel like if we would have taken that series [against Somerset], I think we would have won the championship. It was disappointing the way it ended, but you can’t dwell on that too much. You just have to regroup and come back the next year stronger.”
As “next year” approaches, Lyons joins Brownell as the first two Ducks of many who could potentially return from last year’s group. After winning 80 games during the regular season, the second-most in team history, it makes sense to bring back many of the key contributors. While there will certainly be new faces mixed in, those who experienced last year’s disappointment will have even more incentive to win it all, just like that 2012 squad did.
“We always go into it highly motivated to win,” Lyons affirmed. “I think last year…left a sour taste in everybody’s mouth. We didn’t play like we had hoped to. I know for the guys that are coming back, that’s going to help fuel the fire and help motivate us to reach that next level, get to the championship and win it.”
As for Lyons on an individual level, it will not be easy to replicate the season he had a year ago. Performing so well in every facet of the game requires a lot of different things to go right at the same time. However, the Ducks veteran remains confident in his ability. In fact, he thinks he can be that much better, even if he’s not setting specifics for himself.
“I really don’t set too many goals going into a season,” Lyons stated. “I just want to improve every year. I don’t want to get comfortable with how I played last year because the minute I start to get comfortable about the year I had, that’s when everything is going to slip away. I’ve just got to try to keep the drive to get better every day, and as long as I do that, I’m putting myself in the right position.”
The Ducks have put themselves in the best position to win by having a player like Lyons on the roster. He has put himself in the best position to enjoy the game he loves by playing somewhere that feels like a home away from home. Now, the remaining stars must align to lift Long Island back on top of the heap.
Posted on February 10, 2016, in Player Signings and tagged 2015, All-Star Game, Atlantic League, Bethpage Ballpark, Dan Lyons, Defensive Player of the Year, Gold Glove, Kevin Baez, Long Island Ducks, Rawlings. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.